An Invited Lecture by Prof. Nathan C. Henne (Loyola University New Orleans): "Decolonizing Utz K'aslemal: Where Indigenous 'Living in Fullness' Clashes with Environmentalism and Ecopolitics"


Location: 104 Bond Hall

As the world’s ecological crisis deepens and the search for solutions becomes desperate, scientists and academics have begun to open out to radically different ways of understanding the world and humans’ place in it. Many of these radical ecological alternatives have developed over millennia in Indigenous traditions in the Americas. Several Indigenous cultures were built around similar sets of practices that have come to be called “buen vivir” or “living well.” Of course, Indigenous people fall along a wide spectrum in terms of the extent to which they embrace elements of these more traditional worldviews in the face of encroaching modernity. Nevertheless, “buen vivir / living well” practices in these cultures are built on a decided decentering of human epistemologies that fundamentally clashes with mainstream science and religion. The resulting Indigenous worldviews recognize a subjectivity—a “person”ality—in all living and non-living elements of the ecology. Western science and monotheistic religions have traditionally denigrated this as an aspect of “primitive” animist religion because these buen vivir systems rely on a constant communication—or consultation—with various “realms” of the ecology around us. Prof. Henne argues that these systems are fundamentally ecological rather than religious and they only make sense as part of the whole underlying Indigenous worldviews in which they developed. This talk centers on radical reading and decolonial translation of Maya K’iche’ texts and dialogue in order to identify fundamental—but unsettling, in terms of ecological application—aspects of the utz k’aslemal (living well) system that has evolved in that culture. Professor Nathan Henne is the Rev. Guy Lemieux, S.J., Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies and Spanish at Loyola University New Orleans, and chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures and director of Latin American Studies.

Originally published at