Eco-anxiety and Spirituality in Literature

ECR

23 février 2023

24 février 2023

Louvain-la-Neuve

Sénat académique

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As the climate crisis accelerates, one response that contemporary authors take amidst the growing feelings of eco-anxiety is to narrate themes of religion and spirituality as a source of solace. Though there is no doubt that the theologies and practices of western patriarchal religions have created systems of harm and contributed to the climate crisis (Lynn White Jr), contemporary authors are reclaiming the spiritual practices and mystic traditions of such religions in order to imagine narratives in which restorative relationships between the human and the more-than-human world are negotiated. Scholars such as Benedicte Meillon have begun to explore how the ecopoetics of re-enchantment can help us understand (non)human nature cultures. Grounded in theories and practice of Land-based Judaism, Andrea Most seeks to understand the embodied relationships between humans and land, while Karen Armstrong—a former nun turned researcher—assesses how viewing nature as sacred can shift cultural values to slow ecological devastation. These theological explorations play out parallel the continual unfolding of the Gia hypothesis which sees all existence (organic and inorganic) connected in self-sustaining relationships (James Lovelock, Bruno Latour).

These concerns then surface in the writing of authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers and Amitav Ghosh as they explore spiritual themes and alternative ways of knowing alongside scientific thought in order to find solace and hope in the climate crisis. Indigenous traditional knowledge and spiritual practices that offer insight into how to build better relationships with the more-than-human world have likewise become increasingly interesting to environmental writers. Buddhist philosophical perspectives and secular meditation techniques are also appearing with growing frequency in both literature and classrooms as a tool to and combat concerns of eco-anxiety. Similarly, narratives of interdependence and collective spiritual practice—such as the global prayer hour in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future—reflect the ethics of community care championed by social environmental movements.

While this ecospiritual dimension is particularly clear in recent literature, environmental writing is obviously not new. According to Richard Watson, “from the earliest instances of epic, pastoral and georgic, literature has offered a critique as well as an expression of nostalgia for the inviolate natural world that has always been not quite with us” (Watson 40). Likewise, in Reclaiming Romanticism Kate Rigby brings the Romantic tradition into the Anthropocene with a decolonial perspective to reflect on how the works of authors such as Wordsworth and Shelley can speak to our current environmental challenges. Looking to Eastern religions, others have examined the presence of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs in environmental literature from the Beat generation to today (Kyle Garton-Gundling). In a similar vein, Samantha Walton has mapped a heritage of cultural myths that perpetuate the ‘nature cure,’ and the ways in which western wellness cultures profit off the idea of nature as a source of healing.

This two-day international workshop seeks to explore the role of eco-spiritual practices and different ways of knowing in various literary and spiritual traditions. Not restricted to any particular era of writing, this conference will map how representations of the environment have comingled with spiritual practices throughout literary history, and how these practices and sources of knowledge are re-imagined today. From representations of Christian Mysticism to Indigenous Spiritualities to Buddhism and secular meditation, we welcome submissions examining diverse spiritual and therapeutic traditions. However, in approaching these diverse traditions there runs a risk of cultural appropriation and perpetuation of the capitalist-colonial attitudes that continue to perpetuate the climate crisis. Thus, this conference seeks to engage critically with multi-cultural interpretations of spirituality in literature from a decolonial framework that avoids reductions such as the tropes of the ‘ecological Indian’ or wise savage (Shepherd Kreech). We look forward to engaging in exciting conversations

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