I’m reorganizing the piece I wrote for the School of Advanced Research workshop on science, nature, and religion so that part of it will fit into the introduction of the book we are producing (which I’m co-writing with the workshop organizer and chair, Catherine Tucker) and the rest will make up the book’s concluding chapter. The original piece had a coherence to it that will be lost somewhat, so I thought I would share the first couple of sections of it here.

(Graham Harman’s recent comments about the slowness of traditional scholarly publishing versus the rapidity and accessibility of open-access publishing, which reiterate the argument that got me to set up this blog in the first place, has encouraged me to want to share at least something of this SAR event that happened a year and a half ago, and that won’t culminate with a publication for several months still.)

The remainder of this piece, including the “cosmopolitical” argument I alluded to in this post at the time, will remain in the book’s conclusion. You’ll have to wait for the book to read the finished version of that. It will be a very good collection, and I hope SAR Press doesn’t make it too inaccessible for the general public.

Here are a couple of excerpts…


Religious (Re-)Turns in the Wake of Global Nature: Toward a Cosmopolitics

“God is Back,” exclaims the cover of a recent book by Economist journalists Micklethwaite and Wooldridge (2009). In the years following September 11, 2001, it seems that what a minority of scholars had been quietly telling each other has now become something shouted from the rooftops: not only has religion not gone away, as modernizers and secularization theorists—those who committed the deeds that contributed to God’s removal, and those who just observed and narrated them—both assumed it would; no, it appears that religion has returned with a vengeance.

But is religion resurgent, or had it never really gone away, except among the secular intellectuals who had prematurely announced its demise? Whatever the case with religion itself, what is less deniable is that there has been a religious turn among philosophers and social scientists, including some of the most prominent intellectuals of our time, from Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas to Charles Taylor, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Slavoj Zizek (cf. Davis, Milbank, and Zizek 2005; de Vries 2006, 2008; Latour and Weibel 2002). And while at least part of this theo-philosophical turn preceded the events of 9-11 (de Vries 1999), those events have surely contributed to the explosive charge that cultural and religious differences—“civilizational” differences, for some—have come to carry. This is no less the case in Western liberal democracies, where many fear the intrusive encroachment of “others” whose cultural values appear threateningly different from the mainstream, than in those parts of the world where foreign armies impose wars that are believed to be over religion as much as anything else.

[. . .]

Together, these three moments—the turn to ecology (provoked by White 1967) within communities of faith, the turn to religion among environmentalists, and the return of philosophers to the full force and meaning of religion in the post–Cold War and post–9-11 world—frame a set of shifts in the relationship between religion, nature, and science, which this volume probes with case studies and which I attempt to contextualize in this chapter. Specifically, I intend to think through what exactly the religious component of these shifts might be. But first let us examine more closely the question raised by White, a question that has never been conclusively answered: Does religion shape or affect environmental practice, and if so, how?

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The rest of the introduction and the first two sections (“Religion and the environmental crisis” and “What is religion and how is it related to what it isn’t? How did this set of relations come about?”) can be read here. The remainder, including the sections “What is happening with religion today?”, “What, if anything, should we as engaged scholars do about it?”, and “Clearing a space for the cosmopolitical,” will come out in revised form in the book to be published by SAR Press.

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