Third Annual Robert Morrell Memorial Lecture in Asian Religions: "Foxes, Gods and Monsters in the Edo Anthropocene"

Michael Bathgate, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Theology, Saint Xavier University

By about 1700, the Shogunal capital of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) had grown to be one of the largest cities on earth, giving rise to a burgeoning economy, a unique urban culture, and a devastating program of environmental degradation.  In the midst of these historic changes, the deity Inari (an agricultural god associated with the power of foxes as both shape-changers and possessing spirits) arose as one of the foremost hayarigami.  Shrines to these “viral divinities” arose in neighborhoods across the capital, often to celebrate the marvelous actions of foxes, even as the habitats of foxes themselves were being consumed by urban expansion.  In exploring this contours of this contradiction – what does it mean to worship an animal at precisely the moment it is going extinct? – we may find something of the logics that govern our attitudes to the non-human natural world today.