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.

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Latour, Rejoicing: A Critical Review

The recent work by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME, for short), deals with the various felicity conditions of different modes of existence, including religious modes of existence.  Along these lines, AIME extends his previous works on religion, including his writings on factishes, iconoclash, and the freeze-frames that convolute science-religion dialogue.  It is appropriate, then, that the release of the English edition of AIME was accompanied by the release of the English edition of his 2002 work on the felicity conditions of religious speech, Rejoicing: Or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity, 2013).  With these works as well as his recent Gifford Lectures, Latour is making important contributions to theology and religious studies, opening up nice points of contact with science studies, ecology, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology.

There are a lot of good points coming from Latour’s Rejoicing, which he articulates elsewhere as well.  Religions and sciences are not amenable to worn-out oppositions such as transcendence and immanence, subjective and objective, spirit and matter, fetishes and facts, iconography and iconoclasm, traditional and modern.  Instead of separating religions and sciences into two different realms of being or knowing, Latour recognizes that there is only one world, “no other world, just this one here” (174), and there is no truth we can discern about this world without constructing that truth.  Neither religion nor science has a monopoly on truth about existence, and neither one lays claim to knowledge of another world (since there is no other world).  Religions and sciences involve two different kinds of speech acts which thus have two different sets of felicity conditions, and when those felicity conditions are met, different things happen.  Scientific speech acts bring us knowledge of distant things (atoms, the Big Bang, the climate, etc.), whereas religious speech acts bring us closer to one another (family, friends, loved ones).  Sciences enact references and information about the distant and far away, whereas religions enact translations and transformations of what is close by, the everyday.  Nonetheless, I have a few problems with Rejoicing (which are, more or less, also problems with his other writings on religion).

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