2022 journal article

Religion, Animals, and the Theological Anthropology of Microbes in the Pandemicene

RELIGIONS, 13(12).

By: A. Bradford n

author keywords: religion; microbes; COVID-19; Pandemicine; Pasteur; germ theory; epidemiology; disease; animality; theological anthropology; human nature; microbiome emerging infectious disease; zoonosis; theodicy; Christian theology; one health; microbial turn; relational turn; colonial; microbiopolitics
Source: Web Of Science
Added: January 17, 2023

Microbiology’s ecological turn, as it shifts its gaze from the individual microbe to the entanglement and ubiquity of microbial life, is transforming conceptions of human nature and disease in the sciences and humanities. Both the fields of Christian theological anthropology and medical anthropology are tuning in to these microbiological shifts for their reformative possibilities. Meanwhile, practical resistance to these shifts in recent pandemic responses suggest that forces greater than just the “pure science” of microbiology are informing attachments to hyper-modern or Pasteurian epidemiologies and radically independent, buffered views of the self. This essay explores the roots of such resistance. It investigates the interplay of shifts in theological anthropology and disease theories. Cultural anthropology and critical studies offer accounts of epidemiology’s fraught relationship to a history of colonialism, racialization, and vilification of pathogens and pathogenicized humans. This essay adds a theological analysis of the historical entanglement of perspectives on disease and Christian doctrine, which bears on the present pandemic response. It illuminates the ways some Christians “benefit” from germ theory’s influence. Germ theory interrupts key Christian doctrine (especially theodicy) that makes Christian theology resistant to relational accounts of being human. Germ theory’s theological reshaping of Christian teaching may also encourage the current resistance to more relational pandemic responses known as One Health strategies. While reformative and more realistic possibilities of emergent and entangled multispecies accounts of humanity’s microbiality are ample and apt, they must account for the ways in which microbiology has never been epidemiological without also being colonial and theological. In other words, this essay explores the smallest and most reviled “animals” in relationship to Christian conceptions of sin, contagion, and evil as groundwork for engaging humanity’s micro-animality and diseases’ relational aspects. To conclude, I offer four modest suggestions.