East Asian Studies Speaker Series: Jolyon Thomas

On October 10, Jolyon Thomas, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a talk entitled “Spirit/Medium/Media: A Critical Examination of the Relationship Between Animism, Animators, and Anime,” as part of the East Asian Studies Speaker Series. In the talk, he critiqued the notion that animation and animism bear more than a superficial etymological connection. He rejects the term “animism” in favor of alternative terminology that describes in more precise terms how anime directors and their audiences engage with illustrated worlds, nature, and spirits.

Jolyon Thomas’s research covers two main areas of inquiry, both of which sketch approaches to the perennially unanswerable question of how to define religion. On the one hand, he writes about religion in conjunction with material and visual culture, examining the religious lives of illustrated media (comic books and cartoons) and quotidian objects (trains, televisions, USB sticks, plastic figurines). On the other, he works on the place of religion in policy and law. Current projects investigate who gets to define religious freedom and with what political effects, how conceptions of “religion” and “the secular” appear in debates about morality, patriotism, and security in public school education in postwar Japan and the United States, and what sort of relationships exist between religion, capitalism, and sexuality.