Gaymon Bennett (Arizona State University)

(Techniques Speaker Series)

April 8, 2019
Doors Open at 5:00 pm
Talk at 6:00 pm

Social Hall, 715 S McClintock Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281, USA


Gaymon Bennett is a professor of Religion, Science and Technology at Arizona State University. His work explores the interplay of enchantment and innovation in Silicon Valley, and how the making of new technologies is unleashing an array of seemingly forgotten questions: what souls have to do with bodies, spirits with matter, and magic with a shared sense of place. Prof. Bennett pursues these questions in collaboration with scientists, technologists, and humanists through shared empirical inquiry, concept work, and sustained attention to the politics of productivity. Before coming to ASU, he co-founded and co-led the Center for Biological Futures in the division of basic sciences at Fred Hutchinson in Seattle, and led Human Practices at the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB) at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs in Berkeley. He is the author of Technicians of Human Dignity: Bodies, Souls, and the Making of Intrinsic Worth (Fordham 2016), co-author of Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic Biology (Chicago 2012) and editor of The Ethics of Biotechnology (Taylor and Francis 2016). He holds PhDs in cultural anthropology (UC Berkeley) and political theology (GTU Berkeley).


Anima, Animism, Animation: How Soul-Work Makes the Modern World

Over the last decade, a cohort of geneticists, engineers, and designers have taken up and rejuvenated an old magic: opening the mouth of the dead and trying to get it to speak. Like others working in other times and other places, this crew of biotechnologists is in search of the power to bend fate: to take from the dead the secrets needed to remake the living—to achieve a different sort of animation. In this talk, I will explore how these experiments in biotechnical animation—seemingly extraordinary when set against the familiar story of disenchanted science—can be situated in a long tradition of “soul-work” as the key to the making of the modern world. By approaching the world as if it doesn’t have soul—anima—moderns, like today’s biotechnologists, have effectively disavowed animism only to pursue their own form of animation.