I’m getting ready to head to Spain, where I’ve been invited to give a talk on “green pilgrimage” at the Fourth Colloquium Compostela. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ll be speaking about.


Green Pilgrimage: Prospects for Ecology and Peace-Building

1. Introduction: Pilgrimage, tourism, & travel in the 21st century

(Growth of tourism & pilgrimage worldwide, de-differentiation of the two, de-institutionalization of religion & “spirituality”, etc.)

2. Green Pilgrimage as ecologically sustainable pilgrimage:

… (a) Pilgrimage & sustainability: traditional pilgrimage as ecologically unsustainable, the ecotourism analogy

… (b) Greening traditional pilgrimage: the “greening of religion,” the Alliance for Religion and Conservation, and other movements of religio-ecological collaboration at pilgrimage & sacred sites

3. Green Pilgrimage as ecological civil religion:

… (a) Ecology, science, civil religion, & sacred sites: defining “civil religion,” post-traditional spiritualities, science/ecology/environmentalism as civil religion, science’s sacred sites (Galapagos, Cradle of Humanity, world heritage sites and biosphere reserves, etc.), ecological commemorative/heritage sites

… (b) ‘Gaian’ pilgrimage: varieties of ecospirituality, their problems & prospects, their sustainability & unsustainability

4. Conclusion: Problems & prospects for green pilgrimage

(Ecospirituality & spiritual tourism, commodification vs. authenticity, negotiating cultural difference, Fourth World/pan-indigenous movements, etc.)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Among the big-picture themes that are emerging in my thinking and writing on this topic are (1) that ‘science,’ ‘the secular,’ and ‘religion’ are all changing in postmodern/globalizing conditions (in different ways, which I won’t get into here), and (2) that faith traditions are converging and diverging in various ways, including the following:

(a) liberal/open/ecumenical movements within faith communities are allying with and converging with similar movements in other faith communities, sometimes with ‘secular’ go-betweens (like the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Alliance on Religion and Conservation, and others) facilitating the process;

(b) conservative/traditionalist/fundamentalist movements within faith communities are diverging from others (closing in on themselves, “circling their wagons”), at the same time as some among them are finding situational allies in ‘adjacent’ but different faith communities.

One could foresee a situation where, a hundred years from now, the map of global religion is no longer the ‘civilizational’ one that many today still take for granted, in which, for instance, Christianity is dominant in the West and parts of Africa, Islam in West Asia and parts of north Africa and Indonesia, and so on. Rather, the map is divided between, on one hand, a more generic science-compatible ecumenism and, on the other, a social conservative ‘traditionalism’ that takes religiously and culturally divergent hues in different places (with more differentiated traditionalists and new and hybrid religious communities staking themselves out everywhere against this broadly polarized background).

The logic here is that both social liberals and social conservatives have more to gain by allying with others they agree with. In this scenario, social issues, such as the ones that divide Americans so vividly today (abortion, homosexuality, ‘family values,’ and so on), will have not gone away; rather, they will have globalized. Racial/cultural/immigration issues, on the other hand, will cross-cut against these in different ways depending on the specifics of a given geopolitical and territorial context.

The role of technologies like the internet in all of this — assuming they don’t collapse from some 21st century e-virus — is that they will continue to contribute both to the pluralization/proliferation of religious/spiritual/cultural identities and, at the same time, to the spreading of a certain set of ‘background’ polarities, such as the social liberalism-conservatism polarity, within which these plural identities will be situating themselves. As strict secularism declines (the ‘New Atheists’ being a kind of last gasp for die-hard materialists) and as faith traditions get reinvented for a post-traditional, post-secular era, the terrain of the global — and the possibilities for a global civil religiosity, i.e. for ideas ritually attended to and practices incorporated into daily life, which would connect the global public sphere with the local and everyday — will be a terrain of struggle between the following three main religio-cultural forms:

(1) Eco-ecumenism of some sort (eco-global civil religion),

(2) An invigorated and plurally-rooted social traditionalism that brings together elements from many of today’s fundamentalist and conservative movements, and

(3) Localist, protectionist insurgencies (“close the borders and keep out the foreigners/job-stealers/deviants”) and their global guerrilla-warfare proxies.

Sadly (for those who hold such preferences), I don’t see much of a future for the sort of socially and culturally libertarian secularism that is well established today in western developed countries. They are a vestige of modernism that won’t be able to hold up against the vigor of the kinds of spiritual-experiential practices that will energize #2 above, and to a lesser extent #1. (The dramatic growth of Pentecostalism in recent years gives a foretaste of #2.) But I think the blowback to consumer capitalism (which is inevitable) will most often take the form of right-wing social conservative movements, protectionist nationalisms, and the like, rather than any secular (and class-based) socialist-internationalist forms. And with it, libertarianism and bohemianism will remain options mainly for those who can afford them. The future of the Left, as I see it, is tied in with ecology and some form of spirituality; without them, the Left seems doomed.

There’s my little bit of prophecy for the day. I think there’s a fair deal of suggestive sociological data that would support it. But since I’m not, for the moment, publishing on these topics (at least not until I get my film book out), I’ll let these ideas simmer and watch things unfold from the sidelines.

Meanwhile, if you’re waiting for anything from me (articles, revisions, manuscripts, reviews), please bear with me. It’s been a busier semester than I had anticipated…

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