Seizing an Alternative: Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey

Schedules are getting finalized for the upcoming ecological civilization mega-conference, Seizing an Alternative. I’m delighted to be participating in a philosophy of religion track with a lot of great people. I already posted my abstract for my presentation in that track. I’m also participating in another track, which focuses on the Journey of the Universe project and related approaches to situating human history in the evolutionary epic. Again, great people are involved. In particular, I’m presenting on a panel with two dear companions, Kimberly Carfore and Adam Robbert, each of whom is involved with other tracks as well. Our panel is “Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey.” Below is the abstract.

The twentieth century saw the widespread emergence of an evolutionary and ecological worldview, wherein humans are understood as members of the community of life on Earth and as participants in the 13.8-billion-year unfolding of the cosmos. There are numerous and diverse ways of articulating this evolutionary-ecological worldview, including approaches that go by names such as the epic of evolution, the universe story, big history. Those approaches facilitate the integration of human and natural history into a multidimensional collective history, a history that challenges what Whitehead calls the “bifurcation of nature,” which separates the universe into two opposing realms, a human realm populated by values, ideas, and meaning and a natural realm populated by facts, bodies, and matter. However, some of the approaches are more successful than others at overcoming the bifurcation of nature. For instance, proponents of big history tend to reinforce fact-value and matter-meaning dualisms, whereas the universe story more adequately overcomes those dualisms.

This panel elucidates the bifurcation of nature in big history and corrects it through a dialogical encounter with 1) the Journey of the Universe project, which furthers the approach that Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry present in their work with the universe story, and 2) the philosophical school of “cosmopolitics,” which is associated with contemporary philosophers like Isabelle Stengers, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and others who aim to overcome the separation between the natural world (kosmos) and the constitution of human civilization (politikos). This panel introduces two concepts related to cosmopolitical thinking, 1) a concept of ghosts drawing on an ecological deconstruction implicit in the works of Jacques Derrida, and 2) a concept of aisthēsis drawing on Whitehead and the philosophical biology of Jakob von Uexküll. By situating big history in dialogue with Journey of the Universe and cosmopolitics, this panel draws particular attention to the importance of accounting for the axiological dimensions (e.g., ethics, aesthetics, and spirituality) of our collective history.

My presentation introduces the concept of cosmopolitics and situates it in relationship to ancient and modern lineages of cosmopolitanism. Carfore will present on ghosts and the spectral ecology of cosmopolitics, and Robbert’s presentation will focus on the evolutionary significance of aisthēsis (read his abstract HERE). It’s sure to be a compelling panel. If you’re not there, you’ll miss it.


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