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Return to Nature?An Ecological Counterhistory$

Fred Dallmayr

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813134338

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813134338.001.0001

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(p.155) Appendix A Ecological Crisis and Human Renewal

(p.155) Appendix A Ecological Crisis and Human Renewal

A Tribute to Thomas Berry

Return to Nature?
University Press of Kentucky

One of the most urgent problems in our time is the issue of climate change or (what is called) the looming “ecological crisis.” If unchecked and progressively more severe, this crisis can lead to the destruction of our natural habitat, that is, of nature as the sustaining matrix of human life. Taken by itself, climate change is a natural process that can be scientifically measured and traced back to empirical processes in nature, such as the effect of greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide emissions. In the view of many, the ecological crisis of our time is the result of faulty technology; hence, its solution or overcoming requires mainly the resources of better science and more advanced technology. Without disputing the role of science and technology, I want to focus here on another, deeper dimension of the ecological crisis: its character as a human crisis or a crisis of humanity. The latter crisis, in my view, is the result not of scientific deficiencies, but of a faulty relation between modern (chiefly Western) humanity and nature or the cosmos. If this is so, then the basic relationship between nature and humanity needs to be recast, in the direction of replacing the model of human mastery over nature with the model of mutual dependence and ecological responsibility. To a considerable extent, this change requires a dramatic new learning process: where the modern West is willing to learn both from countercurrents in Western thought and from older ethical and cosmological traditions of the non-West.

In large measure, the model of mastery over nature can be traced to the onset of modern Western philosophy, when the human “mind” (p.156) was separated rigidly from “extended matter,” that is, from the whole realm of inner and outer “nature.” With this innovation, human mind became the lord and master of the world, and anthropocentrism replaced older visions of cosmological interdependence. To some extent, this division from nature can also be traced to aspects of “Abrahamic” religions—especially a certain accent on radical divine “transcendence”—although the implications of this accent only surfaced in modern times. In our period, the effects of the ecological crisis have driven home the untenability of the Cartesian paradigm. The question is how to proceed. Can we simply give up human autonomy and the acquisitions of modern freedom? Should we replace dualism with a slide into biological naturalism and determinism? Many great minds have wrestled with this problem during the past century—from Alfred North Whitehead and William James to Martin Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. In my talk, I want to pay a special, memorial tribute to Thomas Berry, who passed away a few months ago, on June 1, 2009, at the age of ninety-four. Berry has rightly been acclaimed as one of the leading ecologists, cosmologists, and even “eco-theologians” of our age. In the following I shall first give a brief overview of his life. Next, I shall discuss some of his major writings and seminal ideas, in order finally to draw parallels between his work and that of other contemporary proponents of ecological and spiritual renewal around the world.

Thomas Berry's Life

I did not have the good fortune of knowing Thomas Berry well. I knew him only distantly through our joint membership in the Forum on Religion and Ecology, in which he participated intensively and ceaselessly—and I only intermittently, time permitting. I wish particularly that I had been able to attend the memorial service held in his honor on September 26 in New York. On that day, about one thousand people from all around the globe gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan to celebrate the memory and the rich life of Thomas Berry. The event began with the presentation of the Thomas Berry Award to Martin Kaplan, a lifetime supporter of Berry's work in the fields of ecology, religion, and intercultural dialogue. In his lecture, Kaplan invoked the global vision of Berry and (p.157) issued a strong appeal to political and religious leaders to implement the findings of the international reports on climate change for the sake of present and future generations. Following the award ceremony was the memorial service for Berry—which, entirely transcending the somber occasion, culminated in a surge of interreligious and cross-cultural celebration (including the Omega Dance Company, the Mettawee River Company, Paul Winter's soprano saxophone solo, as well as cello and organ recitals). As one participant observed: “It was a summit meeting of wisdom-keepers—all Thomas's children. … The community that emerged from this event was itself a Cathedral.” And in the words of another participant: the service “afforded a glimpse of what Thomas called the Grand Liturgy of the Universe.”1

Thomas Berry was born on November 9, 1914, in Greensboro, North Carolina. This was the beginning of the First World War; but his childhood was remarkably untouched by the gloomy effects of the war and the Great Depression. In his own recollection, he spent his childhood roaming the woods and meadows around his hometown. He was, it seems, an ecologist by birth. At the age of eleven, he reports that a sense of “natural wonder and numinous presence” overcame him in one of his outdoor activities. “The field,” he says, “was covered with white lilies rising above the meadow. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my being at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember. … It was a wonder world,” he added, “that I have carried in my unconscious and that has deeply governed my thinking.”2

In 1934, at the age of twenty, Berry entered the novitiate of the Passionate Order, taking the name of Thomas after Thomas Aquinas (his original name was William Nathaniel). In 1942, he was ordained as a Passionate priest. He next studied intellectual history at the Catholic University of America and received his doctorate in 1949 with a thesis on Giambattista Vico—that great Italian intellectual who placed himself deliberately at the outskirts of European modernity. Following his doctorate, Berry spent several years studying the cultural and intellectual traditions of Asia. He lived in China, studied Chinese at a language school in Beijing, and also traveled to other parts of Asia (such as India and Japan). During this time, he authored two books on Asian religions: Buddhism and Religions of India.

Following these global excursions, Berry took up in earnest his (p.158) academic career. From 1956 to 1960 he taught the cultural history of India and China at the Institute for Asian Studies at Seton Hall University and then taught for six years at the Center for Asian Studies at St. John's University in New York. From 1966 on, he served as professor of the history of religions and also as director of the history and religion program in the Theology Department of Fordham (until 1979). In 1970 he also founded the Riverdale Center of Religious Research along the Hudson River and served as its director until 1987.3 It was during this period that he began to lecture widely on the intersection of cultural, spiritual, and ecological issues; his lectures and writings came to reflect increasingly the influence of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), the great evolutionary and cosmological thinker. Among his publications during this period let me mention The Dream of the Earth (published by Sierra Club Books in 1988) and Befriending the Earth (published by Twenty-Third Publications in 1990). These were followed by a joint effort with physicist Brian Swimme, The Universe Story: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (published in 1992), and also by one of his key books, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (published in 1999). More recently, a number of books have appeared that admirably pinpoint the gist of Berry's thought: Evening Thoughts: Reflections on Earth as Sacred Community (published by the Sierra Club and the University of California Press in 2006) and still more recently Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Orbis Books, 2009) and The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century (Columbia University Press, 2009). In the words of Father Diarmuid OʼMurchu, author of Quantum Theology and Reclaiming Spirituality: “For me, Thomas Berry was the single greatest disciple of Teilhard de Chardin who awakened in me a profound sense of the sacredness of God's creation. In his writings, one almost feels the sense of an evolving spirituality, capturing its innovative élan on the one hand, but also the birth pangs which beget the evolutionary process at every stage.”4

Nature as Sacred Liturgy

Thomas Berry's writings are sprawling and multifaceted; but there is also a developmental line. Unsurprisingly for an evolutionary thinker, (p.159) his work also reflects a process of evolution and maturation, leading to steadily more nuanced formulations. Basically, in his writings, Berry moves from the history of European ideas toward steadily expanding ecological, cosmological, and even “eco-theological” frameworks. His rootedness in European intellectual history is particularly evident in his earliest publication: The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico, an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation of 1949. In his study, Berry places Vico into the thick intellectual context of his time; but he also discusses Vico's relevance for modern and contemporary scholarship. It is in the latter context that he takes up Vico's well-known distinction between “philosophy” and “philology”—where the former designates a rationalist Cartesian enterprise, while the latter (far from being narrowly limited to linguistics) denotes something close to (what we call) “human studies” or the “humanities.” In Berry's words: philology is “much closer to the German word Geisteswissenschaften. It included [for Vico] the study, not only of languages and literature, but also of the history of every aspect of human social life. It embraced equally the social and historical views of religion, ideas, customs, laws, ethics, and, in general, all the arts and the sciences.”5

It is in Berry's discussion of the historical dimension of philology that one discovers first, embryonic glimmers of his later evolutionary theory. As he points out, history for Vico was not simply governed by a rationalist teleology (inspired by Platonic or Cartesian ideas) or else by a transcendent religious eschatology; nor was he willing to abandon history and its “corsi e ricorsi” to naturalistic and/or pagan assumptions of a physical determinism. Rather, Vico's approach was more subtle and mediated. In his Scienza nuova, Berry observes, Vico “neither denied nor embraced the view of history presented in the Christian religious tradition. Instead [without rejecting that tradition], the transcendent in his view gave way to the immanent, the supernatural to the natural, and in a most impressive way, simplicity gave way to multiplicity. This increase in the various influences entering history gives to the work of Vico its substance and its richness as well as its difficulty and obscurity.” In other words: what Vico tried to accomplish was to correlate and reconcile sacred history with natural or immanent history, or—in Berry's words—“the resplendent eternal order with the historical order immersed in the obscure depths of time.”6 To be sure, these comments offer only some glimpses of evolution; and (p.160) there was still a long way to traverse to reach Berry's later vision of the “Grand Liturgy of the Universe.”

As mentioned before, following his university studies, Berry visited Asia and sought to absorb some of the great religious traditions of that Eastern world. In his study titled Buddhism (1967), Berry offered an erudite overview of the development and major doctrines of that Asian religion; but he also reflected on the relevance and importance of that tradition for contemporary life in the West and elsewhere. As he wrote: “To be ignorant of Buddhism is to be ignorant of a large part of man's spiritual, intellectual, and cultural formation. … All the basic spiritual traditions of man are open, clear, direct expressions of the manner in which human beings have structured their personal and social life in order to give it some higher, transcendent significance. … What Buddhism has contributed belongs among the highest moral, spiritual, intellectual achievements ever attained by humanity.” Recognition of this accomplishment was important and even crucial also from a Christian point of view. Reflecting on the present emergence of truly global horizons, Berry compared this emergence with the encounter of the early church fathers with the Hellenic world: “A new patristic age is in process of formation, an age vaster in its scope than the earlier patristic age. We can expect it to be equally more fruitful in its consequences, for it is leading toward a new world culture in which all the world traditions will have their finest and fullest expression.”7

The same ecumenical spirit is abundantly evident in Berry's next major book, Religions of India: Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism. As he wrote in his introduction to the first edition (of 1973), Indian traditions offer a rich panoply of teachings that steer a course between abstract rationalist philosophy and dogmatic theology and that might broadly be called “spiritual”: “They belong in the realm of spirituality, the realm in which much of St. Augustine's work was done, the realm of Dionysius [the Areopagite], of Bonaventure, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, and more recently of Nietzsche and to some extent Heidegger.” They are concerned not just with rational enlightenment, but with the spiritual or existential improvement of humanity. Moreover, Indian spirituality is not static, but exhibits constant dynamic movement, by creating ever new forms “as is seen in such moderns as Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, in Tagore and Gandhi.” A peculiar feature of Indian traditions is their espousal of “contradictory” positions (p.161) that are ultimately reconciled: “There is insistence on extreme immanence and extreme transcendence at the same time. The two, it is felt, implicate each other and finally identify with each other. Absolute immanence and absolute transcendence must eventually be the same.” (Forebodings or echoes of a “sacred liturgy of the world”?) And in the conclusion we read: “Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism are no longer merely Indian traditions; they are world traditions. India has lost forever its exclusive claim on these traditions. Now they are part of the universal human heritage. … Humankind is now an integral part of the Indian spiritual process.”8

Let me briefly draw your attention to the foreword to the second edition (of 1992), which brings out more clearly the ecological and eco-spiritual implications of Indian traditions. Since the first publication of the book, Berry writes there, “the human situation has become even more critical. We are moving from a period of industrial plundering of the planet [hopefully] into a more intimate way of relating to the planet. We can no longer violate the integrity of the Earth without becoming a destructive force for both the surrounding world and for ourselves.” In seeking to move in the required new direction, Indian traditions can help us find our way. This way, to be sure, is steep and difficult, because we have largely gone astray. “We have shaped for ourselves,” Berry says, “a mechanistic wonder world that we seem determined to build even when we are obviously reducing the entire planet to a condition of waste and ruin. In a kind of mental fixation we have become autistic in relation to the natural world. We have closed it out as an unacceptable world.” In this situation, our senses have to be opened up to a world that speaks to us in a nonmechanistic and unobjectifiable way: “We need to hear the voices of the natural world, the voices of the ocean and the sky and the wind and all natural phenomena. The traditions of India can assist in teaching us this, if only we first enter into its deepest experience of the divine as expressed in its great spiritual heritage.”9

In some of his subsequent writings, Berry sought to offer a more philosophical or reflective account of what the encounter between Western modernity and Eastern spirituality means in terms of the larger story of human development or evolution. It is at this point that the work of Teilhard de Chardin exerted its profound influence. In a paper published in 1978, in a monograph series entitled “Teilhard (p.162) Studies,” Berry tried to delineate (what he called) “The New Story” of evolution as an alternative both to traditional biblical salvation history and to secular biological evolutionism. In Berry's account, the older biblical story can no longer function today as “the story of the Earth” nor as “the integral story of mankind”; it has become a “sectarian story.” At the same time, scientific evolutionism has reduced nature to an externally objectified process, thus eliminating the role of human freedom and spirituality. What is dawning today on the horizon, however, is a “new story” where humankind is not merely “a detached [scientific] observer,” but is “integral to the entire process.” That story becomes “the latest expression of the cosmic-earth process,” as a movement in which “the cosmic-earth-human process becomes conscious of itself.” In a way, Berry's new story can be seen as a step integrating or reconciling the earlier biblical and scientific accounts. Although novel and unfamiliar to both the scientist and the believer, the story (he says) amounts to “a new revelatory experience. … A new paradigm of what it means to be human emerges.”10

The paper just discussed resonates in many ways with the teachings of Teilhard de Chardin; it should be noted, however, that Berry was by no means an uncritical disciple. A follow-up monograph published a few years later (in 1982) and titled “Teilhard in the Ecological Age” articulated quite clearly his critical reservations. The essay placed Teilhard's work at the intersection or confluence of diverse evolutionary perspectives: the mechanistic worldview, the “natural history” concept, and the mystical and arcadian traditions. “All of these traditions,” Berry notes, “were absorbed into the vast perspective of Teilhard's vision.” Yet there was a problem with this integral vision—a problem that resulted from Teilhard's unabashed endorsement of modern (Western) technological “progress” or advancement. In Berry's words: “While he rejected the mechanistic worldview in favor of a more organic-spiritual worldview, [Teilhard] fully accepted the industrial and technological exploitation of the planet as a desirable human activity.” Thus, Teilhard's vision ultimately amounted to an effort to “spiritualize” or sugarcoat modern technological progress, thereby rendering the latter immune from transformation. The subordination of the natural world to human domination and exploitation, Berry states bluntly, in effect became

(p.163) the position of Teilhard. It fitted into his view of the human as advancing over new thresholds of the evolutionary process. … In this context, Teilhard became the heir to the imperial tradition in human-earth relations, the tradition of human control over the natural world. The sublime mission of scientific research and technological innovation was to support this advance into the ultra-human. … In this manner, we might consider that Teilhard is a faithful follower of Francis Bacon, in his assertion that human intelligence should subordinate the natural world to human needs.11

What emerges from this critique is a salient deficit marking Teilhard's work—a deficit resulting from his relative neglect of ecological imperatives. Now, Berry says, “the challenge of the ecological disturbance of the planetary functioning consequent on modern scientific technologies is forcing Teilhard's thought to a more profound level of self-criticism and this in confrontation with problems never fully envisaged by Teilhard.” The challenge at this point is not to go in search of an “ultra-human” superprogress, but rather to teach a chastened humanity the needs of our ecological habitat. What neither Teilhard nor his followers (and opponents) could see was “that the glory of the human was becoming the desolation of the earth or that the desolation of the earth was becoming the destiny of the human.”12 To escape this desolation a more thorough-going “turning” or transformation was needed. To explore the implications of this turning became the central theme of Berry's later works. A text of the mid-1980s sketched a vision of a “new cosmology”—a cosmology distinctly not anthropocentric in character and where humanity's role is seen as deeply embedded in nature and the revelatory sparks of the universe. As Berry stated at the time: “Neither humans as a species, nor any of our activities, can be understood in any significant manner except in our role in the functioning of the earth and of the universe itself. … [For] the universe in every phase is numinous in its depths, is revelatory in its functioning, and in it human life finds its fulfillment in celebratory self-awareness” (not self-centeredness).13

In his following writings from the early 1990s, Berry made the important move from cosmology to “cosmogenesis,” that is, from a static to a “becoming” universe—which implies a new conception of (p.164) evolution. In Berry's formulation, cosmogenesis in our time involves the progression from an earlier “Cenozoic” period—witnessing the rise and rapid evolution of a multitude of species—to a new “Ecozoic” period initiating new forms of human-earth relationships. As one should note, the latter period for him was only a possibility, one strongly contested by a “Technozoic” alternative future in which the condition of the planet is entirely dominated by technology. I do not wish to dwell on Berry's somewhat peculiar terminology. More interesting is the evolutionary scheme implicit in his account. At one point, he compares cosmogenesis with the Christian doctrine of the trinity, speculating that God the Father signifies the original unity of creation, Christ as Son the inner awareness and articulation of the cosmogenetic process, and the Holy Spirit the “bonding force” of all beings. Stated in more general, secular-sociological language, cosmogenesis for Berry means a movement from an initial holistic cosmos to a stage of progressive differentiation, particularistic self-assertion, and identity formation to the final emergence of a new “bonding” and possible “community” formation—where the latter bonding is the result not of top-down imposition, but of a free lateral engagement and shared practice. In his words: “I propose that there is a new and in some ways better model” of cosmogenesis: “That is the model of differentiation, inner articulation, and communion which emerges from our scientific understanding of the universe.”14

In recent times, especially in the Western world, he finds an excessive emphasis on differentiation and particularistic identity formation, especially on the differentiation of humans from nature. The results are palpable. “The devastation of the planet,” Berry writes, “is attributable to this exaggerated understanding of particularity in election in the biblical, Western tradition. In this case, it is the feeling that only the human—and not the natural world—is elected.” For Berry, this kind of antropocentrism has led to a widespread condition of “autism” or human self-enclosure: “That, I think, is what has happened to the human condition in our time. We are talking [only] to ourselves. We are not talking to the river, we are not listening to the river. We have broken the great conversation.” As an antidote to this “autistic” condition, Berry points to the experience of “primal peoples” as expressed in the book Black Elk Speaks and also to a series of paintings by Margaret Mee titled In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forest. (p.165) Being attentive to such voices and experiences involves for humans a profound “turning” and chastening. “There is no such thing,” Berry states unequivocally, “as a ‘human community’ without the earth and the soil and the air and the water and all the living forms. Without these, humans do not exist. … Humans are woven into this longer community. The large community is the sacred community.”15

The details of Berry's cosmogenetic conception were developed more fully in texts of the late 1980s and 1990s, such as Dream of the Earth (1988), The Universe Story (with physicist Brian Swimme, 1994), and The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (1999–2000). The theme of the “sacred community” resurfaces especially in two still more recent texts: Evening Thoughts: Reflections on the Earth as Sacred Community (2006) and The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century (2009). I cannot possibly do full justice to these later writings; I limit myself to a few comments. Evening Thoughts inserts the current ecological crisis into the broader framework of cosmogenesis and modern cultural history. Offering a dramatic narrative of creation, diversification, and human-earth community, the book seeks to reconcile modern evolutionary thinking with cross-cultural traditions of spirituality and also with aspects of traditional biblical teachings. The Sacred Universe brings together a series of essays written over several decades, all dealing with our ecological crisis, the ongoing destruction of ecosystems, and the need for interreligious and cross-cultural dialogues as a way of rekindling awareness of the sacred quality of the world. Far from surrendering to a fashionable “gloom and doom” mentality, the book issues a clarion call for the cultivation of ecological responsibility and for the creation of a true partnership between humans and the earth.16

For present purposes I want to round out my overview of Berry's writings by drawing attention briefly to his posthumously published book: Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth. The book deserves special attention, in my view, because it illustrates how a Christian—in fact, any religious believer—comes to terms with the ecological problem without entirely discarding his or her faith commitment. In his book, Berry discusses three kinds of relationships or what he calls “mediations.” The first mediation is that “between the divine and the human.” This relation was first powerfully articulated in ancient Israel and then continued by the other “Abrahamic” religions. The second (p.166) mediation involves “inter-human” relations, the “reconciliation of different human groups”—an issue that became predominant in Western modernity. That period, Berry notes, “saw the rise of the great nation-states, each so absolute in its demands that it could not tolerate opposition or injury from any other state.” A similar exclusiveness came to prevail among religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. The third mediation not only seeks to overcome these modern fissures but introduces a new imperative: the reconciliation “between the human community and the Earth, the planet that surrounds and supports us.” In our time, the three mediations overlap and interpenetrate; but the third also puts strong pressure on the earlier relationships and especially on the “human-divine” relation. As Berry as a priest admits frankly: “So far Christians have not distinguished themselves by their concern for the destiny of the Earth.” The problem is that Christianity, as well as many other great religions, has been “excessively oriented toward transcendence,” that is, toward the distance between God and humans. Moreover, not only has divine transcendence been an overwhelming preoccupation, but “human transcendence over the natural world has also been emphasized,” with the result that, in modernity, the natural world has been ruthlessly reduced to a target of human domination.17

What is needed in our time is a correction of the lop-sided emphases of the past—a correction that will be a challenge especially for Christian believers. As Berry notes candidly: a viable future will depend above all “on the ability of Christians to assume their responsibility for the fate of the Earth. The present disruption of all the basic life systems of Earth has come about within a culture that emerged from a biblical Christian matrix.” The disruption, he adds, “did not arise out of the Buddhist world or the Hindu or Chinese or Japanese worlds or [even] the Islamic world. It emerged from within our Western Christian–derived civilization.” Hence, until Christians accept the fact that some of their beliefs “carry with them a vulnerable aspect,” the dilemma cannot be overcome. There are powerful obstacles or resistances standing in the way of such acceptance. Most important, Christians are highly apprehensive about what they tend to call “naturalism, paganism, or even pantheism.” Thus, a genuine “sense of Earth” and the “pull toward an intimacy with Earth” does not come easily for them; in fact, “the more intense the Christian commitment, (p.167) the more difficult such a sense, such a pull is.” In this context, Berry sees the need for a new spiritual religiosity, which operates “not by domination but by invocation.” “What is needed now,” he writes, “is not exactly a new religion but new religious sensitivities in relation to planet Earth that would arise in all our religious traditions.” The new sensitivities would remedy not only the distance between faith and ecology but also the lateral distance between faith communities in our world. Here is an admirable statement that summaries Berry's spiritual-ecological or eco-theological convictions:

If, as Christians, we assert the Christian dimension of the entire world, we must not refuse to be a dimension of the Hindu world, of the Buddhist world, of the Islamic world. Upon this intercommunication on a planetary scale depends the future development of the human community. This is the creative task of our times, to foster the global meeting of the nations and of the world's spiritual traditions.18

Some Parallel Initiatives

Berry has not been alone in perceiving and articulating the “creative task” of our time. As it happens, his call for a spiritual reorientation has been ably seconded in recent times by an impressive number of like-minded intellectuals and thinkers. A prominent exemplar is the Spanish-Indian philosopher Raimon Panikkar. What Panikkar has called the “cosmotheandric” or else the “anthropocosmic” experience corresponds in large measure to the three “mediations” and their necessary interrelation mentioned by Berry. As he writes at one point, there is a “non-dualist” (advaitic) connection among the divine, the human, and the natural cosmos: “Each of us is a non-dualist unity between spirit and body, and each of us exists in the corporeality proper to natural-material things. The ‘three’ (the ‘divine,’ the ‘human,’ and the ‘natural material’) go together with neither confusion nor separation.” His cosmotheandric perspective has also led Panikkar to deep insight into the contemporary ecological crisis—a crisis he perceives as requiring both a new approach to nature and the cultivation of a new spirituality. This combined requirement is articulated with particular cogency in his book Ecosofia: La nuova saggezza per una spiritualità (p.168) della terra (1993)—which might be translated as “Ecosophy: A New Wisdom Regarding Earth Spirituality.” As he writes in that context: we need to restore our harmony with nature “by something other than simple ecological cosmetics. Ecosophy is a contemporary global imperative of human consciousness (adumbrating a cosmic brotherhood/sisterhood).”19

Other notable figures wrestling with the ecological crisis are the ecophilosopher Henryk Skolimowski and the ecoethicist Tomonobu Imamichi. The idea of an ecophilosophy was first launched by Skolimowski in 1974, when he served as a professor of the humanities at the University of Michigan. In that year he published a seminal article titled “Ecological Humanism” that laid out all the key elements of the new philosophy. A few years later, in 1981, an “EcoPhilosophy Center” was established in Ann Arbor, its purpose “to further ecological awareness, ecological values, and all other means which are necessary to heal the Earth.” Skolimowski has authored a number of books, all seeking to promote the same goal, among them Eco-Philosophy: Designing New Tactics for Living (1981), Technology and Human Destiny (1983), Eco-Theology (1985), and more recently Philosophy for a New Civilization (2005).20 The idea of an “ecoethics” (or Eco-Ethica) was inaugurated by Professor Tomonobu Imamachi at an international symposium in 1981. For the next twenty years, similar symposia were held near Kyoto, Japan, always attended by leading ecologists around the world. In 2003, on the occasion of the twenty-first World Congress of Philosophy in Istanbul, the first volume of an Introduction to Eco-Ethica was published. A few years later, in 2005, a self-governing body, the Tomonubu Imamachi Institute for Eco-Ethica, was created with headquarters in Copenhagen, where annual symposia on the topic are now being conducted.21

All of these initiatives, of course, are only the tip of the iceberg. There is by now a burgeoning literature on ecological problems, and many additional institutions, associations, and research groups have been established in many parts of the world. Among recent publications, let me just mention as more or less representative these: Ecology at the Heart of Faith, by Denis Edwards (2006); Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, by Carolyn Merchant (2005); and Deep Ecology and the World's Religions, edited by David L. Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb (2001).22 Among institutions and societies, I (p.169) have already mentioned—in addition to the Imamachi Institute—the Forum on Religion and Ecology, in which Thomas Berry was active and which is headquartered at Yale University. Quite well-known in this field are also the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and the California Institute of Integral Studies, which, among other things, serves as umbrella for the “Gaía Center for Subtle Activism.” The Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas has recently emerged as the country's leading department in the area of environmental philosophy, with a focus on the linkage between religion and ecology. It is home to the journal Environmental Ethics and the Center for Environmental Philosophy. Another journal with a similar focus is titled Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology. It is edited at Loyola Marymount College and published by Brill in Holland.

Rather than prolonging this recital of initiatives, however, I would like to return by way of conclusion to Thomas Berry. On the eve of the global conference on climate change to be held in Copenhagen next month (December 2009), it is good to remember the close connection between ecological crisis and the need for “human renewal” (the title of my talk). Nobody, in my view, has placed greater emphasis on such renewal in our crisis than Thomas Berry. In his preface to one of Berry's latest works, distinguished theologian John Cobb Jr. has this to say:

Berry believed that the changes we need will not occur at the many levels until they occur at the basic one—the way we understand ourselves and our world. He refused to be distracted from the fundamental task … Thousands of people, perhaps tens or even hundreds of thousands, have been led to give real primacy to the task of living into the Ecozoic Age. No other writer in the ecological movement has had analogous effectiveness. In the decades ahead, more and more people, tens of millions at least, will fully recognize that the ecological crisis has the ultimacy that Berry has insisted on throughout his career. Others will come up with new formulations and make different proposals. But Berry's formulation has pride of place, and it may prove the most durable of all.23



(1.) For this event, see Tara C. Maquire, “Overview of the Thomas Berry Award and Memorial Service,” in Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter 3, no. 10 (2009): 2–4. For memorial tributes, see http://www.thomasberry.org/tributes_and_photos/index.html.

(2.) See Rich Heffern, “Thomas Berry, Environmentalist-Priest, Dies,” National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2009.

(3.) For an overview of Berry's life, see Anne Lonergan, “Introduction: The Challenge of Thomas Berry,” in Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology, ed. Anne Lonergan and Caroline Richards (Mystic, Conn.: Twenty-third Publications, 1987), 1–4; also http://www.thomasberry.org.

(4.) Quoted in Heffern, “Thomas Berry.”

(5.) Thomas Berry, The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1949), 50.

(6.) Ibid., 109, 111.

(7.) Berry, Buddhism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), 183–184 (above quotations corrected for gender bias).

(8.) Berry, “Introduction to the First Edition” and “Conclusion,” in Religions of India: Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism, 2nd ed. (Chambersburg, Pa.: Anima Publications, 1992), n.p. and 193 (respectively).

(9.) Berry, “Foreword,” in Religions of India, n.p. As one should note, Berry does not just ignore the threatening and possibly destructive aspects of (p.203) nature. However, he does not allow the need to guard against such dangers to overwhelm or cancel an indebtedness to nature's bounty.

(10.) Berry, “The New Story,” Teilhard Studies, no. 1 (1978): 3, 5, 9.

(11.) Berry, “Teilhard in the Ecological Age,” Teilhard Studies, no. 7 (1982): 15–16.

(12.) Ibid., 32–33.

(13.) Berry, “Economics: Its Effect on the Life Systems of the World,” in Lonergan and Richards, Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology, 24.

(14.) Stephen Dunn and Anne Lonergan, eds., Befriending the Earth: A Theology of Reconciliation between Humans and the Earth (Thomas Berry in Dialogue with Thomas Clarke, S.J.) (Mystic, Conn.: Twenty-third Publications, 1991), 15. I have presented a similar developmental scheme in my book Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010).

(15.) Befriending the Earth, 18, 20, 43. As one should note, Berry does not simply reject differentiation or the pluralism of particular beings. His account, he writes, does not “do away with differentiation, because differentiation is the grandeur of the totality of things. With this primary election, everything is elected, each in its own modality” (17).

(16.) See Berry, Evening Thoughts: Reflections on the Earth as Sacred Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); and The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

(17.) Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2009), 8–11. As he adds pointedly: “Our church authorities, universities, theologians, and Catholic media seem to be showing no significant interest in the fate of the Earth as it is being devastated by a plundering industrial system. As Christians, the question of human-Earth relations seems outside our concern” (27).

(18.) Ibid., 5, 12, 35, 38–39, 45.

(19.) Cf. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religious Consciousness (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993); Ecosofia: La nuova saggezza per una spiritualità della terra (Assisi: Citadella, 1993); The Rhythm of Being: The Gifford Lectures (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010); and Christophany: The Fullness of Man, trans. Alfred DiLasia (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004), 6, 183.

(20.) Cf. Henryk Skolimowski, Eco-philosophy: Designing New Tactics for Living (Boston: Boyers, 1981); The Participatory Mind (New York: Penguin Books, 1994); Philosophy for a New Civilization (New Delhi: Sage India, 2005); also Anthony Weston, The Incompleat Eco-Philosopher (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009).

(21.) For some of this information, see Peter Kemp, preface to “Introduction to Eco-Ethics II,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie Moderne (special (p.204) issue for the twenty-second World Congress of Philosophy, Tokyo, Japan, 2008), 1. The issue also contains an essay by Tomonobu Imamichi, “Eco-Ethica in the Twenty-first Century,” 1–9.

(22.) See Denis Edwards, Ecology at the Heart of Faith (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006); Merchant, Radical Ecology; Barnhill and Gottlieb, Deep Ecology and the World's Religions; Tucker, Worldly Wonder; Kearns and Keller, Ecospirit.

(23.) See John B. Cobb Jr., preface to Berry, Christian Future, x–xi.