Category Archives: theology and religion

Coexistentialism: the reviews, the description, the ride

Coexistentialism and the Unbearable
Intimacy of Ecological Emergency

Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series, Lexington Books, 2016

Coexistentialism cover

The philosophy of existentialism is undergoing an ecological renewal, as global warming, mass extinction, and other signs of the planetary scale of human actions are making it glaringly apparent that existence is always ecological coexistence. One of the most urgent problems in the current ecological emergency is that humans cannot bear to face the emergency. Its earth-shattering implications are ignored in favor of more solutions, fixes, and sustainability transitions. Solutions cannot solve much when they cannot face what it means to be human amidst unprecedented uncertainty and intimate interconnectedness. Attention to such uncertainty and interconnectedness is what “ecological existentialism” (Deborah Bird Rose) or “coexistentialism” (Timothy Morton) is all about.

This book follows Rose, Morton, and many others (e.g., Jean-Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, and Luce Irigaray) who are currently taking up the styles of thinking conveyed in existentialism, renewing existentialist affirmations of experience, paradox, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and extending existentialism beyond humans to include attention to the uniqueness and strangeness of all beings—all humans and nonhumans woven into ecological coexistence. Along the way, coexistentialism finds productive alliances and tensions amidst many areas of inquiry, including ecocriticism, ecological humanities, object-oriented ontology, feminism, phenomenology, deconstruction, new materialism, and more. This is a book for anyone who seeks to refute cynicism and loneliness and affirm coexistence.

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“With refreshing style and intellectual forcefulness, Sam Mickey widens the scope of existentialism and shows how it offers important resources to address our urgent ecological situation. Here existentialism becomes coexistentialism, and through it we glimpse a chance to strengthen our existence together on a fragile planet. Make this book part of your coexistence!”
— Clayton Crockett, author of Deleuze Beyond Badiou and Radical Political Theology

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“Is there an ecological style of engaging with things that aren’t me, yet share and even overlap with my being in some sense? The paradoxes and absurdities of existence have only become heightened as we have entered an ecological age, and it’s about time a writer committed to existentialism took up the challenge of working with those paradoxes. This book is up to speed with the ethical implications of our growing understanding of the symbiotic real and with what the author, quoting Björk, calls its necessary sense of ’emergency.’ In trenchant and engaging prose, not to mention deep engagements with philosophy, Sam Mickey lays it out for you.”
— Timothy Morton, author of Dark Ecology and Hyperobjects

 

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Affects, Bodies, Religions

Some people use affect theory to challenge the notion that religion is inextricably linked to belief and language, proposing instead that body and affect are more primary. It’s good to affirm bodies, feeling, emotions, affects, but that isn’t the way to do it. It’s a red herring, challenging a notion about belief that nobody really believes (i.e., the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief). Continue reading


Philosophy on the Edge

I’ll attend the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association later this week in San Francisco. Even though it’s only a division meeting (not national), it’s a massive event nonetheless. There are a few panels I’m very excited about, including one with Al Lingis and Tony Steinbock, focusing on Steinbock’s recent book, Moral Emotions, which is something like a sequel to his Phenomenology and Mysticism.

I’ll be presenting Friday evening in a panel about philosophy on the edge. Preview: I’ll say something about how coexistence in the Anthropocene is without center or edge. With the ongoing and inevitable erosion of anthropocentric subjectivity, countless beings are crowding into center stage. Everything is a center, being centered amidst multiplicities of centers with a circumference that is nowhere; but this could also be formulated by saying that everything is not a center, being on edge in a world whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. In some sense everything is both a center and an edge, but in another sense, everything is neither a center nor an edge. What this means it that coexistence in the planetary era is fundamentally ironic, ambiguous, and uncertain. My main point will be that this situation does not just call for humans to give up anthropocentrism. It calls for philosophers to give up philosophy, to give up the power of philosophy so that philosophy might become possible again, and still for the first time. Giving up power is about becoming vulnerable to intimate encounters outside of philosophy and outside of the occidental context of philosophy.

I’m thinking with Foucault here, specifically this remark he made in an interview during a stay at a Zen temple in Japan in 1978. “The crisis of Western thought is identical to the end of imperialism,” which is also “the end of the era of Western philoso­phy. Thus, if philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts be­tween Europe and non-Europe.” Adding some specificity to his comments, I want to make a couple of small incisions to open up some possibilities for a philosophy of the future. The incisions use the cutting edges of deconstruction and Buddhism, that is, the blades of the mohel and manjushri. There are a few different lines of thought to bring together here, at least three, including Keiji Nishitani’s work on the encounter between nihilism and emptiness (shunyata), the work of Robert Magliola, Jin Park, and others facilitating an encounter between Derrida and Nagarjuna, and Tim Morton’s invocations of Derrida and Nagarjuna in his dark ecology. The point is not to help solve any problems with some Buddhodeconstructive tag team. The point is to become vulnerable, weak and powerless. The point of the blades of the mohel and manjushri is this: surrender.


Fear and Loathing in New Religious Movements

I find it useful to think with Hunter S. Thompson about a few things, especially fear, loathing, and drugs. This seems instructive for thinking about the status of psychedelics in New Religious Movements (NRMs). I’m interested in thinking about different kinds of fear and loathing that are experienced by practitioners of New Religious Movements who use psychedelic drugs, including an analysis of the psychedelic spirituality implicit in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), a cult classic among psychedelic enthusiasts. Like drugs, feelings of fear and loathing can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the context. The systemic suppression of psychedelics perpetuates harmful cycles of fear and loathing, but in contexts of religious experiences, psychedelics can facilitate inspiring and integrative engagements with fear and loathing. Continue reading


Religions Today: Reflections on Parliament 2015

I just returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City. It was a massive event. Everything I experienced makes up only a tiny fraction of what was happening there. Nonetheless, it was easy to get a sense of some of the trends, themes, and issues that characterize religions today. My overall assessment is that, in many ways, religions today hold the same ambivalence that religions always have. Each tradition has some problems, but each also has much promise. There is dignity and disaster in every religion. What is unique in the 21st century is the planetary scale of religions. Whether they like it or not, religions are entering an epoch in which they must address the intertwining of humans with one another and with the finite planet.         Continue reading


Hinduism and Ecology at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Starting tomorrow, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is meeting in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth such event since 1893. It is a massive gathering of religious scholars and practitioners (and scholar-practitioners) from around the world. The overall aim of the event is to facilitate interfaith dialogue. Recent meetings have become increasingly engaged in developing interreligious responses to contemporary social and ecological challenges. This year’s meeting emphasizes issues of income inequality, climate change, hate speech, war, violence, and the human rights and dignity of women. I’m not cynical about the capacity of religious perspectives to address those issues, but I’m not exactly optimistic either, just scrupulous.

I will be at the Parliament, presenting on a panel, “Hinduism and Ecology: The Sacred Activism of Sunderlal Bahuguna.” Bahuguna is still relatively unknown in the United States, although the Chipko movement, with which he is closely affiliated, is quite well-known among US environmentalists. Another ally of the Chipko, Vandana Shiva, will be at the Parliament. Bahuguna’s perspective overlaps with Shiva’s in many ways, and one could argue that Bahuguna was a crucial predecessor of Shiva, who is about 25 years younger than Bahuguna. Politics of influence aside, Bahuguna and Shiva both contribute much to the efforts to bring Gandhian notions of swaraj (self-rule; democracy) and sarvodaya (development; universal uplift) into an ecological context.

My panel includes excellent scholars of Hinduism and ecology, George James, Christopher Chapple, and Bidisha Malik. I think I’m the only one of us who hasn’t met Bahuguna. Nonetheless, I’ll have plenty to say about the philosophical principles operating in Bahuguna’s sacred activism, specifically his integration of Gandhian principles with ecology and Indian religions. I’ll also share some examples of my experiences teaching about Bahuguna through George James’ wonderful book, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna.


Renewable Deleuze

Philosophies are renewable resources. Deleuze’s philosophy is a case in point.  Theological and religious contexts have seen a renewal of Deleuze in recent years. Kristien Justaert drew out Deleuze’s contributions to liberation theology (Theology After Deleuze). Josh Ramey articulated the hermetic dark precursors to Deleuze’s philosophical spirituality (The Hermetic Deleuze), and Christopher Simpson staged an encounter between Deleuze and radical orthodoxy (Deleuze and Theology). I mentioned this a few years ago, referring to the emergence of a “New Deleuze.” The renewal continues…

Continuing the exhumation of the theological and religious resources contained in Deleuze’s corpus, Daniel Barber digs up Deleuze’s concept of immanence in support of a postsecularism that is opposed to transcendence yet open to the naming of God (Deleuze and the Naming of God). F. LeRon Shults digs up Deleuze’s atheistic and diabolic tendencies to provide theology with iconoclastic hammers (Iconoclastic Theology). Many of these books make interesting points about debates about secularism, esotericism, transcendence and immanence, institutional vs. lived religion, the death of God, theopolitical power, and more.

Shults facilitates perhaps the most predictable renewal of Deleuze. Drawing iconoclastic resources from an ostensibly atheistic thinker is like shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Shults is among few thinkers to apply his Deleuzian sense of theology and religion to ecological issues. In a recent issue of the journal Religions dedicated to religion and ecology in the Anthropocene, Shults describes how his atheistic stance takes position in the Anthropocene. Still, there seems to be something that’s just way too easy about the reading of Deleuze that Shults presents. For example, consider his reading of the Body without Organs (BwO).

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze refers to a “glorious body,” the Body without Organs, which he describes as “a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission.” Insufflation is the operation of the BwO. In the final pages of Iconoclastic Theology, Shults offers a rhetorical question, “‘Insufflation’ sounds scary; how will we hold together?” Subsequently, he reassures us to overcome our fear, but he is thereby offering a resolution to something that is not a problem (…a metonym for his offering of iconoclasm during an era entrenched in iconoclasm). Who is he addressing? Who is afraid of insufflation? Not Deleuzians, surely, and not religious practitioners, who would doubtless find the predicate “scary” to be a paltry approximation for the intensities traversing their immersion in spiritual flows (inspiration/expiration/respiration). Nobody is afraid of insufflation, not Deleuzians, not religious people, not consumers, who are currently insufflating Earth’s life, land, air, and water with incredible rapidity. The problem is not a fear of insufflation but, to the contrary, an excessively zealous insufflation that produces inflammation and thereby botches the fluid transmission of the Body without Organs.

Shults makes the diarrheal  suggestion that we “Let go. Release. Flow,” as if that is a sustainable way to maintain a BwO. He forgets about the importance of maintaining sufficient strata to wake up the next morning. That’s where the rest of us are, struggling to find strata amidst manic insufflation, and Deleuzian resources can support this struggle, and so can numerous contemporary theisms that have already been through the fires of iconoclasm and are blistering with wounds that ooze atheistic secretions (e.g., theisms in liberation theology, spiritual philosophy, postcolonial theology, feminist theology, eco-theology). Along those lines, Clayton Crockett and Catherine Keller are producing perhaps the most relevant readings of Deleuze today. Crockett’s works apply Deleuze’s philosophy to the task of articulating an Earth-based political theology, and Keller folds Deleuze’s philosophy together with theologies of becoming (process), feminism, liberation movements, postcolonialism, and ecology.

It’s still an open question: Who knows what a Deleuze can do? We need more experiments with this renewable resource, more trials in becoming with Deleuze, forging connections with Deleuze’s corpus that energize our engagements in planetary coexistence.