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The Soul of Nature:
The Meaning of Ecological Spirituality

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. See contents page for full permissions.

1: Defining ecological spirituality

There 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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