Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Theological and Philosophical Underpinnings of Developmentalism

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Theological and Philosophical Underpinnings of Developmentalism

Article excerpt

"Everybody wants to own the end of the world"

- Don DeLillo, Zero K, 2016

According to the ontology named "naturalism", despite sharing atoms, molecules, chemical components and thermodynamic principles with non-living entities, human beings are the only living creatures that are distributed in collectives "distinguished from one another by their respective languages and customs" (Descola 2013, 256). In this

cosmological ontology, all living beings participate in the same physical world but only people have the intentionality, self-awareness, individuation and discontinuity necessary to deal with ideas, interiorities and cultures. Leaving aside the few exceptional cases in which nature operates on its own among persons, or as the medieval saying goes "natura naturans", in naturalism the subject is almost always human, the verb is transitive and the object of the predicate is nature.

When Hegel turned to the idea of development, he did so to understand how an evolutionary process could be imagined as the accumulative unfolding of the world spirit at large. He defined this "World-Spirit" as a consciousness "whose nature is always one and the same, but which unfolds this, its one nature, in the phenomena of the World's existence" (Hegel 2001, 24). Congruently with Hegel, Phillipe Descola has noted that "nature" makes little sense to anyone except the Moderns. According to Descola, the concept "appeared only at a late date in the course of the development of Western thought itself, in which its consequences made a singularly forceful impact on the manner in which anthropology has envisaged both its object and its methods." (Descola 2013, xvii).

These two influential thinkers, then, conceptualize the course of Western thought, i.e. its own development, as a process that defines, among other things, its own nature. When Descola defines "naturalism" as a dual cosmology that asserts physical commonality and spiritual individualization, he highlights the prioritization of the western spiritual experience of the world over the necessary production of empty signs or noumena. In other words, in the cosmology called "naturalism", understanding nature takes for granted a developmental process of consciousness. This process, in its own functioning, necessarily projects an unknown dimension to be known, deciphered and objectified (most of the times, on nature).

The process of "development", even though it remains a highly contested term (Lewis 2005, 474), should be characterized, therefore, by the continuity of the changes it entails. Simply put, any sort of development requires at least two different temporalities, one quicker than the other. The modern idea of nature provides qualities of continuity and stability to the "cumulative world-spirit", allowing one to easily situate the first as the background temporality within which the second performs its own "development". Hence, talking about development requires a contrastive discipline. In this case, I am positing that Anthropology is capable of imagining diverse adequacies between the two stances; one of thought, one of nature; one of change, one of continuity. Such an appropriateness in the ontological mode of western naturalism takes for granted that understanding nature requires a permanent process of inquiry. Querying nature, thinking about it, and later, transforming it, should be considered actions that shape the human subject as well as the natural object.

Long ago, Frank Kermode (2000 [1966]) signaled that the paradigmatic modern state of affairs entailed a "permanent transition" which he called "presentism". A similar emphasis on this permanent transition can be found in the Proposals for Action of the First UN Development Decade (1960-70), which suggested that the problem of underdeveloped countries was not limited to their lack of economic growth. Rather, it explicitly held that "[development is growth plus change" (in Sachs 2012). Therefore, every transitional or developmental imperative fueled by modern knowledge should be understood in reference to a natural residue, or a former obstacle, left behind during the process of the modern scientific enterprise. …

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