The Sacred Anthropocene: Field Notes from Sanctuary Lab

Willis Jenkins
University of Virginia

How are global relations and planetary flows experienced, interpreted, and managed from places set aside from everyday use, as “sacred” in that sense? Sanctuary Lab, a transdisciplinary initiative at UVA to investigate how stresses of planetary change bear on places marked and protected as special in some way. Each of our sites is significant for some major form of faith (let me say: “cosmopolitical affiliation”). Provisionally adopting a keyword in religious studies, the sacred, we seek to open an unusual angle of inquiry into certain pressures of the Anthropocene. We study political and environmental consequences of sacralization processes, their vulnerability to rapid planetary shifts, and the implications for the interpretive traditions and spiritual practices by which they have been made special. That angle of inquiry in turn opens new – yet grounded and particularist – ways to wonder about futures of religion and secularity. If (with Durkheim) sacralization expresses social form, what processes of sacralization emerge from social forms being remade in planetary relations? If (askew from Durkheim) social form has always been ecological membership, what other species, nonhuman forces, and other ways of being participate in processes of sacralization? Sketching suggestions from field notes, I speculate how we might imagine emergent senses of sacred interacting with inherited formations of faith and secularity.