• Abou Farman

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology

    Expressing Immortality Through an Artistic Lens

    When you first meet Abou Farman, he will tell you he has “all the time in the world.” One would expect nothing less from an anthropology professor who studies secular immortality. Although he researches the ways in which people strive to permanently extend the future, Farman himself remains grounded in the present, attentive to every thought and idea presented to him. His measured words reflect the rigor and intellect of his scholarship.

    A self-described anthropologist of “not dying,” Farman’s research concentrates on secularism, death, and the history of death in relation to the process of secularization. Farman states that the anthropology of death can intersect with religion and include cross-cultural approaches to dying but also intersect with medical anthropology and include brain death and organ transplants. He focuses on efforts to extend life radically or indefinitely through technoscientific means, including cryonics, artificial intelligence, and biogerontology.

    Through his research on immortality, Farman has been able to cross boundaries and disciplines, working with sociologists, scientists, technologists, and artists. However, “artist” is a label Farman himself rejects. Although he has actively pursued an art practice for more than 15 years, he prefers to think of this work as a method of producing spaces and possibilities that text cannot. For years, he kept his art practice and his research separate, but recently, influenced by NSSR’s focus on interdisciplinary study, he has merged both into a holistic area of scholarship. Now, instead of simply giving a straightforward talk at an academic conference, Farman might give a performance. He notes that his research greatly influences his art projects, which have recently covered topics marginalized by both secularism and religion, like shamanism, possession, and magic. With his interest in artistic expression, Farman has enabled students to work with multiple media and complete nontextual projects.

    Although his research is specialized, Farman still spends a great deal of time teaching traditional anthropology to students. He says the traditional approach has shaped his own thinking, even as he operates in a less traditional space in the discipline. According to Farman, the big questions anthropology raises, from “What is human?” to “How do people relate to nonphysical entities?” resonate today as much as they did in the past, even as the way those questions are asked and answered has evolved. In working with graduate students, Farman describes himself as an “anarchist shepherd,” guiding students without explicitly telling them to follow him. Rather, Farman advises students to look for the research paths that emerge from their own interests and their interactions with him.