Image Ecologies, Spiritual Polytropy, and the Anthropocene


  • Adrian Ivakhiv University of Vermont



media ecologies, image ecologies, image regimes, Anthropocene, iconology


This article advances a four-fold contribution to theorizing the relationship between images, religion, and the Anthropocene. First, it proposes a ‘process-semiotic’ definition of the image as a sensorially perceptible form that mediates agential relations both between humans and between humans and the larger world. Second, it argues for a conception of religion and of spirituality that sees the world as varying on a scale between the ‘polytropic’ and the ‘monotropic’, where ‘tropism’ refers to the ‘turning’ toward sources of sustenance, relief, hope, authority, and the like. This turning is commonly, if not universally, accomplished with the aid of images. Bringing these ideas together, it then advances a typology of ‘image regimes’, each of which establishes relationships between understandings of images and of reality, relationships which can be traced across diverse religious and cultural contexts. Finally, it proposes a set of questions by which to bring ecocritical analysis to expressions of these image regimes in the emerging ‘image-world’ of digital culture, a culture that is coterminous, if not causally linked with, the growing recognition of the Anthropocene. It ends with a brief application of these questions to the Anthropocene Project, an art exhibition, film, and book project by Edward Burtunsky, Jennifer Baichwal, and Nicholas De Pencier.

Author Biography

Adrian Ivakhiv, University of Vermont

Adrian Ivakhiv is a Professor of Environmental Thought and Culture at the University of Vermont, with a joint appointment in the Environmental Program and the Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources. He currently holds the Steven Rubenstein Professorship for Environment and Natural Resources. His research and teaching are focused at the intersections of ecology, culture, identity, religion, media, philosophy, and the creative arts. 


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How to Cite

Ivakhiv, A. (2020). Image Ecologies, Spiritual Polytropy, and the Anthropocene. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 13(4), 479–509.