Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics

By Habel, Norman | Lutheran Theological Journal, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics


Habel, Norman, Lutheran Theological Journal


The Earth Bible Project

Ecological hermeneutics is a relatively recent approach to biblical exegesis. In the Australian context this approach was first signalled in connection with a Symposium on Ecology and Religion held in Adelaide in 1997. One of the recommendations of this symposium was to create an Earth Bible team and to prepare a set of eco-justice principles that might guide biblical interpreters faced with the current environmental crisis.

These principles were developed over a number of years in dialogue with écologiste such as Charles Birch (1990). The principles articulated below were refined in consultations and workshops concerned with ecology in general, and ecological concerns linked to theology and the Bible more specifically.

The principle of intrinsic worth: the universe, Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.

The principle of interconnectedness: Earth is a community of interconnected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.

The principle of voice: Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.

The principle of purpose: the universe, Earth and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.

The principle of mutual custodianship: Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners with, rather than rulers over Earth, to sustain its balance and a diverse Earth community.

The principle of resistance: Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustices but actively resist them in the struggle for justice.

Various writers from around the world were then invited to contribute to a new series entitled The Earth Bible. In this series writers focused on one or more of the six principles enunciated in Volume One of The Earth Bible and explored the way in which these principles were either supported or suppressed in a given biblical text. The overall aim of the writers was to read the text 'from the perspective of Earth and/or the Earth community'.

The five volumes of The Earth Bible (2000-2002) represent a landmark in the development of an ecological approach to reading and interpreting the biblical text.

After consideration of the various critiques of the Earth Bible principles, dialogue within the Earth Bible team and an analysis of so-called second level hermeneutical approaches, such as feminism and post-colonial hermeneutics, a more precise set of steps was developed for exploration as part of a Consultation on Ecological Hermeneutics at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. These meetings were held in the USA between 2004 and 2006. Since that date ecological hermeneutics has been included as a regular session of the SBL meetings.

The principles enunciated in The Earth Bible were reformulated as a hermeneutic of suspicion, identification and retrieval. The approach was developed through the papers and research of the SBL consultation. Selected papers from that consultation were then published in a SBL Symposium Volume entitled Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics (Habel 2008). A summary of the fundamental hermeneutical steps outlined below is also found in the introduction to this volume.

This revised ecological hermeneutic requires a radical re-orientation to the biblical text. The task before us is not an exploration of what a given text may say about creation, about nature, or about Earth. In this context, Earth is not a topos or theme for analysis. We are not focusing on ecology and creation, or ecology and theology. An ecological hermeneutic demands a radical change of posture both in relation to Earth as a subject in the text and also our relation to Earth as readers. Here the term Earth refers to the total ecosystem, the web of life, the domains of nature with which we are familiar, of which we are an integral part and in which we face the future. …

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