Rewilding Religion

Affect and Animal Dance


  • Jay Johnston University of Sydney



affect, animals, perception, experience, epistemology


This article follows just one of the numerous filaments that emerge from Schaefer’s proposition and its configuration: perception. The aim in not to purely analyse and critique Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (2015), but rather to enter into an ‘animal dance’ with it. The discussion-dance seeks to contribute to the space deftly opened by Schaefer in which theoretical accounts of religious affect that exist ‘outside of language’ may be developed. Centrally, it asks: How do we perceive and represent the dance? Indeed, the case studies found in Religious Affects have already proffered a response to that question. This modest contribution aims to further explore how scholars may take account of elusive immateriality — forces, emotion, energy etc. — methodologically. In taking up this challenge the central focus is on the utility of embodied perception and the rendering of such knowledge in academic discourse.

Author Biography

Jay Johnston, University of Sydney

Jay Johnston PhD (B.A., M.Art Admin., M.Litt(Dist), M.A.Hons, PhD) is an interdisciplinary researcher who utilises her training in religious studies, continental philosophy, gender studies, and art history to investigate theories of the intermediary, or 'in between', and its role in religious belief and practice. In particular she rethinks theories of embodiment, agency, image and materiality and their use in the construction of individual identity, religious belief and the negotiation of cultural difference. Current projects include investigating the proposition of 'prehistoric religion' and the interpretation of artefacts, images and texts of ritual power. Specific areas of interest include cultural exchange in Late Antiquity and Scottish and Norse cultures pre1400. Previous research has focused on energetic concepts of embodiment (subtle bodies), forms of intermediary subjectivity and diverse spiritual epistemologies. Dr Johnston has also undertaken curatorial and research projects that explore religious aesthetics including viewer experience, the cultivation of perception and the interrelation of aesthetics and ethics.


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———. 2016a. “Enchanted Sight/Site: An Esoteric Aesthetics of Image and Experience.” In The Relational Dynamics of Enchantment and Sacralization: Changing the Terms of the Religion Versus Secularity Debate, edited by Peik Ingman, Terhi Utriainen, Tuija Hovi, and Mans Broo, 97–114. Sheffield: Equinox.

———. 2016b. “Slippery and Saucy Discourse: Grappling with the Intersection of ‘Alternate Epistemologies’ and Discourse Analysis.” In Making Religion: Theory and Practice in the Discursive Study of Religion, edited by Frans Wijsen and Kocku von Stuckrad, 74–96. Leiden: Brill.

———. 2017. “Esoteric Aesthetics: The Spiritual Matter in Intersubjective Encounter.” In Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser and Jay Johnston. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. In press.

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Schaefer, Donovan O. 2015. Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution and Power. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

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How to Cite

Johnston, J. (2017). Rewilding Religion: Affect and Animal Dance. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 46(3-4), 11–16.