Religious anthropologist, Jon Bialecki, has launched a study of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, with support of Association leadership. We invite members, friends, critics, and observers of the Association to contribute by welcoming Jon to related discussions and events. You may direct questions to Jon or to Association leadership. Below is a letter of introduction from Jon.
Hello, members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association! I’d like to introduce myself, and also explain why such an introduction might be necessary.
My name is Jon Bialecki, and I’m a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh; my area of focus is the anthropology of religion. Most of my work has been on Pentecostal-like forms of American Christianity, where I’ve concentrated my research on what is considered authoritative in communities that, in addition to relying on scripture, also believe members can receive direct individual revelation from God. Over time, though, I’ve become interested in how American religion in general frames issues of authority. I’ve become particularly curious about what are considered reliable sources of religious knowledge, and how religious knowledge interacts with other authoritative discourse, such as science.
This interest in revelation and in science has led me directly to an interest in the sort of issues that seem to concern much of the MTA as well. Furthermore, the MTA seems to also have a distinct take on this problem, and also has managed to avoid many deadlocks associated with discussion of religion, science, and technology. The MTA is also interesting because these concerns are not merely abstract intellectual problems for most members. Given the educational background and professions of many members of the MTA, these questions appear to have to do with approaches to contemporary technologies as well. Finally, I’ve also become curious as to how the MTA manages to have such a diverse body, which includes not only practicing members of the LDS, but “cultural Mormons,” non-Mormon Christians, and non-Christian members. For these reasons, I’ve proposed a study of the MTA.
As a socio-cultural anthropologist, studying usually means ‘participant observation,’ which basically means taking part in the same activities and conversations that everyone else in the MTA does. In this case, this means you’ll be seeing me in social media, online forums, and other spaces where much of the MTA virtually ‘meets.’ I’m also interested in interviews with members who would feel comfortable talking with me. Finally, I’m hoping to somewhat regularly come out this summer and fall to Utah, so I can sit in on a few of the meet-ups, and perhaps talk to some of you individually in person.
I’m sharing this with you for two reasons. First, I want to reach out to as many of you as possible, in the hopes that you’ll feel free to contact me in return (which is best done by email at Jon.Bialecki@ed.ac.uk, though I’m available through other platforms as well). Second, it is important to me that you know in what capacity I’m participating in MTA events. Like a lot of other academic writing, anthropological writing is usually not that controversial, and there is a long-standing practice of anonymizing our data, even when presenting it anecdotally (and as a qualitative social science, narrative is often a large part of how we convey what we have learned). However, most anthropologists feel that it is best practice to let the people you are spending time with know that you’re an anthropologist, and that your presence is at least in part in your capacity as a researcher. It also might explain why I might tend, from time to time, to ask questions that are seemingly obvious – as a non-Mormon who is also still just starting to understand transhumanism, I’m looking forward to learning a great deal from being together with you, but I probably will say things every so often that betrays my ignorance.
Again, thank you for taking the time to read this, and also for letting me participate in the MTA. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know more about this unique organization!