On Friday, March 30th please join us for “Freeze, Die, Come to Life: The Many Paths to Immortality in Contemporary Russia”, a talk by Anya Bernstein (Harvard University). This talk is part of the occasional series, sponsored by the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia.
Through practices such as cryonics and plans to build robotic bodies for future “mind uploading,” the Russian transhumanist movement has engendered competing practices of immortality as well as ontological debates over the immortal body and person. Drawing on an ethnography of these practices and plans, I explore controversies around religion and secularism within the movement as well as the disagreements between transhumanists and the Russian Orthodox Church. I argue that the core issues in debates over the role of religion vis-à-vis immortality derive from diverse assumptions being made about “the human,” which—from prerevolutionary esoteric futurist movements through the Soviet secularist project and into the present day—has been and remains a profoundly plastic project.
Anya Bernstein is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. Her first book, Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press, 2013), was the winner of the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion and an Honorable Mention for the Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her second book, The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia, forthcoming with Princeton University Press, explores the interplay between questions of immortality and life extension industries across the Soviet Union and postsocialist Russia, drawing on archival and ethnographic methods to investigate these technoscientific and religious futurisms. As a visual anthropologist Bernstein has directed, filmed, and produced several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006).