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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality
Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents
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1: Defining ecological spirituality
are (at least) two avenues from which the topic of ecological spirituality
can be approached: the relevance of spirituality to ecological concerns,
and the relevance of ecology to spiritual concerns.
From either direction, the topic may seem unnecessary, problematic or
threatening to some people. Some environmentalists are deeply skeptical
of anything resembling religion, fearing that by exploring such things
we may be on the brink of fulfilling the worst fears of our adversaries
-- shedding the guise of rationalistic proponents of ecological balance
and revealing ourselves as the crazed, atavistic tree-worshipping neo-druids
they always knew we were underneath. And many who consider themselves
spiritual may question the relevance of ecological concerns: after all,
if the task of spirituality is perceived to be transcending the limitations
of the physical world, as is often considered to be the case within
both the Western Neoplatonic tradition and certain Eastern religions
as well, why should spiritual people concern themselves with "merely"
physical ecological issues?
But it may be that there is enough relevance to this topic to outweigh
the concerns that its airing may provoke. From the environmentalist
perspective, many have argued, as we shall see, that our key challenge
is to bring about a shift in consciousness, a fundamental change in
worldview, ethics and identity. These changes all fall within the realm
of thought and experience that religion and spirituality attempt to
address: questions of who we are, what our relationship to the rest
of the world is, what our true priorities are or should be, and how
we ought to live.
Examining the issue from the other side, I think the relevance of ecological
concerns to spirituality can best be inferred from the considerable
upsurge in interest in environmental matters, within both the established
churches and countercultural spiritual movements. From the creation
spirituality of Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox to the Earth-centred Buddhism
of Gary Snyder and Stephanie Kaza, to the increasing politicization
of the neo-pagan movement, to the burgeoning interest in Native spirituality
among both Native and non-Native peoples (and the latter has been problematic
in its own right, as we shall see), signs of interest in ecological
issues can be seen across the religious spectrum.
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