Kimberley Patton examines the environmental crises facing the
world's oceans from the perspective of religious history. Much as
the ancient Greeks believed, and Euripides wrote, that "the sea can
wash away all evils," a wide range of cultures have sacralized the
sea, trusting in its power to wash away what is dangerous, dirty,
and morally contaminating. The sea makes life on land possible by
keeping it "pure."
Patton sets out to learn whether the treatment of the world's
oceans by industrialized nations arises from the same faith in
their infinite and regenerative qualities. Indeed, the sea's
natural characteristics, such as its vast size and depth, chronic
motion and chaos, seeming biotic inexhaustibility, and unique
composition of powerful purifiers-salt and water-support a view of
the sea as a "no place" capable of swallowing limitless amounts of
waste. And despite evidence to the contrary, the idea that the
oceans could be harmed by wasteful and reckless practices has been
slow to take hold.
Patton believes that environmental scientists and ecological
advocates ignore this relationship at great cost. She bases her
argument on three influential stories: Euripides' tragedy
Iphigenia in Tauris; an Inuit myth about the wild and
angry sea spirit Sedna who lives on the ocean floor with hair
dirtied by human transgression; and a disturbing medieval Hindu
tale of a lethal underwater mare. She also studies narratives in
which the sea spits back its contents-sins, corpses, evidence of
guilt long sequestered-suggesting that there are limits to the
ocean's vast, salty heart.
In these stories, the sea is either an agent of destruction or a
giver of life, yet it is also treated as a passive receptacle.
Combining a history of this ambivalence toward the world's oceans
with a serious scientific analysis of modern marine pollution,
Patton writes a compelling, cross-disciplinary study that couldn't
be more urgent or timely.
Subjects: Religion, Environmental Science
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