Greening by Place: Sustaining Cultures, Ecologies, Communities

By Whitney, Kimberly | Journal of Women and Religion, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview
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Greening by Place: Sustaining Cultures, Ecologies, Communities

Whitney, Kimberly, Journal of Women and Religion

There is an anomalous specificity to all our experience in space, a scandal of particularity, by which God burgeons up or showers down into the shabbiest of occasion ... This is all we are and all we ever were; God kam nicht anders [knows nothing else].... This process in time is history; in space, at such shocking random, it is mystery ...

... Who shall stand in his [sic] holy place? There is no one but us ...

... Are there holy grapes, is there holy ground, is anything here holy? There are no holy grapes, there is no holy ground, nor is there anyone but us. (1)

--Annie Dillard


My moral and theological work in the shape-shifting terrain of place is interdisciplinary, crossing borders burgeoning with particularities, borders that include cultural and environmental studies, diaspora studies, geographies, ethics, theologies, religious studies, ecofeminisms, and ecospiritualities. Seeking holiness performing as justice, following curves of thought that dissent from disciplinary separations of "social" and "environmental," I am bold to query a notion of ecofeminism as a separate feminism.

Inspired by the nature writing of Annie Dillard, the critical race analysis of bell hooks, the geographic imagination of Yi-Fu Tuan, and environmental insights of Giovanna di Chiro, this article poses a constructive query of theology that is not green, and environmental ethics which are not in conversation with social ethics. The notion of place is the axis of my querying.

Place is a heuristic tool that begins with, or moves from, embodiment, where one wheels, sits, stands, walks in space and time. In this conceptual frame, persons and communities are "implaced" or located in particular socio-historical and physical (ecological and geographic) locations. (2) Place is a fragrance or touch or gaze that includes both physical and social factors. Physical or environmental aspects of place include land, air, water, plant and animal lives and habitats, architecture and infrastructure of human habitats. Social and cultural aspects of place include politics, economics, histories including hidden or subjugated histories, worldviews, moral and religious imagination, the arts. These environmental and cultural factors spur the practices and spatial patterning of place and world-making, and are constitutive particulars, if you will, of place.

The notion of "place" is multivocal in its address of what could be called a veritable "scandal of particularities." The rubric of place, without blush, spans to embrace spiritual geography, interrogate identity and senses of "who belongs" and "where," and interrupts colonial, globalizing economic displacements of race and ethnicity, class, gender, species, habitats. Critical race theorist and feminist cultural studies scholar bell hooks, for example, turns to "place" and spatiality in her analysis of economic ruses which separated or dis/placed black farmers from their lands in the U.S. south during the great migration period.

There has been little or no work done on the psychological impact of the "great migration" of black people from the agrarian south to the industrialized north. Toni Morrrison's novel The Bluest Eye attempts fictively to document the way moving from the agrarian south to the industrialized north wounded the psyches of black folk. The motivation for black folks to leave the south and move north was both material and psychological. Black folks wanted to be free of the overt racial harassment that was a constant in southern life and they wanted access to material goods--to a level of material well-being that was not available in the agrarian south where white folks limited access to the spheres of economic power. Of course, they found that life in the north had its own perverse hardships, that racism was just as virulent there, that it was much harder for black people to become landowners. Without the space to grow food, to commune with nature, or to mediate the starkness of poverty with the splendor of nature, many black people experience profound depression.

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Greening by Place: Sustaining Cultures, Ecologies, Communities


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