Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226749723 Published December 2020
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226749693 Published December 2020
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226749860 Published January 2021 Also Available From
E-book Retailers: Apple iBooks B&N Nook Google Play Kobo Library Vendors: EBSCO

Automatic Religion

Nearhuman Agents of Brazil and France

Paul Christopher Johnson

Automatic Religion

Paul Christopher Johnson

312 pages | 23 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226749723 Published December 2020
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226749693 Published December 2020
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226749860 Published January 2021
What distinguishes humans from nonhumans? Two common answers—free will and religion—are in some ways fundamentally opposed. Whereas free will enjoys a central place in our ideas of spontaneity, authorship, and deliberation, religious practices seem to involve a suspension of or relief from the exercise of our will. What, then, is agency, and why has it occupied such a central place in theories of the human?

Automatic Religion explores an unlikely series of episodes from the end of the nineteenth century, when crucial ideas related to automatism and, in a different realm, the study of religion were both being born. Paul Christopher Johnson draws on years of archival and ethnographic research in Brazil and France to explore the crucial boundaries being drawn at the time between humans, “nearhumans,” and automata. As agency came to take on a more central place in the philosophical, moral, and legal traditions of the West, certain classes of people were excluded as less-than-human. Tracking the circulation of ideas across the Atlantic, Johnson tests those boundaries, revealing how they were constructed on largely gendered and racial foundations. In the process, he reanimates one of the most mysterious and yet foundational questions in trans-Atlantic thought: what is agency?

Introduction: Religion-Like Situations

1: Rosalie: Psychiatric Nearhuman

2: Juca Rosa: Photographic Nearhuman

3: Anastácia: Saintly Nearhuman

4: Ajeeb: Automaton Nearhuman

5: Chico X: Legal Nearhuman

Conclusion: Agency and Automatic Freedom
Review Quotes
Webb Keane, author of 'Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories'
Automatic Religion is a work of sweeping ambition and true originality. Wide-ranging, erudite, and eloquent, Johnson compels us to rethink everything we thought we knew about religion, agency, machines, animals, and the human. The histories he tracks have uncanny relevance in the age of Amazon’s Alexa and the algorithm.”
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, author of 'Church State Corporation: Construing Religion in US Law'
“In this fascinating and fantastic account of what Johnson calls religion-like and near-human phenomena, he succeeds in obliquely calling us to a radical reappraisal of what we might mean by religion. Recentering the religious on situations in which we see humans ‘playing across’ agential ambiguity, he vividly brings to life a remarkable series of characters who demand our attention and our recognition. The modern religious—maybe all religion—is both more and less than we had thought. It figures, on Johnson’s account, between automatism and agency, always swapping out woman, machine, and animal.”

Latin American Studies Association, Section on Brazil: Antonio Candido Prize

View Recent Awards page for more award winning books.
For more information, or to order this book, please visit
Google preview here

Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago Blog: Philosophy

Events in Philosophy

Keep Informed