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Grave Reminders: Grief and Vulnerability in the Anthropocene

Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA
This essay is dedicated to students in my Spring 2020 seminar on “Extinction” at Indiana University. Thank you for reading and discussing sometimes painful material on species death and environmental grief with me (until a pandemic, whose origins almost certainly lie in humans’ destruction of the natural world, isolated us from one another). I fully acknowledge that my generation has failed you.
Religions 2020, 11(6), 293; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060293
Received: 11 May 2020 / Revised: 8 June 2020 / Accepted: 9 June 2020 / Published: 16 June 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Faith after the Anthropocene)
This essay builds upon recent work in the environmental humanities, and that of various writers and journalists, on the emerging topic of environmental grief and mourning. I consider a spectrum of responses to Anthropocene-era crises like climate change and extinction, with particular emphasis on how we are oriented toward the past and the future. These perspectives range from positions that explicitly reject grief and vulnerability, to voices urging us to embrace grief as part of an essential moral and spiritual environmental practice. At one end of the spectrum, we find articulations of what I call climate humanism, a style of response focused on defending and perpetuating human civilization in the midst of environmental crisis, but with little or no explicit concern for the broader web of living and dying beings. For climate humanists, to grieve for the past and its mistakes is to halt progressive, optimistic movement into the future. At the other end of the spectrum, we find scholars and writers who take profound grief, and sustained reflection on death and loss, as the starting point for genuine, transformative change and the possibility of hope. Drawing on this range of responses to environmental threats and losses, I endorse narratives that ground themselves in the past, in all its surprises and mistakes, as a vital resource and repository for moving hopefully and purposefully into the future. Moral, religious, and religious-like dimensions of environmental grief (or its denial) are recurring themes throughout, and many crucial insights are found in scholarship outside of religious studies. View Full-Text
Keywords: grief and mourning; hope; Anthropocene; climate change; extinction; climate humanism grief and mourning; hope; Anthropocene; climate change; extinction; climate humanism
MDPI and ACS Style

Sideris, L.H. Grave Reminders: Grief and Vulnerability in the Anthropocene. Religions 2020, 11, 293.

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