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Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth

Monday 21 December 2009

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Ecospirit
Religions and Philosophies for the Earth.


- Edited by Laurel Kearns & Catherine Keller. New York, NY
- Fordham University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi + 644. Paper

Ecospirit represents a significant collection of insightful articles that, after two decades of ecotheology, brings a new set of questions and range of viewpoints. The bulk of ecotheological scholarship has been, at its weakest, apologetic, or offering frail attempts to paste religious teachings onto the current crisis. At its best, it has been an intense quest for understanding the religious depths of contemporary eco / social / religious troubles and offering insights into ecological recovery. Given the urgency of the crisis, and the awareness that at a planetary level Earth’s processes are close to their tipping-points—water, climate change, species extinction—these authors pursue a counter tipping-point, a loosely defined collective or planetary thrust for a viable future for the whole planet. These articles open new doors for thinking, for increasing conversation partners, and for strengthening commitments about what is needed to make a "green shift" for a sustainable future.

The editors, Kearnes and Keller, put together this transdisciplinary collection in an attempt to ground ecological thinking, and in particular ecotheological and ecophilosphical views, in carefully crafted, multi-faceted, and spirited ways. The book as a whole is a well constructed collection of essays, useful and accessible in various educational contexts. As well, it provides an educated public with a nuanced overview of the expanding range of topics needed to understand the emerging and maturing eco-spirited insights from religious and philosophical disciplines.

The introduction deals with the significant challenges discovered by those addressing the roles religions could play in supporting this green shift: the diverse yet shared Earth ground; the complex matrix of relationships out of which a future will emerge; of a common humanity within the reigning politics of difference; of the past and present, beneficial and limiting relationships between theology and philosophy; and, of the limits and insights of modernity and various postmodern theories. These tensions, many of which have been identified over the past twenty years of ecotheological scholarship, do not require more description or analysis. New modes of thinking and comprehension are required to respond creatively, and intelligently to these tensions, and to the dimensions of the contemporary crises that they represent. The topics discussed in the introduction provide the reader with the overall purpose of the project—to explore a new mode of thinking whereby we commit ourselves to navigate such minefields as identity politics, multi-disciplinarity, multi-religious awareness, transnational collaboration, diversity and commonality, and the consideration of the animals and life communities of the greater than human world. As well, the editors encourage extending and innovating modes of expression into flexible, fluid, intuitive and poetic spaces where novel imagery and inter-connections can coalesce.

The two editors, both well published, are known for considering ecotheological issues over many years. Although the preface and introduction are jointly written one can discern the styles and views of each. In characteristic Keller style, the language is often lyric, evocative, clever and rich, taking the reader down paths where language illuminates anew "our planetarity—in which everything is at stake" (p. 3). Kearnes, often concerned with ecojustice, activism, concrete changes and the limits of academic abstract rhetoric ensures that these themes are woven throughout the introduction and the book. Kearnes and Keller are to be applauded for moving ecotheologicai conversations into new territories, for inviting multidisciplinary collaboration, for dusting off the stale bridges between theology and philosophy, and for trying to ground the entire project in larger planetary dimensions of thought and spirit for the sake of the whole and the Earth.

The book is divided into six sections, with five or six articles in each. The first addresses ways of "thinking, talking and walking the spirit-ground," such as how ecological concerns awaken inter-religious encounters and ecoecumenism yet in consideration of cultural pluralism and gender and ecojustice disparities. This is followed by significant essays on the construction of nature, theology, knowledge, science and other epistemological and theoretical issues. The third section navigates the troubled waters of ecological sensibilities and postmodern / poststructural thinking—again intense but worth the theoretical effort. The fourth section looks at the transformation of dogma, from rigid formulations on pneumatology, creation, and eschatology to empowering ecological reconstructions, and ones that take seriously contemporary approaches to religious symbols and imagery as well as scientific considerations of cosmology and evolutionary biology. The last two sections look at place, and particular places, as well as themes of hope, liturgy, aesthetics and ethics. These are a blend of case studies and informed reflections.

Biography of LAUREL KEARNS

LAUREL KEARNS is Associate Professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies in the Theological School and Graduate Division of Religion of Drew University. She is assistant editor and contributor to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.

From the Publisher

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.


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