MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology
After you have viewed the lecture and completed your reading please choose ONE of the questions below. We suggest you write 160-200 words for your forum post.
Drawing on the lecture, the readings and the two short documentaries this week do you agree with the proposition that the three dimensions of spiritual ecology outlined by Sponsel – practical, intellectual and spiritual- are the ultimate solution to resolving the ecological crises? (Another dimension to this question would be to think about whether secular approaches have proved to be insufficient in meeting the challenges of the ecocrisis.) MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
MODULE 2 Discussion Forum
Last week’s reading from Ellen focussed mainly on materialist aspects of human-environment relations (adaptation in particular) this week we shift our focus to the non-material aspects. The aim of the session is to familiarise yourself with spiritual ecology and to acknowledge the diversity of worldviews that inform responses to the question of “what is human nature?” Spiritual Ecology also involves questions about how humans create elaborate symbolic systems from their perceived relationships with the world, as well as practical means of sustaining and implementing these relationships.
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MODULE 2 Discussion Forum
Question 1. Spiritual Ecology: the ultimate solution for Ecological Crises?
Drawing on the lecture, the readings and the two short documentaries this week do you agree with the proposition that the three dimensions of spiritual ecology outlined by Sponsel – practical, intellectual and spiritual- are the ultimate solution to resolving the ecological crises? (Another dimension to this question would be to think about whether secular approaches have proved to be insufficient in meeting the challenges of the ecocrisis.)
Watch this video before answering the question.
- Spiritual Ecology: what is the place of humans in nature?
Cultural Materialism :
human social life is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence’ (Harris 1979: ix) e.g. Sacred Cow in India (Harris 1985).
- Cultural Materialism is straightforward functionalist materialist approach to anthropology based on the idea that ‘human social life is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence.’
- satisfaction of everyday economic needs is the primary reality – materialism takes the position that society and reality originate from a set of simple economic acts – obtaining food, shelter, and clothing. which human beings carry out in order to provide the material necessities of life.
- From this basic economic act, Marx believed, flows the system of social relations which include political, legal and religious models. MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
- CM emphasis on empirical phenomena such as economy (e.g. food), technology, environment, and population adopts an evolutionary perspective and guided by rules of Western science (etic). Observation of what people do (behaviour) as opposed to what people say.
- Overlooks non-material aspects of culture (symbols, language, values and norms) – which are assumed to be non-empirical and therefore ‘not scientific’.
– Focus on inequalities of power & wealth and how these factors relate to human access and control over resources (gender, race, ethnicity, caste and class)
– Concerned with marginalised groups and issues of social justice (e.g. the impact of conservation reserves on Indigenous peoples/local landholders)
– Emphasis on scale, from household – local – global; – few places/people in the world untouched by global forces: climate change, capitalism, media, transnational conservation NGOs, and the UN,
– most widely used approach in environmental anthropology; see eg. Eric Wolf 1982; Biersack 2006; Robbins 2012 – many disciplines adopt this approach including: human geography; political science; environmental science, & anthropology.
– Earlier studies demonised globalisation; overemphasised marginalised people as “victims” of structural inequality (not enough attention to agency) MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
Culture and Environment:
WEEK 2: SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY:
Western Highway VIC
- The $672m project to duplicate a section of Melb-Adelaide highway (commenced 2010)
- More than 260 trees (some said to be 800 years old) are slated to be bulldozed to make way for a 12km duplication of the Western Highway between Buangor and Ararat.
- Aboriginal protesters first set up camp to block work on the section between Buangor and Ararat in June 2018
- Djab-Warrung application to protect sacred trees under the federal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act early last year.
2018 Winter Olympics Pyeongchang- “sacred” trees removed for downhill ski run
600 year old tree pronounced dead in Basking Ridge, New Jersey
- “a tree becomes sacred through recognition of the power that it expresses. This power may be manifested as the food, shelter, fuel, materials used to build boats, or medicine that the tree provides. MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.How a tree is used will vary according to geography, species of tree, and the particular needs (and ingenuity) of the human culture involved. Sacred trees have also provided beauty, hope, comfort,, and inspiration, nurturing and healing the mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of our being. They are symbols of life, abundance, creativity, generosity, permanence, energy, and strength.” (Altman in Taylor 2006: 1661)
Sacred trees: Buddhism & Hinduism:
Spirit of the trees: pop culture
Anthropology of Religion: chronology
- 19th – early 20th C: Origins (linked to ideas of unilineal evolution)
- Early – mid 20th C: Function – (social cohesion – Durkheim; or ideology Marx)
- Mid 20thC – present: Meaning (Geertz)
Religion as a cultural system: Geertz
- 1. Religion is a system of symbols which acts to
- 2. establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in [people] by
- 3. formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and
- 4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that
- 5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (Geertz 1973: 90)
“Spiritual Ecology may be defined as the vast, diverse, complex, and dynamic arena of intellectual and practical activities at the interfaces between religions and spiritualities on the one hand, and ecologies, environments, and environmentalisms on the other” (Sponsel 2014a: xiii)
Spiritual Ecology (Sponsel 2011: 41)
- “…spiritual ecology attends to the fact that religion and spirituality can be a significant influence on worldviews, values, attitudes, and behaviours, and that aspects of these may have environmental consequences.(original emphasis)
- Thereby spiritual ecology complements the other major approaches within ecological anthropology of cultural ecology, historical ecology, and political ecology which, with a few notable exceptions have usually ignored religion and spirituality” (my emphasis)…
- Spiritual ecology includes all forms of religion and spirituality; from indigenous totemism to institutionalised religions; from new religious movements to new age spirituality
Nature in Spiritual Ecology
- “nature is sacred and has intrinsic value”
- “…for many indigenous and other cultures, nature is far more than a biophysical reality: in addition, it is a spiritual reality.”
- “Nature is considered to be permeated with a multitude of diverse and powerful spiritual beings and forces” (Sponsel 2011: 41)
- In animist & totemic systems kinship extended to plants and animals
- “Religions are alternative ways of affording nature various cultural, moral, and spiritual meanings, and defining the place of humans in nature, including how they should act toward non-human beings and other phenomena.” (Sponsel 2011: 43) MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
- Religion as a foundational framework through which humans interact with nature.
Christian traditions: the concept of Dominion (Genesis 1:29)
In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on earth.” And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be food.”
White 1967. The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis
- the Judaeo-Christian creation narrative of Genesis sets humans above nature, desacralises nature and has, in part through its alliance with western science and technology, paved the way for our exploitation of nature.
- “More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one”
- White sees these attitudes as a defining feature of western culture and “almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians.”
Bateson: Steps to an Ecology of Mind
“If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.
If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.” (Gregory Bateson 1972)
Christian theology & ecology: Ecotheology
- “The greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history…The key to an understanding of Francis is his belief in the virtue of humility – not merely for the individual but for man as a species. Francis tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God’s creatures” (White 1967: 1207)
- 1979 Pope JPII declares St Francis of Assisi the patron saint of ecology
Neopaganism; Eco-spirituality and the New Age
- Basic understanding in eco-spirituality is that the divine is present in all creation
- Link to much older form of the religious worship of nature -pantheism
- Deep Ecology (Naess 1989)
- GAIA hypothesis – James Lovelock
Christian theology & ecology • US Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship http://www.conservativestewards.org/leaders hip/ • http://earthministry.org/
- A Crime Against Creation (12 min)
Indigenous perspectives 1: Cosmology & worldview
Indigenous perspectives 2: Cosmology & adaptation (Reichel-Dolmatoff)
- Tukano Desana – NW Amazon Columbian Vaupes
- contrast and compare with Rappaport’s systems analysis (cosmology & ontology central) MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
- “Threatening processes” – Over-exploitation of environmental resources; excessive Population growth; Interpersonal aggression
- Shaman as agent of homeostasis: “an ecological engineer in monitoring trends in the distribution and abundance of prey populations and in implementing food and sex taboos to regulate the balance between the human predator and its animal prey” (Sponsel 2011: 47 my emphasis)
A sample of other influential writing on religion and ecology
- Bron Taylor 2013. Avatar and Nature Spirituality.
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University) 1968 The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man explores relationship between humans and nature in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Taosim. (lectures on youtube)
- Steven Rockefeller & John Elder (eds.) 1992, Spirit in Nature: Why the environment is a religious issue (revised papers from Interfaith conference)
- John Grim & Mary Tucker (Co-Directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale) 2013 Ecology and Religion.
- Grim & Tucker; Grim & Tucker 2
- Satish Kumar: Indian disarmament activist/author; ed. Resurgence and Ecologist magazine, Internat. Centre for Ecological Studies, Schumacher College • Satish Kumar on “Reverential Ecology
Vayda’s Critique of Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology
- “… the very worsening of environmental problems may cause more determined and better application of secular fixes, as is suggested by the green-energy programs and other measures that China is instituting after assessing the cost of the country’s continually increasing air pollution in material and political but not noticeably spiritual terms”
- “…spiritual ecology by itself need not be seen as the only alternative to secular fixes… there is no a priori privileging of any one type of solution, whether spiritual, secular, political, economic, or whatever, but rather there is due consideration and testing of combinations of types to determine what works and under what conditions it does so.” (Vayda 2014: 347)
Religion and spirituality can be a significant influence on worldviews, values, attitudes, and behaviours, and that aspects of these may have environmental consequences. MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
- Human-environmental interactions may involve natural and supernatural; reason and emotion; material and symbolic dimensions.
- Religion can be adaptive or maladaptive as determinant of environmental impact. MODULE 2 Discussion Forum Question 1. Spiritual Ecology.
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