The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia


Wednesday, November 20, 2019, 6:00pm


Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Anya Bernstein, speaker for The Future of Immortality

Free Public Lecture

Anya Bernstein, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

The international transhumanist movement believes that humans can harness science and technology to transcend their physical and mental limitations. Some of its practitioners support cryonics and the creation of robotic bodies for future “consciousness transfer.” Drawing from her ethnographic work among Russian transhumanists and her recent book—The Future of Immortality (Princeton University Press, 2019)—Anya Bernstein will discuss the religious and philosophical roots of transhumanism in Russia dating back to the nineteenth century. She will also explore the current debates within the movement over immortality and what it means to be human.

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About the Speaker:

Harvard anthropologist Anya Bernstein has published widely on the topics of religion, secularism, and art and censorship in contemporary Russia. She has also published on the battles over religious relics, end-of-life care issues, and the politics of shamanic tourism in Russia. Her first book, Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press 2013), explores the transformation of Buddhist practice among a Siberian indigenous people known as Buryats. Her second book, The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia (Princeton University 2019) explores how, from the mid-nineteenth century onward in Russia, the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation, an uncommonly wide range of actors has pursued the dream of achieving human immortality.

As a visual anthropologist Bernstein has directed, filmed, and produced several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006). Her articles have been published in American Ethnologist, American Anthropologist, Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Public Culture, Critical Inquiry, Anthropology Today, Ab Imperio, Inner Asia, Sibirica: Journal for Siberian Studies, and Mongolian Studies. Bernstein holds a B.S. in Linguistics from Georgetown University, an M.A. in Visual Anthropology from the University of Manchester, England, and a Ph.D in Anthropology from New York University.