Category Archives: integral

Pope Francis and Integral Ecology

The new encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common Home, contains many references to “integral ecology,” including an entire chapter by that title.

It’s relatively clear that Francis is working with the integral ecology proposed by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who draws on the general ecology of Félix Guattari and the integral ecology proposed by the cultural historian Thomas Berry. Regarding Boff’s influence, consider the Pope’s allusion to Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (# 49). The Pope’s sense of integral ecology is also clearly influenced by the ecological sensibility of St. Francis of Assisi, whose phrase “Laudato Si'” (from his Canticle of the Creatures) provides the title and opening line for the encyclical.

The following are the selections from the encyclical that explicitly mention integral ecology. There are also many other references to integral and integrative approaches, including integral development, progress, and education. Moreover, the Pope does not intend integral ecology to be an exclusively or primarily Catholic endeavor. The encyclical is addressed toevery person living on this planet” (#3).

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. […] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (#10-11)

“We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” (#141)

Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour. (#124)

“An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us….” (#225)

“An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (#230)

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.” (#159)

On the Verge of a Planetary Civilization: A Philosophy of Integral Ecology

This book is the first in a series of works in which I explore the dynamics of planetary coexistence.  You can get it from from the publisher (Rowman & Littlefield International) HERE.


Below you’ll find the summary and a few blurbs: Continue reading

Becoming Inaccessible: A Touch of Castaneda

Becoming integral is a way of life.  It is the light touch cultivated in the art of becoming inaccessible…

I think often of Carlos Castaneda.

“The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible,” he [Don Juan] said.  “In the case of that blond girl it would’ve meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly.  Not the way you did.  You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom.  True?”
            I did not answer.  I felt I did not have to.  He was right.
“To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly.  You don’t eat five quail; you eat one.  You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit.  You don’t expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory.  You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.”
—Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1991), p. 69. 

“But don’t overdo it,” he went on.  “The touch of warrior-travelers is very light, although it is cultivated.  The hand of a warrior-traveler begins as a heavy, gripping, iron hand but becomes like the hand of a ghost, a hand made of gossamer.  Warrior-travelers leave no marks, no tracks.  That’s the challenge of warrior-travelers.”
—Castaneda, Active Side of Infinity (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 146.

Integrating Deconstruction

It’s easy to use a philosopher’s concepts and stylistic strategies without actually confronting some of the serious challenges that the philosopher is engaging.  A case in point: Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, in its extremely comprehensive treatment of various perspectives, discourses, and ways of knowing, often picks up on important conceptual and stylistic elements of philosophers without fully engaging those philosophers’ problems.  Wilber’s treatment of Derrida is a fine example.

Wilber attempts to integrate Derrida into this Integral framework, yet fails to come to terms with the deconstruction of the transcendental signified.  Gregory Desilet discusses this problem of the transcendental signified in an essay on “Misunderstanding Derrida and Postmodernism” (on ), where he shows how Wilber has simply misread and misquoted Derrida on this issue.  In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000, p. 629) Wilber refers to an interview of Derrida’s (in Positions), arguing that Derrida therein accepts “genuine transcendental signifieds” on the grounds that translation is not possible without them.  The problem is simply that Wilber improperly interpolates when he cites this interview.  When Derrida says “no translation would be possible without it,” the “it” to which he is referring should not be understood as “the transcendental signified.”  Rather, the “it” refers to the “difference” between signifier and signified.

That this opposition or difference cannot be radical or absolute does not prevent it from functioning, and even from being indispensable within certain limits—very wide limits. For example, no translation would be possible without it. (Derrida, Positions, 2004, p. 19)

This is not to say that there is nothing undeconstructible for Derrida, but what is undeconstructible is not a transcendental signified—not a pure or absolute transcendence that is free from shifting contexts and sliding chains of signifiers.  It is quasi-transcendental.

Not a stable or substantial foundation, a quasi-transcendental condition is insufficient and disordering.  Quite different from a sufficient and empowering transcendental, it is always deferring in further temporal unfolding, constituting horizons of possibility by transgressing them.  Although Wilber claims that Derrida posits a transcendental signified necessary for translations, a transcendental signified actually closes the door and translation, cleaning up the slippage and deferral that keep translation in transit.  There’s no getting around the groundless play of events.  There is no transcendental signified, no first or final frame of reference, no ground, not even Nonduality or some kind of groundless ground.  Moreover, this doesn’t mean that Derrida is a nihilist.

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that Derrida, in his autobiography, says that “the constancy of God in my life is called by other names” (Derrida, “Circumfession,” 1993, p. 155).  He says that while also declaring his atheism.  God is a name, and it but one name among many for the impossible effects of an event (l’événement), which names a coming (la venue), the arrival of a newcomer (arrivant), a stranger to come (à venir).  If what happens is reduced to its position in a rigid program or a homogenized order where no surprises occur, then the event is reduced to an economy of the same—a systematic order that precludes the differences that would accompany the arrival of what is coming.

An event occurs when the future (l’avenir) breaks through the economy of the same, opening the rigid order of the system to the absolute surprise of what is to come (à-venir).  This absolute surprise is something for which no anticipation, expectation, or horizon of waiting is available, because this surprise is precisely the e-vent, the coming-out of that which is wholly other than any program or order.  It is impossible to prepare for this coming, to let in the other, because preparation would assimilate the alterity of the other into one’s own horizon of expectations.  It is impossible, and it is precisely the task of deconstruction to somehow prepare a way for the impossible to happen.

Deconstruction is a process of preparing for events through the invention of the other, an evocative and provocative invention.  It is the invention of messianic justice—an impossible justice that comes with the arrival of the other, an arrival that is undeconstructible and irreducible to any particular messianisms or particular religions.  In a sense, Wilber was right to say in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000, p. 562) that the deconstruction of presence “has almost nothing to do with mystical Presence,” but only because deconstruction is more messianic than mystical.  In any case, that “almost nothing” poses a much more serious challenge than Wilber has taken up.

Liberation in the 21st Century

Last month, from July 8-12, the first conference on African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology was held in Legon, Ghana at Trinity Theological Seminary’s Talitha Qumi Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture, founded and directed by Mercy Amba Oduyoye.  Rosetta Ross has written a helpful summary of the event.

The event was brimming with diversity while also aiming to forge commonalities and build upon shared African heritages, although conference organizers are hoping for an even more diverse representation of women from African and in the diaspora at future conferences.  Along with inspiring integrations of indigenous, Christian, and Islamic traditions, one of the interesting things about this conference is that it is carrying forward the legacy of liberation theology.

After emerging in the mid-twentieth century, liberation theology spread out of its initial patriarchal contexts as women scholars and activists sought liberation not only from classism and poverty (i.e., the preferential option for the poor) but also from sexism and racism, thus birthing feminist and womanist liberation movements as well as black liberation theology.  However, liberation theology has since become rather passé.  Its rhetoric needs updating if it is going to exist in the twenty-first century.

The furor that emerged during the 2008 US presidential campaign over black liberation theology and the recent echo of that uproar during the current campaign only highlights the unlikeliness of a convening of a meeting rooted in mid-twentieth century ideals.

The good news is that those outdated ideals are changing.  As this conference in Ghana shows, young scholars and activists are taking up the task of renewing and rejuvenating liberation theology, articulating tactics and concepts that can facilitate liberation in the complex contexts of our emerging planetary civilization.

The participation of the youth is “a source of possibility for the future of a liberationist agenda in religious practices and discourses. Although the mid-twentieth century spirit of social solidarity seems nearly passé, hope exists in efforts that seek to take up ideals of a better future for everyone.”  In other words, hope exists for what Leonardo Boff calls “integral liberation,” a transversal approach to liberation that attends to personal, social, and environmental struggles as they are situated in a globalized world.

Integral Ecologist as Spiritual Guide

Thomas Berry began speaking of an “integral ecology” in the mid-1990s.  For the most part, his understanding of integral ecology was expressed in lectures and conversations, not published texts.  One exception to this is his essay on “An Ecologically Sensitive Spirituality” (1996).  Here’s a very fragmented excerpt from the essay, which was finally published a few years ago in a wonderful collection, The Sacred Universe (Columbia UP, 2009).

We need an ecological spirituality with an integral ecologist as spiritual guide. […]  The integral ecologist can now be considered a normative guide for our times.  The integral ecologist would understand the numinous aspect of a universe emergent from the beginning. […]  The integral ecologist is the spokesperson for the planet in both its numinous and its physical meaning […].  In the integral ecologist, our scientific understanding of the universe becomes a wisdom tradition. [pp. 135-135].

Also in the mid-90s, the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff began speaking and writing about integral ecology, seemingly independently of Berry.  Like Berry, Boff emphasizes the cosmological breadth and spiritual depth of integral ecology.  This cosmological and spiritual focus is also found in Ken Wilber, who developed his “all-quadrant all-level” (AQAL) model of Integral theory in the mid-90s and began applying it to ecology and environmental ethics, setting the stage for Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Michael Zimmerman to write their gigantic AQAL-based work, Integral Ecology (2009).

This doesn’t mean that integral ecology is a synonym for eco-spirituality.  Rather, integral ecology can refer to any approach to ecology that integrates spirituality (whatever “spirituality” is) with scientific knowledge of the universe.  Such integration can go in a lot of directions, from new age holism to new feminist materialism…and everything in between.

The Integral Kosmopolitan: CFP

Another Integral Theory Confeference is coming up next year.  ITC 2013 will be July 18-21 in San Francisco.  The theme will be “Connecting the Integral Kosmopolitan.”  The call for papers was recently issued.  A pdf of the cfp can be found HERE.  The deadline for proposals (workshops or paper presentations) is August 15, 2012 (the deadline for poster presentation is November 15).

I went to the 2008 and 2010 Integral Theory Conferences, and I enjoyed them a lot more than I enjoy the usual academic conference.  Although the conferences are generally oriented around Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, they are very open to alternative approaches to integral.  The workshops, papers, and posters at these conference explicate, apply, and criticize Wilberian work while also engaging other “integral” thinkers (Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser), critical realists (Roy Bhaskar), complexity theorists (Edgar Morin), poststructuralists (Gilles Deleuze), process philosophers (Whitehead, Teilhard, Bergson), transpersonal/spiritual psychologists (Roger Walsh), and so much more.  

The keynotes for ITC 2013 include Roy Bhaskar and Edgar Morin.  Those two alone make the event worth attending.  I’m definitely going, and I’m also planning on proposing a presentation.  Since the theme is Kosmopolitanism (spelled with a K because that’s how Integral theorists spell “Kosmos”), I might present something on Morin’s planetary realism.  I’m also attempted to do a history of cosmopolitanism, particularly focusing on its post-Kantian and posthumanist mutations in Derrida, Stengers, Latour, and Haraway.  Hmmmm……scratching my head. 



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