Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age

By Jonathan Purkis; James Bowen | Go to book overview

Bronislaw Szerszynski and Emma Tomalin


11
Enchantment and its uses: religion and
spirituality in environmental direct action

Introduction

What are the uses of enchantment? From an anarchist perspective, are forms of spiritual belief and practice always to be considered as a surrendering of personal autonomy, an enslavement to irrationality? We will suggest otherwise – that spirituality can be a source of personal empowerment. Our title contains an implicit reference to Bruno Bettelheim, who argued that fairy tales were useful for children, in that they contributed to their psychological development (Bettelheim, 1976). While we will not take a similarly psychological route in defence of eco-spirituality – with the implication that spiritual beliefs cannot be true but only useful – we make here a parallel argument: we believe that spiritual forms of belief and action empower individuals in the life of protest.

Firstly, we will introduce environmental direct action, particularly as it developed in Britain in the 1990s for specific political and cultural reasons. Secondly, we will explore the tensions between the spiritual and the secular in this movement, in the context of a critique, broadly shared within the movement, of mainstream Western religion as hierarchical and ecologically malign. Thirdly, drawing on detailed qualitative research regarding environmental direct activists in the 1990s,1 we argue that, despite these struggles over religion, activists routinely draw on cultural resources in order to give meaning to their values, identities and actions in forms that are – sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly – religious in nature. We explore the uses of this 'de-regulated religion' in three different dimensions of direct action, namely beliefs, identity and action.


The environmental direct action movement

During the 1990s in the United Kingdom there emerged a new wave of direct action against activities considered to be environmentally destructive. In particular, the issue of road building attracted the attention of activists and heralded a number of lengthy battles with local authorities, the police and construction

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