Special Issue "Literature and Eco-theology"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Theologies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 July 2021).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Alison Milbank
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NR7 2RD, UK
Interests: Theology and the arts; Eco-theology; Gothic Literature; Fantasy; Dante; Ruskin; G.K. Chesterton; ecclesiology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Systematic and philosophical theologians within the Christian tradition are increasingly having recourse to literary texts with which to do creative theological work, while the religious turn in critical and cultural theory has given new impetus to the interdisciplinary field of literature and theology, with increased attention to the religious ideas engaged through literary tropes, genres and modes. While there are a number of journals and books devoted to this intersection, apart from occasional articles or studies of individual writers, little so far has been produced about the manner in which ecological religious thinking is performed and debated in poetry, drama or fiction.

This Special Issue is an attempt to explore this neglected area and invites contributions on any aspect of the topic from any period. The mechanistic scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, for example, sees the development of an oppositional mystical strain in religious nature poetry with a very different understanding of the agency of natural forms. One notable feature of contemporary writing is the new nature writing, poetic and creative in style, which often carries a buried theology. There is also a burgeoning interest in black eco-theology, which is often refracted through fiction or memoir. Another possible approach is to attend to the theological ideas embodied in literary strategies in writings of natural philosophy or scientific writing.

While the academic field of religion and literature has been primarily concentrated within Christianity, we invite submissions from any religious tradition. Sufi and Hindu explorations of the sacrality of nature, for example, have often been embodied in literary form.

Although there are journals which concentrate on the cultural dimensions of ecological religious thought and practice, this is from an anthropological and social scientific perspective. This Special Issue offers an opportunity to attend to works of human creativity where theology is truly enacted and our relation to other creatures reimagined freshly.

Prof. Alison Milbank
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • ecology
  • theology
  • nature
  • wisdom
  • natural philosophy
  • poetry
  • drama
  • fiction
  • environment
  • climate
  • naturalists
  • ethics

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Article
The Light of the Leaf: A Theological Critique of Timothy Morton’s ‘Dark Ecology’
Religions 2021, 12(9), 755; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090755 - 13 Sep 2021
Viewed by 908
Abstract
The plant has recently emerged as a battleground of conflicting ecocriticisms. ‘Dark Ecology’ is, in the works of Timothy Morton, an ecocritical hermeneutic, in which the world can be subtracted into the parts of objects, of the plant, and of any leaf that [...] Read more.
The plant has recently emerged as a battleground of conflicting ecocriticisms. ‘Dark Ecology’ is, in the works of Timothy Morton, an ecocritical hermeneutic, in which the world can be subtracted into the parts of objects, of the plant, and of any leaf that exceeds the totality of abstract ‘Nature’. In dividing the whole into the parts, and combining the parts into an imminently subtracted whole, he has recommended a negative dialectic of virtual objects that can be collected into a ‘hyperobject’. This dialectic can, however, be argued to dissolve any whole into parts, and render the hyperobject internally fissured. We can, from the ‘darkness’ of this fissure, begin to read Nature according to the ‘via plantare’, that is, a mystical way of desiring an other as plant so as to know and love the visible light of the invisible God. ‘Vegetal difference’, the difference of the plant from the animal, should, I argue, be read for theology as a finite reflection of the divine difference of the Holy Trinity in a Trinitarian Ontology, in which the originary difference of the Son from the Father is related through the Holy Spirit, and given again in accelerating gratuity—like the light of the leaf that shines forth from any flower. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
The Wind’s Prayer, the World’s Sabbath: Spirit and Place in Lance Henson and Wendell Berry
Religions 2021, 12(9), 697; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090697 - 30 Aug 2021
Viewed by 555
Abstract
Although a vast body of poetry celebrates the natural world and addresses issues concerning the environment, it can be overlooked in the discourses of environmental activism. In this paper, we seek to demonstrate the unique contributions that poetry makes to a thoughtful, and [...] Read more.
Although a vast body of poetry celebrates the natural world and addresses issues concerning the environment, it can be overlooked in the discourses of environmental activism. In this paper, we seek to demonstrate the unique contributions that poetry makes to a thoughtful, and in this case, theological, engagement with our present environmental crises. Here, we create a conversation between two poets of two different religious traditions. Cheyenne poet Lance Henson’s poem “we are a people” reimagines humanity’s self-conception in light of earthly interconnectedness from the perspective of his own Native American spiritual sensibilities. Christian poet Wendell Berry’s poem “Sabbaths IV” (1983) relocates our understanding of Sabbath beyond its liturgical designations and practices, asking us to attend to “the true world’s Sabbath”. We offer close readings of these two poems that mark the distinctions that emerge from and interact with their respective theological visions, but also where they find common ground. Through this work of reading literature theologically, we argue that these poems both refine our attentiveness to the earth as the site of religious import and consequence, and call upon readers to enact other ways of being in the world amidst the climate catastrophe that are inspired by faith and spirituality. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
Producing Solidarities: Theological Reflections on Humanity and Ecology in Animal’s People
Religions 2021, 12(8), 664; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080664 - 20 Aug 2021
Viewed by 749
Abstract
This article examines Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People for insight into the intersection of theological anthropology and ecological theology. Set in the wake of a man-made ecological crisis, Sinha’s novel probes the definition of humanity, the interconnectedness between humans and the environment, and [...] Read more.
This article examines Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People for insight into the intersection of theological anthropology and ecological theology. Set in the wake of a man-made ecological crisis, Sinha’s novel probes the definition of humanity, the interconnectedness between humans and the environment, and the toxic effects of the neoliberal order for humans and their environment. Drawing on Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan’s notion of an ecclesiology of solidarity, with insight from Rob Nixon’s work on ecological violence in the neoliberal order, this article considers the rich theological resources residing in Sinha’s work. Through a close reading of the text, the article highlights Sinha’s novel as a reflective resource both for eco-theology and for theological anthropology. It demonstrates that Sinha’s expansive vision of humanity effectively challenges the colonial hierarchy of humanity and the global system of borders which reinforces it. The witness of Animal’s People suggests that theological anthropology and eco-theology are inseparably interrelated and that responsible praxis in both spheres is necessary for developing global human and ecological solidarity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
Rethinking Environmentalism and Apocalypse: Anamorphosis in The Book of Enoch and Climate Fiction
Religions 2021, 12(8), 620; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080620 - 09 Aug 2021
Viewed by 691
Abstract
Biblical apocalypse has long been a source of contention in environmental criticism. Typically, ecocritical readings of Biblical apocalypse rely on a definition of the genre focused on eschatological themes related to species annihilation precipitated by the judgement of the world and the end [...] Read more.
Biblical apocalypse has long been a source of contention in environmental criticism. Typically, ecocritical readings of Biblical apocalypse rely on a definition of the genre focused on eschatological themes related to species annihilation precipitated by the judgement of the world and the end of time. In this article, we offer an alternative engagement with Biblical apocalypse by drawing on Christopher Rowland and Jolyon Pruszinski’s argument that apocalypse is not necessarily concerned with temporality. Our case study is The Book of Enoch. We compare natural history in Enoch to Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological analysis of Biblical apocalypse as a way of seeing the world that worries human assumptions about the nature of things and thereby instigates an “anamorphosis” of perception. Following Timothy Morton’s adaptation of Marion’s idea of anamorphosis as an example of the ecological art of attention, we show how apocalypse achieves “anamorphic attention” by encouraging the cultivation of specific modes of perception—principally, openness and receptivity—that are also critical to political theology. In turn, this analysis of anamorphic attention will inform our rethinking of the relationship between environmentalism and apocalyptic themes in climate fiction today, with special reference to Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
Ecological Apocalypse in the Poetry of Patrick and Emily Brontë
Religions 2021, 12(7), 546; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070546 - 19 Jul 2021
Viewed by 629
Abstract
This essay considers relationships between nature, ecology and apocalypse in the poetry of Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) and Emily Brontë (1818–1848). It argues that though Patrick’s poetry emphasises the spiritual benefits of human connection with the natural world, his apocalypticism leads him to see [...] Read more.
This essay considers relationships between nature, ecology and apocalypse in the poetry of Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) and Emily Brontë (1818–1848). It argues that though Patrick’s poetry emphasises the spiritual benefits of human connection with the natural world, his apocalypticism leads him to see no eschatological future for the natural world. Emily’s poetry is more attentive to destruction and violence in the natural world, but it also offers an eschatological vision of a future in which all of creation participates. Reading Emily’s poetry in theological conversation with that of her father, this essay argues that Emily reinterprets Patrick’s evangelical apocalypticism in the light of her understanding of God as the eternal source of all finite being. Drawing on a theological view of creation as God’s eternal relationship with the earth, Emily suggests that meaningful eschatological hope can be located only in a future in which the whole of creation participates with the human. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
Recovering World-Welcoming Words: Language, Metaphysics, and the Voice of Nature
Religions 2021, 12(7), 501; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070501 - 05 Jul 2021
Viewed by 627
Abstract
This article presents a theological–literary response to a concern in contemporary theory with heeding and articulating the speech of nonhuman things. Drawing from Rowan Williams’ metaphysics of poetic addition, I argue that an ‘ecotheological’ literary practice challenges us to become attentive and responsive [...] Read more.
This article presents a theological–literary response to a concern in contemporary theory with heeding and articulating the speech of nonhuman things. Drawing from Rowan Williams’ metaphysics of poetic addition, I argue that an ‘ecotheological’ literary practice challenges us to become attentive and responsive to the language of the nonhuman, by creatively performing the co-mingling of nonhuman and human language. Drawing from Jean-Louis Chrétien’s phenomenology of the voice, I propose a theological conception of language as a gift of hospitality to the voice of nonhuman things that is also a gift of poetic addition—a ‘saying more’ which, adding being to the world, also manifests its gift-like nature. In contrast to recent critical approaches, I argue for the qualified retrieval of ‘nature’ as a figure both literary and theological, a voice that gives voice to things and speaks by means of human literary production. Through a reading of Shakespeare’s King Lear, I show that the paradoxical and poetic ambiguities of the literary sense of ‘nature’ serve precisely to shed light on its suspect modern iteration, while at the same time taking us beyond critique to enable a cautious yet attentive retrieval of its poetic and symbolic scope. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
‘When the Animals Came’: The Genesis and Writing of an Ecotheological Poem, with Commentary
Religions 2021, 12(7), 487; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070487 - 29 Jun 2021
Viewed by 584
Abstract
This article traces the genesis and composition of my poetic sequence, ‘When the Animals Came’ including as illustration of the poetic process a section from Part IV, ‘Spring’ with commentary. In order to understand the culture, art and religious beliefs of Paleolithic society, [...] Read more.
This article traces the genesis and composition of my poetic sequence, ‘When the Animals Came’ including as illustration of the poetic process a section from Part IV, ‘Spring’ with commentary. In order to understand the culture, art and religious beliefs of Paleolithic society, extensive research was needed, both at prehistoric sites, and in the archaeological literature, which I discuss; writing this poem also led me to re-assess how deeply and anciently faith is linked to our place in nature. Thus, the compositional process afforded me a new understanding of the complex relationship between humankind, environment and spiritual belief. Paleolithic culture engaged all three directly, seeing them as interdependent; this has considerable relevance to modern ecological concerns. My poem is an attempt to show creatively how such engagement constitutes part of our identity as human beings. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
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Article
Narrating a Sacred Universe. A Study of The Universe Story through the Hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur
Religions 2021, 12(5), 344; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050344 - 13 May 2021
Viewed by 634
Abstract
This essay examines the use of language in narrating a sacred universe, focusing specifically on the text of The Universe Story by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. It applies the narrative hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, who argued for the role of narrative in [...] Read more.
This essay examines the use of language in narrating a sacred universe, focusing specifically on the text of The Universe Story by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. It applies the narrative hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, who argued for the role of narrative in influencing a life through its creation of a world, to the text. It focuses specifically on Ricoeur’s five traits of a phenomenology of the sacred. This step in Ricoeur’s hermeneutics is a reminder that religious language has been shaped by demythologisation, and this in turn impacts any attempt to articulate in language what is interpreted as an experience of the sacred. In designating the universe as sacred, The Universe Story is confronted with the task of narrating such an experience. In examining the language of the text, this essay analyses how this is preformed and the effectiveness of such an approach. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
Article
The Eco-Theology of the Bhagavad Gītā: A Multi-Layered Ethical Theory
Religions 2021, 12(4), 241; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12040241 - 29 Mar 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 460
Abstract
I argue that a normative environmental ethical theory can be coherently derived out of the theological matrix of the Bhagavad Gītā. I build upon Ithamar Theodor’s articulation of the Gītā’s underlying unifying structure to depict how the Gītā conceives of three possible [...] Read more.
I argue that a normative environmental ethical theory can be coherently derived out of the theological matrix of the Bhagavad Gītā. I build upon Ithamar Theodor’s articulation of the Gītā’s underlying unifying structure to depict how the Gītā conceives of three possible relationships with nature. This allows me to tease out three concurrent worldviews in the Gītā—a world-affirming worldview, a world-renouncing worldview and a bhakti worldview, which is simultaneously world-affirming and world-renouncing. I show how three distinct theories of motivation—three different reasons for acting in the world—emerge from the interconnected normative, soteriological and ontological dimensions of each of these three worldviews. More importantly, the motivation to act for the welfare of individuals in nature, such as animals and plants, can be legitimately derived from these three theories of motivation. I contextualize the Bhagavad Gītā’s environmental ethics by placing it within the larger framework of the text’s distinctive multi-layered approach to ethical theory, in which the foundational teleological mokṣa theory grounds and explains the plurality of more superficial normative foundational theories. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)

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Commentary
Interpreting Literary Ecologies and Extending Spheres of Concern: A Note on Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space for Eco-Theology
Religions 2021, 12(10), 891; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12100891 - 18 Oct 2021
Viewed by 436
Abstract
This critical note addresses two key features of eco-theology with regard to future prospect: that literary analysis is an important mode of eco-theological work and that an important function of eco-theology is to expand readers’ spheres of concern to include even the most [...] Read more.
This critical note addresses two key features of eco-theology with regard to future prospect: that literary analysis is an important mode of eco-theological work and that an important function of eco-theology is to expand readers’ spheres of concern to include even the most remote of global environmental issues. Working from Tweed’s contention in Crossing and Dwelling that a central function of religion is the process of making homes, the note emphasizes the home as the primary sphere of concern and the need for eco-theological work to extend the concern naturally associated with the private home to the broadest possible sphere: the whole earth as conceived as human home. As pertaining to literary-analytical resources for this eco-theological endeavor, the note highlights the importance of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. Bachelard’s work offers a compelling exploration of the psychological connection between the most intimate spheres of concern (the private home) and the most extended ones (the broader world). Broader eco-theological engagement with his work will employ resources both for understanding relations between the relative scales of human ecology and for expanding spheres of concern, particularly in extending that concern often reserved for the most intimate ecological sphere to the most expansive. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Literature and Eco-theology)
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