Tag Archives: Thomas Berry

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)


Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence

It’s been about four months since I’ve posted anything here, mostly because of a demanding writing and teaching schedule interspersed with a couple of conferences and a move to a new apartment. In that time, I finished writing Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence: Ecological Wisdom at the Intersection of Religion, Ecology, and Philosophy.

A hardback will come out this summer, and a paperback will follow in 2016. The book focuses on two areas of the environmental humanities: poststructuralist philosophy (via Deleuze and Guattari) and the field of religion and ecology (via Thomas Berry, Gary Snyder, et al.). It provides an accessible introduction to those areas of environmental humanities (for undergrads, generally interested readers, etc.), and it also indicates some strategies for synthesizing the complex chaosmos of Deleuze and Guattari with the religious cosmologies of people like Berry and Snyder. I consider how such a synthesis coordinates possibilities for ecological wisdom, which is an engaged wisdom oriented toward postsecular ecological democracy.

By “ecological wisdom,” I am referring to practices for multicultural and cross-disciplinary ways of knowing. Such practices can draw from many sources.  I consider sources in feminist epistemology, traditional ecological knowledge, environmental sciences, classical religious traditions, and the geophilosophy/ecosophy of Deleuze/Guattari. Practices of ecological wisdom energize human capacities for thinking through the challenges facing planetary modes of coexistence during an epoch marked by the inextricable intertwining of humans with planetary systems.

If “whole Earth thinking” sounds somewhat countercultural, you might be thinking of Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog. My work is in tension and alliance with the countercultural context of the Whole Earth Catalog. There was too much triumphalism and too many hasty dismissals of classical traditions in much of that countercultural milieu. Furthermore, Earth in that context was often seen as a material or biophysical ground for humans, whereas whole Earth thinking orients itself toward the mutual grounding/grounded/ungrounding relationships between humans and Earth, relationships that cannot be avoided in any struggle to coexist in the Anthropocene.

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

Intimate Curves of Earthly Existence

Geography and the Earth sciences, if they are to truly account for Earth, must study intimacy.  I would argue that intimacy has something to do with roundness….curves.

What is needed is geography as an intimate study. Just as there is an affection between animals and humans, so there is an affection that passes between the region and human appreciation. Nothing escapes the role of intimacy. There is such a thing as considering the curvature of space as an intimacy of the universe with every being in the universe. So with the bioregion, there is an intimacy that brings to fulfillment both the region and its human presence. The region responds to the attention it receives from the various members of the community.

~Thomas Berry, The Great Work.

Because the world is round it turns me on.

~The Beatles, “Because.”

Every being seems in itself round. [Jedes Dasein scheint in sich rund.]

~Karl Jaspers, Von der Wahrheit.


Earth Stories

I’ve been thinking about Bruno Latour’s term, “geostory” (from his Gifford Lectures), which refers not just to stories that humans tell about Earth but refers to the implosion of the categories of the semiotic and the material, the sign and the thing in itself, history and geology.  If geostory is a story of Earth, “of” should be read as a double genitive, both objective (story about Earth) and subjective (story belonging to Earth, i.e., the narrative unfolding of Earth itself).  In any case, what really strikes me here is how many people have already proposed concepts that resonate with Latour’s proposal for geostory.

Consider an example from Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (New York: Dutton, 1979).  “Now I want to show you that whatever the word ‘story’ means […], thinking in terms of stories does not isolate human beings as something separate from the starfish and the sea anemones, the coconut palms and the primroses.  Rather, if the world be connected, if I am at all fundamentally right in what I am saying, then thinking in terms of stories must be shared by all minds, whether ours or those of redwood forests and sea anemones […], the evolutionary process through millions of generations whereby the sea anemone, like you and me, came to be—that process, too, must be of the stuff of stories.” (p. 12).

I’m also reminded of one of the working notes from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1968).  “In fact it is a question of grasping the nexus—neither ‘historical’ nor ‘geographic’ of history and transcendental geology, this very time that is space, this very space that is time, which I will have rediscovered by my analysis of the visible and the flesh” (p. 259).

Finally, I’m reminded of The Universe Story (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992), by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry: “There is eventually only one story, the story of the universe.  Every form of being is integral with this comprehensive story.” (The Universe Story, p. 268)

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.