Laur Vallikivi

European Animisms: Paulson Lectures in the Study of Religion

Paulson Lectures in the Study of Religion are organized by the Estonian Society for the Study of Religions in cooperation with the School of Theology and Religious Studies and Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore of the University of Tartu. This year the lectures will be held by Kocku von Stuckrad who is widely known scholar of Western Esotericism, discursive study of religion as well as many other issues related to the history of religion, science, and philosophy in Europe and North America.

The lectures can be watched on Youtube!

Dates and location:

7.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 – at Jakobi 2-114: The Colonial Invention of Animism

8.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 – at Jakobi 2-114: European Animisms Today

9.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 – at Jakobi 2-114: The Relational Turn and the Study of Religion

Detailed descriptions of the lectures:

7.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 at Jakobi 2-114

The concept of animism is deeply rooted in colonial structures. Introduced by the British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor (1871) as the belief in the animation of nature and the existence of spirits, colonial religious studies imagined animism as a ‘failed ontology.’ This ‘primitive religion’ could be found outside of Europe, mainly in Indigenous, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions, but also in segments of European societies that seemed to be untouched by the project of rational, disenchanted European modernity. The lecture situates the early discourse on animism in an ambiguous European setting that is torn between fascination and rejection of animism and related trends in religion and philosophy

8.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 at Jakobi 2-114

While postcolonial critique resulted in a rejection of the concept of animism in most academic settings, since the 1980s, the term has gained a lot of traction in new religious and spiritual movements, first in North America and then in Europe. Particularly in nature-based spiritualities such as paganism or shamanism, animism became a positive identity marker for many people, including environmental activists and artists. Scholars, too, revisited the concept of animism and suggested new interpretations that look at animism as a relational approach to the more-than-human world. The lecture describes these developments as a general societal change, which involves ‘discourse communities’ formed by scholars, practitioners, artists, and other actors.

9.11.2023 – 16:15-17:45 at Jakobi 2-114

The academic and popular work on the concept of animism is clearly linked to a broader change that characterizes European and North American intellectual culture today. The new scholarly interpretations of animism resonate with the ‘relational turn’ across academic disciplines, the arts, and politics. Taking seriously the relationality, entanglement, and situatedness of our knowledges is key for the study of religion as well. As it turns out, the acknowledgment of animism as a European tradition may even contribute to attempts at decolonization and de-Westernization. Against this background, the lecture formulates a few programmatic ideas for the study of religion in the 21st century.



Kocku von Stuckrad is a professor of religious studies at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He has published extensively on topics related to the history of religion, science, and philosophy in Europe and North America. Using a discursive approach to religion, he has worked particularly on nature-based and esoteric spiritualities as influential currents in European tradition. His most recent book is A Cultural History of the Soul: Europe and North America from 1870 to the Present (Columbia University Press, 2021).

Ivar Paulson lectures is a lecture series organized by the Estonian Society for the Study of Religions that focus on the most noteworthy topics, issues and new developments in the contemporary study of religion. Ivar Paulson (1922-1966) was known for the wide range of peoples, religious beliefs and practices he was interested in and which he studied by combining a number of different research approaches. Similarly, Paulson lectures aim to highlight and bring together some of the more significant developments from various approaches and perspectives in the contemporary study of religion.

Kadri Voorand

Musician Kadri Voorand to be the new Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Tartu

Tudengid peahoone ees

Open Call: Three Full-Time Paid PhD Positions in Theology and Religious Studies

Sofi Oksaneni foto: Toni Härkonen, plakat: Triinu Rosenberg

An Evening Discussion with Renowned Author Sofi Oksanen on 23 April