The question of sewage on No. 5 Road: postsecular ontologies and interreligious collaboration on post-agricultural land in Richmond, British Columbia

Authors: Justin K.H. Tse*, Northwestern University, Claire Dwyer, University College London
Topics: Religion, Cultural Geography, Anthropocene
Keywords: religion, theology, postsecular, ontology, sewage, suburb
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Studio 9, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The posthumanist philosopher Rosi Braidotti (2008) has theorized the ‘postsecular’ as faith in the vitalism of matter to overcome the colonization of the Anthropocene; in this sense, nonhuman material is agentic. But can this theorization of postsecularism actually be operational within geographies of religion? We consider the case of the suburban space of No. 5 Road, where a sewage line had to be built on post-agricultural land across a 3-km stretch of road with over 20 religious institutions. The story is that the building of this sewage line – and then contestations among faith communities over a perpendicular one to it – is one of the few examples of meaningful interreligious cooperation. But does this mean that the shit, as it were, is a placemaking agent? Through interviews and a review of planning documents, we argue that human consciousness matters in the politics waged over this sewage line and that this suggests that religious concerns even about the most vulgar material matters require personal decisiveness. In so doing, we push back against attempts in geographies of religion to incorporate the posthuman into the theorization of the postsecular, contributing also to conversations in social and cultural geography about whether matter can be agentic without the influence of personal human consciousness.

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