On Thin Ice
Nenets Reindeer Herders’ Changing Perception of their Environment After Conversion to Evangelical Christianity
In this paper, I will focus on Nenets reindeer herders’ changing perception of their environment after conversion to evangelical Christianity. Until recently they regarded the landscape to be populated by numerous sentient beings with their own differing agendas. I suggest that conversion of Nenets families has led them to reinterpret much of the earlier intricate forms of agency into largely one kind of demonic agency in which more or less respectful reciprocity with spirits is discontinued. This shift informs directly how people navigate on the land and water, perceive their environment and talk about their relationship with it. I discuss these issues using a pair of notions, i.e. the practical mastery of one’s surroundings and the mental map-reading. My central argument is that conversion creates a certain shift in these perceptions and practices related to the environment and the spirit world.