Searching for the new human: Glacier melt, anthropogenic change, and self-reflection in Andean pilgrimage

Karsten Paerregaard


Arguing in favor of anthropology’s humanity-centered research tradition, this article examines how the encounter with human remains on the bedrock of retreating glaciers shapes not only the notion of divinity and power underpinning Andean pilgrimage but also the pilgrims’ identity as a species. The article asks, how do the pilgrims account for their own and other humans’ impact on Andean glaciers? How does the pilgrims’ experience of anthropogenic change challenge their ideas of human/nonhuman interactions? And, lastly, who is the new human emerging from this experience? My point is that climate change both secularizes the world, as the pilgrims know it, and lends them a new experience of transcendence. By causing glacier retreat, climate change strips Andean mountains of their divine powers. But by disclosing other people’s leftovers on the glaciers’ bedrock, it also offers the pilgrims a new perspective on humans’ role as the planet’s steward.

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/711846