Job Listings

Postdoctoral Fellow, & Thinking with Plants and Fungi Initiative

Company:
Harvard University
Job Location:
Cambridge, 02138
Category:
Plant and Soil Science
Type:
Full-Time

School: Harvard Divinity School

Department/Area: Center for the Study of World Religions

Position Description

The Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School invites applications for a one-year paid postdoctoral fellowship as part of its new program, "Thinking with Plants and Fungi", an interdisciplinary initiative on the intelligence of nature. The candidate will work under the Director of the Center, Professor Charles Stang, and with the Initiative's Project Manager. Please see the CSWR website at this link before applying.

The appointment will begin on September 1, 2024, and end August 31, 2025. This is a one-year appointment.

We are seeking a postdoctoral fellow whose scholarship grapples with how plant and fungal life enrich, transform, or complicate prevailing philosophical and theological categories. How does the study of plant life trouble notions of mind and matter? How, in turning our attention to plants and the broader "more-than-human" world might we cultivate an ecological imagination that displaces humans from its center? How do different cultural, theological, and philosophical systems, new and old, accommodate for the vibrancy and agency of plant life? 

Candidates will pursue research projects in the environmental humanities that align with the Center's "Thinking with Plants and Fungi" Initiative. We are especially interested in candidates with an expertise in ecology or ethnobiology and who bring a history of religions or philosophical approach to their research. The primary tradition and research focus is open. Preference will be given to those candidates who are conversant with traditions beyond their own primary specialization.

Potential research topics could include but are not limited to:
  • Plants in religious studies
  • Plants in philosophy
  • Plants in indigenous and folk traditions
  • Plants in the environmental humanities and posthumanities
  • Critical plant theories and cultures
The candidate will actively participate in and contribute to ongoing activities of the "Thinking with Plants and Fungi" initiative. This includes but is not limited to participating in student reading groups at the CSWR, presenting past and ongoing research to the Harvard community, contributing to the CSWR blog, and working closely with the Initiative's Project Manager to support the planning and facilitation of a 2025 interdisciplinary conference on plant and fungi studies. 

The Fellowship will be based at the CSWR. Candidates are expected to reside in the Massachusetts or New England-area and in commuting distance from the CSWR for the duration of the fellowship.

Additional Information 


About "Thinking with Plants and Fungi"

"Thinking with Plants and Fungi" is an interdisciplinary initiative exploring how plants help us rethink the nature of mind and matter, and humans' relationship to the "more-than-human" world.    

Cutting-edge scientific research is shedding light on the sophisticated ways plants and fungi sense, make sense of, and interact with the world. Work of scholars such as forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, ecologist Monica Gagliano, and plant biologist Stefano Mancuso among others have made mainstream notions that mere years ago were preposterous within the academy: that plants and fungi communicate, behave, and cooperate in ways previously unimaginable. Some argue that plants are intelligent and even conscious. This research in many cases resonates with ancient wisdom that has been safeguarded by indigenous, spiritual, and folk traditions throughout the world, as well as often-forgotten ecological strains of thought within major philosophical and religious traditions.

Michael Pollan's 2013 New Yorker article "The Intelligent Plant" brought these conversations into mainstream discourse; since then, the success of books such as Entangled Life and Finding the Mother Tree speaks to a growing desire to understand, learn from, and be inspired by nature, in spite of - or perhaps because of - mounting threats to the planet's ecosystems.

Bolstered by plant science and popular interest, the relatively recent field of "critical plant studies" furthers an ongoing effort to challenge the anthropocentric focus of academic inquiry. Critical plant scholars from across the social sciences, arts, and humanities seek to interrogate the role plants play as agents in their own right that make and unmake complex worlds.

And yet the most pressing question of this so-called "vegetal turn" may not be what the humanities can do for plants, but rather what plants can do for the humanities. The study of plants invites a redefinition of critical categories once indexed to humans, including "mind," "intelligence," "sentience," "consciousness," "cooperation," and "agency." In his seminal book Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, Michael Marder explores how apprenticing to the alterity of plants causes us to rethink thought altogether, "rendering it plantlike" (2013). Philosopher Emanuele Coccia posits that since plants are "the most intense, radical, and paradigmatic form of being... to interrogate plants is necessarily to interrogate the world" (2018). Indeed, the stakes of the plant humanities may be nothing short of metaphysical.

This "vegetal turn" can be situated within recent "posthumanist" and "new materialist" scholarship. "Vibrant" or "new" materialists, such as the political theorist Jane Bennett, suggest we revise our view of matter as an inert object we manipulate, and invite us to think instead of the agency and creativity of non-human and allegedly "inanimate" things - an argument echoed by a growing number of "panpsychists," who hold that consciousness in a fundamental feature of reality. What many new materialists and panpsychists share is a widened notion of agency, one that may lead to different ecological sensibilities, and different sorts of political possibilities.

These thinkers raise fundamental questions that lie at the heart of the study and practice of religion, namely: what is the relationship between mind and matter, spirit and flesh? How does this relationship shape our understanding of what it means to be human, and influence how we relate to the "more-than-human" world? How do we regard the lives of beings who are very different from us, and what do we owe one another? By thinking with plants and fungi, the study of religion stands to examine these profound ontological and ethical questions afresh and explore their relevance to the ecological crises we face.  

Basic Qualifications

(1) Completed advanced degree in a relevant field (completed PhD by the time of appointment, not more than five years from the degree)
(2) A research project that fits within the initiative
(3) Evidence of publications relevant to that research project
(4) Evidence of an ability to work independently and collaborative

Additional Qualifications

Previous publications in environmental humanities; experience convening or participating in interdisciplinary initiatives; 

Special Instructions

Applications (through this online system only) are welcome and must be received by March 31, 2024.

Please submit the following materials with your application:
(1) Curriculum vitae
(2) Cover Letter
(3) Description of research project (maximum of 1000 words), including proposals for short research stays at two of the three partner institutions
(4) Writing sample (e.g. published article or chapter)
(5) Names and email addresses of three references

Contact Information

Applicants may contact Gosia Sklodowska, Associate Director of the CSWR, with any questions regarding the position.

Contact Email: gsklodowska@hds.harvard.edu

Equal Opportunity Employer

We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions or any other characteristic protected by law.

Minimum Number of References Required: 3

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