Tag Archive: ecotheology


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

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Over the past several days I’ve gone from the cool wetness of Alaska’s southeast coast to the high dryness of north-central New Mexico. The first was pure holiday, accompanied by loved ones (including those who generously funded it) and featuring glaciers, salmon, a black bear (devouring one of the salmon), a ride on one of the most scenic train routes in the world, and the ambiguous eco-ethics of spending a week on a cruise ship (but I decided not to look such a gift horse too closely in the mouth). The second has been a kind of work vacation involving a week of conversations on the topic of science, nature, and religion, generously funded, hosted (and wined and dined — there’s even a book about their culinary tradition) by the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe.

The SAR has been funding anthropological research, hosting seminars and residencies, publishing books, and working alongside Native American artists to collect and preserve art and material culture for over a hundred years now. Its campus, a former artist’s colony called El Delirio and cheekily referred to as an “anthropologists’ resort,” is just outside downtown Santa Fe, which, at 7000 feet, is a deceptively uncitylike state capital; buildings are restricted to three stories and a limited range of variations on deep-cream-colored adobe (or adobe-style) architecture. The late summer days here heat up, albeit sweatlessly, but the mornings, evenings, and nights swell up invitingly into the big starry sky, with sweet summer smells of lush semi-desert vegetation (pinyon pine and juniper, cottonwood, fruit trees, yucca, Russian olive blossoms, cholla cactus), layers of soft cricket chirpings, and the occasional coyote chorus or quite (but communicative) prairie dog (see above) scurrying around in the grasses. The city is greener than I remember it from a brief visit in 1994, and it seems to be dealing with its water issues reasonably well (water being the limiting factor in these parts). It feels good to be in the southwest again (having visited this part of the country only briefly a few times since my fieldwork in Arizona in the mid-1990s).

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Another Thomas Berry quote worth spending a bit of time with:

“Acceptance of the challenging aspect of the natural world is a primary condition for creative intimacy with the natural world. Without this opaque or even threatening aspect of the universe we would lose our greatest source of creative energy. This opposing element is as necessary for us as is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us.” (The Great Work, p. 67)

Berry defines “the wild” as “the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being” (which sounds Deleuzian to me) and which is counterposed to a second constituent force in the universe, discipline or form. “The wild,” as my colleague Stephanie Kaza paraphrases in her review of The Great Work, “is the expansive force, the disciplined is the containing force, ‘bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe’ (p. 52).”

I wonder how this dyadic understanding stacks up against the more monistic, Deleuzian-Spinozian (and Whiteheadian) views that see form-building, or morphogenesis, as part of the same process of spontaneous becoming (e.g. as developed by Manuel DeLanda in A New Philosophy of Society, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, and A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History). This could probably be boiled down into the question: can the two (the expansive and the containing, the Yin and the Yang) also be one (the Dao)? Is Deleuze/Guattari’s ‘desiring-production’ (connection, becoming, subjectivation) analogous to the Dao, as Deleuzian acupuncture theorist Mark Seem has suggested, with any perceived differences being only differences of emphasis — Deleuze focusing more on the open-ended possibilities of becoming, and Daoism focusing on the patterns by which that process of becoming works itself out in time and in space, territorializing and deterritorializing as it goes?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. It’s time to go hear what wisdom my friend Cate Sandilands and British lit crit Greg Garrard can impart about “Our Critical Challenges: What’s Next for Ecocriticism?” (I’m at the ASLE conference in Victoria, British Columbia. More on it soon.)

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The tributes are starting to come in for Thomas Berry, Catholic ecotheologian (or “geologian,” as he sometimes referred to himself), scholar, and spiritual/deep ecological visionary, who passed away at age 94 yesterday. Berry is best known for books including The Dream of the Earth, The Universe Story (with physicist Brian Swimme), and The Great Work, in which he articulated the idea that the universe is not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects. Berry wrote:

“If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and the seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.”

A few of the more interesting tributes are from the National Catholic Reporter and Drew Dellinger, whose tribute to Thomas is shared on Gus DiZerega’s blog. But I’m sure there will be much more about him in the coming days.

Berry’s vision is completely in synch with the views I’ve described on this blog under the terms “immanentism,” “immanent naturalism,” et al. His passion and writing will continue to nourish many.

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