Past Event

Thorgeir Kolshus - A Climate Change of Faith: Church and Sorcery Responses to Erratic Weather Patterns in Northern Vanuatu

March 30, 2023
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
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Faculty House, Columbia University

Event Description

Based on 25 years of multitemporal ethnographic research on Mota island, Thorgeir Kolshus shows how changing seasonal patterns disrupt the traditional livelihood of land-intensive swidden horticulture. For a community that was already becoming pressed for land resources, this has caused an exponential increase in only nominally temporal out-migration; while those who remain search for better means to manipulate the weather to ease droughts, to secure the good times that are required to carry out traditional ritual events, to lead the increasingly powerful cyclones that haunt this region on a course away from the island, and to alleviate the impact of the weather phenomena El Niño and La Ninã, which have become much more frequent over the past forty years. Since the ritual means available to the local Anglican clergy no longer seem efficient, many have sought the assistance of members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican order that is attributed vast powers by ni-Vanuatu of all creeds. Others have chosen to convert to a Pentecostal community in a village on the western side of the island, which seems to enjoy more predictable times than their Anglican counterparts. Lately, there has also been talk of a revival of weather magic and other sorcery tools, which had been banned from the island in the 1950s.

The paper addresses the range of attempts to cope with changes that fundamentally challenge a community’s way of life. How do the contemporary means-to-an-end traits of sorcery rub against the eschatological future of different Christian denominations? And can we, via these attempts at mending the climate by rendering it into actionable units, say something more general about the role of religion in climate change responses? 

Event Speaker

Thorgeir Kolshus, Professor of Anthropology at Oslo Metropolitan University

Event Information

Open to Columbia University ID holders. Please email Paige West at [email protected] with any questions. Please visit the Faculty House website for directions.

Hosted by the University Seminar in Ecology and Culture at Columbia University.