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Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth

Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth
    Book Description:

    We hope-even as we doubt-that the environmental crisis can be controlled. Public awareness of our species' self-destructiveness as material beings in a material world is growing-but so is the destructiveness. The practical interventions needed for saving and restoring the earth will require a collective shift of such magnitude as to take on a spiritual and religious intensity.This transformation has in part already begun. Traditions of ecological theology and ecologically aware religious practice have been preparing the way for decades. Yet these traditions still remain marginal to society, academy, and church. With a fresh, transdisciplinary approach, Ecospirit probes the possibility of a green shift radical enough to permeate the ancient roots of our sensibility and the social sources of our practice. From new language for imagining the earth as a living ground to current constructions of nature in theology, science, and philosophy; from environmentalism's questioning of postmodern thought to a garden of green doctrines, rituals, and liturgies for contemporary religion, these original essays explore and expand our sense of how to proceed in the face of an ecological crisis that demands new thinking and acting. In the midst of planetary crisis, they activateimagination, humor, ritual, and hope.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4703-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Grounding Theory—Earth in Religion and Philosophy
    (pp. 1-18)

    ANew Yorkermagazine cartoon displays a sporty little flying saucer flitting away from the earth. One extraterrestrial is commenting to the other: “The food’s OK, but the atmosphere is terrible.” Of course a lot of us terrestrials (not only New Yorkers) zip about tasting the aesthetic variety of our gifted planet. We relish our global interconnectedness amid the sheer abundance of available options. But occasionally we recall the shadow side of that interconnectedness: the atmospheric changes our cosmopolitan species is inadvertently cooking up, the mounting concentration of CO2in the atmosphere that is turning the planet into a pressure...


    • Ecotheology and World Religions
      (pp. 21-44)

      My aim in this essay is to discuss a social and spiritual movement called “ecotheology.” I want to provide an example of how it can be practiced among Christians and discuss its relevance to the many world religions. In addition, I will briefly introduce aspects of a philosophical foundation for ecotheology, showing how, in some instances, philosophy and spirituality can be companions to a process of social transformation.

      I write for the religiously interested general reader. This general reader ultimately motivates all the essays in the present volume. Directly or indirectly, the authors of the essays collected in this anthology...

    • Talking the Walk: A Practice-Based Environmental Ethic as Grounds for Hope
      (pp. 45-62)

      Environmental issues consistently rank near the top of people’s concerns. Surveys indicate that as many as four out of five Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists. Environmental values have become mainstream, permeating politics, education, religion, and popular culture in myriad ways.¹ This awareness and concern, however, do not automatically correspond to changes in behavior. While 80 percent of Americans may identify as environmentalists, fewer than one in five regularly participate in environmentally responsible activities such as recycling, reducing personal consumption, supporting green businesses, eliminating waste and pollution, or engaging in environmental activism. As many “green” practices have stagnated or even...

    • Talking Dirty: Ground Is Not Foundation
      (pp. 63-76)

      Common ground has become uncommonly hard to find. Even those of us who don’t think much about our common ecology have been worrying about a base for democratic politics: without shareable ground, we have failed to make common cause, even when the stakes were intolerably high. These are not unrelated problems. Ecology and politics crisscross perilously within the transdisciplinary terrain of what is called “ecological theology.” For many of us, a feminist interrogation of the common sources of anthropocentrism and androcentrism first lent this terrain its allure, its transgressive width, and indeed its promise of a shared method. But gender...

    • Ecofeminist Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics: A Comparative View
      (pp. 77-94)

      Ecofeminism has emerged in the late twentieth century as a major school of philosophical and theological thought and social analysis. The word “ecofeminism” was coined in 1972 by Francoise d’Eaubonne, who developed the “Ecologie-Féminisme” group, arguing that “the destruction of the planet is due to the profit motif inherent in male power.” Her 1974 bookLe Féminisme ou la mort(Feminism or Death) saw women as central to bringing about an ecological revolution.¹

      Ecofeminism sees an interconnection between the domination of women and the domination of nature. This interconnection is typically made on two levels: ideological-cultural and socioeconomic. On the...


    • Cooking the Truth: Faith, Science, the Market, and Global Warming
      (pp. 97-124)

      Have you heard the one about the rabbi, the priest, the pastor and the Toyota Prius? No, it’s not a joke. And neither is global warming.”

      So reads the introduction to an action-alert email on Faith and Fuel Economy from the Interfaith Climate Change Network (ICCN). Only I might change it to a rabbi, pastor, priest, and preacher to more accurately imply the four constituent groups of the National Religious Partnership on the Environment (NRPE),¹ the group supporting the ICCN, who chose global warming in the 1990s as the one topic upon which they could all agree.² This particular action...

    • Ecospirituality and the Blurred Boundaries of Humans, Animals, and Machines
      (pp. 125-155)

      When the call to an “ecospirituality” has been raised in the recent past in the West, it has usually been as a result of a critique of the overindustrialization of the landscape and its attendant damage to the earth. Ecospirituality has been associated with augmenting and deepening the appreciation of the human relationship to other creatures in the surround—or at least other features of the biosphere, such as water, wind, soil, and rock. The emerging ecological conscience of the wrongs resulting from self-enclosure in the project of “human progress” has been a spur to a transforming sense of the...

    • Getting Over “Nature”: Modern Bifurcations, Postmodern Possibilities
      (pp. 156-177)

      InPolitics of Nature, Bruno Latour questions the value of the term “nature” in advancing the ecological agenda, commenting that “under the pretext of protecting nature, the ecology movements have also retained the conception of nature that makes their political struggle hopeless.”¹ He then proceeds to outline an intriguing journey toward a postmodern political ecology pointing beyond any reference to nature, while at the same time recommending a slow process that instead of “cutting the Gordian knot” aims at untying “a few of its strands in order to knot them back together differently.”²

      However, the insistence that we drop the...

    • Toward an Ethics of Biodiversity: Science and Theology in Environmentalist Dialogue
      (pp. 178-195)

      In an often told and possibly apocryphal story, a member of the Christian clergy anxious to engage in dialogue asked the Marxist physiologist John Haldane what his study of the natural world had taught him about its Creator. Haldane replied that if there is a God, it seems to be one with “an inordinate fondness for beetles,” citing the hundreds of thousands of distinct species of the insects already catalogued and the uncountable others that human beings have never seen. Haldane was likely annoyed by the question, and trying to shock the clergymember out of a follow-up. But as an...

    • Indigenous Knowing and Responsible Life in the World
      (pp. 196-214)

      The term “indigenous” refers to that which is native, original, and resident to a place. By introducing perspectives on time, however, “indigenous” becomes somewhat ambiguous. That is, evolutionary history presents a story of change over time among landforms, plants, animals, and peoples. While a consideration of time would seem to introduce simply a scientific agenda, it can lead to problematic political positions. Thus, in India, Malaysia, and Indonesia, for example, there is an objection to the use of “indigenous” and a preference for terms—AdivasiandOrang Asli—that refer to the “first peoples.” This standpoint, it is argued, avoids...


    • The Preoriginal Gift—and Our Response to It
      (pp. 217-232)

      InSacred Gaia(2000) and again inGaia’s Gift(2003), I explored the concept of “gift” while taking for granted that it involves more than simply an exchange of goods between two people. It is now time to spell out, as precisely as possible, what this “more than” refers to. Briefly, it presupposes that gift is essentially a community event constituted by diverse inputs over time from the environments—natural, biological, and social—of giver and receiver. Within this extended framework, such events are best understood as instances of symbolic behavior that mediate and disclose more of the basic and...

    • Prometheus Redeemed? From Autoconstruction to Ecopoetics
      (pp. 233-251)

      Over the past decade or so, a lively and fruitful conversation with postmodernist and poststructuralist strains of thought has been taking place among theologians and biblical scholars. As indicated by the recent work of Catherine Keller and Mark Wallace, among others, this is a conversation that some ecologically inclined religious thinkers are also beginning to join, and in so doing to reframe: for everything looks different when viewed from the perspective of an endangered earth.¹ In general, though, a certain mutual distrust between postmodernist and ecological thinkers still tends to prevail across the humanities and social sciences, not least in...

    • Toward a Deleuze-Guattarian Micropneumatology of Spirit-Dust
      (pp. 252-263)

      Christian ecotheologians of the last four decades have been pointed in their critiques of the metaphysical hierarchies lying at the foundations of Christian thought. Traditional cosmological mappings place God at the top of a metaphysical ladder that descends to the human male as God’s primary “image,” then down to the human female, animals, plants, and, finally, inanimate matter. This theological model of creation has been rightly criticized for its justification of human (not to mention male) domination of the earth. Less attention has been paid to the way this hierarchical model also functions to bind humans and nonhumans into “essentialized”...

    • Specters of Derrida: On the Way to Econstruction
      (pp. 264-288)

      I do not claim that Derrida explicitly saw environmentalism as the next step for deconstruction. It could be argued, indeed, that the direction he took cuts against environmental concerns.¹ In an extension of our broad responsibility for the human other, he has on a number of occasions attempted to articulate a face-to-face relation to his cat.² There is, however, a well-documented tension between those who take up questions of individual animals’ rights and/or their well-being, and those who pursue environmental issues. The animal rights advocate will rescue the bison trapped on the ice; the environmentalist will think of the bear...


    • Sacred-Land Theology: Green Spirit, Deconstruction, and the Question of Idolatry in Contemporary Earthen Christianity
      (pp. 291-314)

      Christianity often acts like a “discarnate” religion—that is, a religion that sees no relationship between the spiritual and the physical orders of being. Historically, it has devalued the flesh and the world as inferior to the concerns of the soul. In the history of the church, the earth was considered fallen and depraved because of Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden; many early theologians rejected marriage as giving in to sexual pleasure; and greatly revered saints and martyrs starved their bodies and beat themselves with sticks and whips in order to drive away earthly temptations. Pseudo-Titus, for...

    • Grounding the Spirit: An Ecofeminist Pneumatology
      (pp. 315-336)

      Her legs tap dance under the sheets as her ten-year-old mind reels from her first contemplation of googolplex. Wanting something to keep her from flying loose in the centrifugal forces that tug at bone and body and brain, she begs: “Make me heavy, Mama!”

      “Okay, sweetheart,” I say. “Close your eyes.” Then we begin to imagine those elemental threads that spin a hammock for mortal bodies. “Feel how the sun makes you heavy with sleep. Feel how the cool ground under the apple tree invites you to sink down into the violets and creeping Charlie. Let the earth grow roots...

    • Hearing the Outcry of Mute Things: Toward a Jewish Creation Theology
      (pp. 337-352)

      Up until recently, modern Jewish theology has not emphasized creation theology. Arthur Green has written that Jews have largely discarded creation as a theological issue because they became convinced that the origin of species or the origin of the universe is strictly the purview of the scientist rather than the theologian. As a result, any attempt at delineating a theology of creation was of little value. He says:

      But the issue of creation will not disappear so quickly. The search for meaning and the questions of origins do not readily separate from one another. When we ask ourselves what life...

    • Creatio ex Nihilo, Terra Nullius, and the Erasure of Presence
      (pp. 353-372)

      Justified by a transcendent and omnipotent Creatorex nihilo, imperial Christianity has been re-creating the world—as ifex nihilo—for the past 1500 years. The theology of an all-powerful Creator and Preserver has arguably served as the justification for a theoanthropology in which humans mimic the power of the Creator God through what Don Cupitt calls the “conquering ofnihil” and the “re-creation of” the world. Through this re-creation, an erasure of agency and identity takes place—as if the many spaces recreated by colonial powers had been, indeed, “found without inhabitants.”¹ In this chapter, I argue thatcreatio...

    • Surrogate Suffering: Paradigms of Sin, Salvation, and Sacrifice Within the Vivisection Movement
      (pp. 373-391)

      At the end of the nineteenth century, philanthropist Frances Power Cobbe bemoaned the nearly religious reverence bestowed upon the scientific community by the general populace.¹ Of particular concern to her was the newly emergent, yet increasingly powerful, discipline of vivisection—a discipline that promised medical salvation for humanity in exchange for the sacrifice and suffering of nonhuman animals. “To thousands of worthy people,” lamented Cobbe, “it is enough to say that Science teaches this or that, or that the interests of Science require such and such a sacrifice, to cause them to bow their heads, as pious ones of old...

    • The Hope of the Earth: A Process Ecoeschatology for South Korea
      (pp. 392-412)

      On June 2, 2006, the Supreme Court of South Korea gave final clearance for the South Korean government to continue tunneling through Mount Cheonseong for a new high-speed rail line; it did so without asking for or obtaining an Environmental Impact Assessment. Although environmentalists claim that adjacent ancient marshlands and the more than thirty protected species that inhabit Mount Cheonseong will be adversely affected by the construction project, the Court sided with the government’s decade-old official Environmental Impact Assessment, despite a unanimous February 2005 resolution from a parliamentary committee on construction and transportation advising a new assessment.

      Following in the...


    • Restoring Earth, Restored to Earth: Toward an Ethic for Reinhabiting Place
      (pp. 415-432)

      The sun strikes the rust-orange tailings of the now-abandoned copper mine as the group of worshippers breaks into song at the Easter sunrise service, celebrating the renewal of their faith and of their commitment to restoring the toxic landfill beneath their feet. Hundreds of miles to the east, flames crackle across the open field, recently planted in corn, now returning to tallgrass prairie, as college students and community members fan out to shepherd the fire through the dried grasses and recently re-established native plants. Amidst the Rocky Mountains several states to the west, local citizens pause from uprooting exotic and...

    • Caribou and Carbon Colonialism: Toward a Theology of Arctic Place
      (pp. 433-453)

      The time has come, thekairosis here. The Arctic places of the world, the regions of glaciers, permafrost, snow, wind, and ice are changing. The people of those lands have said so for decades, before Western scientists were able and willing to acknowledge the reality of global warming. A large factor in climate change is a widespread, systemic dependency on carbon-based fuels to power infrastructures, industries, and homes across the world. Fossil fuels have been the main power source to fuel commerce at home and abroad. This energy does not come without severe costs for the places it is...

    • Divining New Orleans: Invoking Wisdom for the Redemption of Place
      (pp. 454-467)

      This essay may be read more as an invocation, even as a prayer, than an argument. It is meant both to invoke and evoke, to summon the spirit of hope and to instigate incarnations of wisdom in the “City that Care Forgot.”¹ It ponders the fate of New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the late summer of 2005, and calls for compassionate wisdom—indeed, for the realm of God—to take root in this place. Composed during the first several months following the deluge and destruction of approximately 80 percent of the city, this essay is reflective of...

    • Constructing Nature at a Chapel in the Woods
      (pp. 468-482)

      The worlds in which we live are ripe with images of nature: as our mother, as a wilderness to be tamed, as a divine gift to be stewarded, or as a pure and idyllic garden. Nonhumans appear to us as “nature” largely (or perhaps entirely) through such systems of human, symbolic constructions, often replicating or justifying power relations between humans. Nevertheless, while nature comes to us mediated through human symbols, it is not reducible to our social constructions.¹ Nonhumans—both living and inanimate—continue to exist apart from human representations of them.

      Perhaps even more significantly, however, we humans also...

    • Felling Sacred Groves: Appropriation of a Christian Tradition for Antienvironmentalism
      (pp. 483-492)

      This story from Butler’sLives of the SaintsinitiatesThe Cross and the Rainforestby Robert Whelan. This latter, more recent book builds its polemic against contemporary environmentalism on the historical Christian precedent of cutting down trees in order to save pagan souls. It represents a corporate-funded Christianity that now implicitly champions, in its support for the globalized economy, deforestation in the name of this ancient, saintly practice of felling the sacred trees. Before examining this modern fusion of anti-environmentalism with the enduring Christian fear of paganism, let us first consider the history and context of this mandate to eradicate...


    • Ethics and Ecology: A Primary Challenge of the Dialogue of Civilizations
      (pp. 495-503)

      This is a powerful statement from one of the leading historians of world history. Yet we might expand Toynbee’s statement to suggest that the twenty-first century will be remembered by this extension of our moral concerns not only to humans, but to other species and ecosystems as well. From social justice to ecojustice, the movement of human care and ethics is now part of ever-widening concentric circles.

      Indeed, the twenty-first century may be remembered as the century in which humans laid the foundations for the well-being of the planet as a whole by embracing the entire earth-community. The future of...

    • Religion and the Earth on the Ground: The Experience of GreenFaith in New Jersey
      (pp. 504-516)

      Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the grassroots religious-environmental movement in the United States has grown noticeably. More houses of worship engage ecological issues than ever before. A small but growing number of religiously oriented organizations address the link between faith and the earth. While this rate of growth has not, in my opinion, matched the growth in the number of ecotheologians, or the prominence of ecotheology in seminaries or religion departments, it has moved from being a rarity to being part of the local religious landscape, even if a majority of congregations have still not...

    • Cries of Creation, Ground for Hope: Faith, Justice, and the Earth Interfaith Worship Service
      (pp. 517-530)

      This service took place during the Ground for Hope conference at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, on September 30, 2005, and was designed by a Methodist minister and a Conservative rabbi so as to reflect the various faith groups who were represented at that conference and the message of interfaith cooperation and work that was central to the keynote addresses by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Jay McDaniel that followed immediately after the service. We asked students from various racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds to participate, so that the human voices represented spanned the globe and included all the continents...

    • The Firm Ground for Hope: A Ritual for Planting Humans and Trees
      (pp. 531-535)

      This is a story about a community’s ritual life as it relates to organic and architectural structures. This particular narrative of tree blessings begins the year before the Ground of Hope conference is held at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. After planting a new tree as a sign of commitment to what is to come, the seminary community gathers in the shade of the four giant oaks that will be destroyed in order to build a new wing with an elevator. We are sacrificing these ancestors for the sake of those who have been excluded by our inaccessible physical...

    • Musings from White Rock Lake: Poems
      (pp. 536-542)