Becoming-Animal, Primal Metaphysics, and Transdisciplinary Approaches to Scholar-Activism in the Environmental Humanities


Today we speak with Chantal Noa Forbes, PhD from the Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion Department at CIIS. Chantal talks about her roots growing up in South Africa and how attending film school led her to explore the intersection between ecology and religion, which emerged from a growing concern regarding the environmental crisis and the state of the world religions. Chantal discusses her transdisciplinary approaches to activism through the environmental humanities. She confronts epistemological challenges born from western categorizations of knowledge, such as differences between spirituality, religion, ecology, and anthropology. We discuss her dissertation on the San Bushman of South Africa, titled “The Primal Metaphysics of Becoming-Animal During the Chasing Hunt in the Kalahari Desert,” which grapples with these epistemological challenges by utilizing a synthetic framework that draws upon structural and poststructural approaches to the exploration of ontogenetic fluidity, liminality, and multi-species subjectivities of San Bushman cosmology. Chantal shares how her research led her to articulate the novel concepts of eco-exegesis and a vision of primal metaphysics and religion. We discuss challenges working at the intersection of western academics and non-western indigenous ways of knowing. Chantal also sheds light on the importance of the scholar-activist model and how, through decolonial scholarship, one can move beyond mere interdisciplinary dialogue to more actively engage marginalized philosophical, religious, and indigenous perspectives.

Chantal is a comparative cultural and religious studies scholar at the intersection of ecology and culture. Her current academic interests explore metaphysical expressions of ontological ambiguity from a multispecies and transspecies perspective of personhood. In 2021 Chantal graduated with a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) with a concentration in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion. Using ethnographic and filmographic materials, her research inquiry undertook a metaphysical narrative-based analysis of Indigenous and decolonial approaches to environmental engagement, focused on the ontological ambiguity of human-animal relationships in hunter-gatherer cosmology in southern Africa. South African born and raised, her professional background spans twenty years of experience in educational film and media, communications, and business development relations. Chantal is also the co-founder of the educational non-profit, the Deep-Water Initiative. She received a B.A. in film production from the internationally award-winning film school AFDA in South Africa and an M.A. in Middle Eastern History from Tel-Aviv University, where I studied the evolution of modern media in the Middle East.

Chantal’s WebpageDeep Water Initiative

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Music at the end of the episode are Canto 8: Sacrifice/Canto 9: Liberation, from the album Experiments of Truth, by Kayos Theory, released on Monsoon-Music Record Label

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Stephen Julich and Jonathan Kay

Stephen Julich has worked as an adjunct instructor in History and Anthropology at the City College of New York, as a lecturer in Jungian Studies at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles, and as an adjunct instructor at the California Institute of Integral Studies where he has taught classes on ensouled writing and Western Esotericism.

Jonathan Kay is a professional musician, and is currently a PhD student in the department of East-West Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco under the mentorship of Dr. Debashish Banerji.

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