Religion in the Making? Animality, Savagery, and Civilization in the Work of A. N. Whitehead

Society and Animals 8 (3):287-304 (2000)
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Constructions of the animal and animality are often pivotal to religious discourses. Such constructions create the possibility of identifying and valuing what is "human" as opposed to the "animal" and also of distinguishing human beliefs and behaviors that can be characterized as being animal from those that are "truly human." Some discourses also employ the concept of savagery as a bridge between the human and the animal, where the form of humanity but not its ideal beliefs and practices can be displayed. This paper explores the work of the influential scientist, philosopher, and theologian A. N. Whitehead in this context. His ideas of what constitutes "the animal," the "primitive" and the "civilized" are laid out explicitly in his now little-used history of religions text, Religion in the Making. This paper explores these ideas in this history and then considers how the same ideas permeate his currently more popular philosophical and theological writing Process and Reality. Drawing on some work in post-colonial theory, the paper offers a critique of this understanding of animality, savagery, and civilization and suggests that using Whitehead to underpin modern theological work requires considerable caution.
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