Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Role of Spirituality in the Development of an Eco-Centric Culture

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Role of Spirituality in the Development of an Eco-Centric Culture

Article excerpt


A spirituality which envisions the Sacred as intimately embodied in the earth and the cosmos brings into force powerful emotions of reverence for all life and commitment to justice for the earth. A deep bonding with nature, and recognition that humankind is only one element in the whole interdependent web of life, underpins this type of spirituality. Ecospirituality can offer a solid ideological and theological base for the current environmental movement. Because it taps into deep-rooted motivations and commitments it has the power to challenge radically, and change fundamentally, the destructive culture that exploits the earth, and transform it into a culture that is life-enhancing and eco-centric. The ecospirituality put forward by Earth Link encompasses a comprehensive set of experiences, beliefs, rituals and actions, and is one attempt to formulate a spiritual framework for living in ways that are more ecologically sensitive.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the face of the threat of the ecological destruction of the planet, humans are challenged to undertake a major 'work' that involves the very transformation of their society. The future of the planet requires a move from an industrial age where the collective forces of science, technology, industry, economics and religion contribute to the exploitation and destruction of the environment, to an ecological age where humanity assumes a presence on earth that is affirming for both humanity and the planet. Thomas Berry (1999, 1) believes that this transition is the 'Great Work' of our age, involving a move 'from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.' Joanna Macy (1998, 58) calls this the 'Work that Reconnects' which helps people 'uncover and experience their innate connections with each other and with the systematic, self-healing powers in the web of life, so that they may be enlivened and motivated to play their part in creating a sustainable civilization'.

This work of transition requires a transformation of the accepted values of the society: a cultural change. These contemporary values, which centre on the dominance of humankind and its right to exploit all of nature, are so engrained they seem to be fundamental and unchangeable. These values, however, must change and move to ones that underpin a more meaningful universe and a more functional cosmology than the consumerist exploitative ideology of the inherited patriarchal culture.

There are many forces within a society that can bring about cultural change. Economics and politics are major ones. However, it could be argued that one of the most powerful forces for cultural and values change is spirituality. Spirituality focuses on humanity's aspirations for the good and the true - what is of value - and can tap into strong emotions and motivations that can lead to transformation both in the individual and in the society.

A spiritual encounter often begins with an overpowering experience of ecstasy, awe, peacefulness or cosmic gratitude. For many environmentalists, similar life-changing experiences are found in their immersion in nature. Thus the environmentalist may be predisposed to be attracted to an eco-spiritual stance. The physicist Fritjof Capra (in Porritt 2005, 300) claims that '[ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual or religious awareness' believing 'that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest sense'. Ecospirituality has the potential to bring together spirituality's capacity for reverence and wonder with ecology's capacity to explore and describe the reality of nature. The environmental theorist and activist John seed (1995, 35) sees the connection in this way: 'Deep ecology is a philosophy, an ideology, a gateway to the transpersonal and an impetus to action'. The eco-theologian John Cobb (1995, 240) 'stresses the interdependent and unified character of the ecosystem as a whole. …

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