Religion in the Anthropocene
- ISBN: 9781498291910
- Published By: Cascade Books
- Published: March 2017
The incredibly rich and complex project of gathering scholars from various disciplines within the humanities to discuss religion in the Anthropocene is one that must be commended. While the word “Anthropocene” was created as a geological concept, it is undeniable that it has been shaping and provoking scholarship since it was popularized in 2000 (19). Reactions to the environmental crisis faced by humankind and solutions offered to deal with it, accept it and discuss it have been exploding on the academic stage, and this book provides an excellent survey of what religious studies, social science, history, philosophy, and environmental studies have contributed to the debate.
With an impressive list of eighteen contributors covering the subject, Religion in the Anthropocene can hardly be commented on or summarized as a whole. While each contribution is undeniably pertinent and well written, the sum of their discourse leaves the reader with a feeling of dizziness not so different from the one felt after a good conference. Yet it is the plurality of voices and the remarkable amount of knowledge displayed in this book that can really offer any interested reader a valuable insight into environmental studies in the humanities.
There is a certain redundancy in the fact that most contributors (twelve of the eighteen) felt the need to explain what the term “Anthropocene” means and where it came from. However, this repetition is in itself a clue to understanding the complexity of the issue, because all these definitions are different. This common desire to define a specialized vocabulary is not, it would seem, as vibrant when it comes to the “religion” aspect of the book. While most authors felt the need to explain what “Anthropocene” means and how they approach it, few of them attempted to define what “religion” means. The foreword by Henirich Bedford-Strohm could have set the tone early on, with “religion” understood as being the responsibility of churches and institutions: “Churches and other religious communities not only have a hermeneutical task, they also have a political task in society” (xiv). This idea, as valuable as it is, cannot allow for a real understanding of the relationship between religion and Anthropocene in a Western world as diverse and as religiously fluid as ours. Fortunately, the authors’ contributions show that a richer discussion is possible, with ideas coming from the arts (Sigurd Bergman), great philosophical thinkers such as René Girard (Petra Steinmar-Pösel), and Jacques Derrida (Stefan Skrimshire), or nature studies (Maria Antonaccio).
There is a certain discomfort in the fact that a book with a title so inclusive would focus on Western realities. The acknowledgments explain that this volume “is the fruit of a substantial number of the contributions to the fourth biennial European Forum for the Study of Religion and Environment” and that authors came “mostly, though not exclusively, from Europe.” (xv); therefore the content of the book can only reflect the reality of this context. The issue here is not merely the quality of the contributions, all excellent, or the value of such a book, but rather the inherent contradiction it displays: many authors note how the Anthropocene as a concept is anthropocentrist, and suggest that it is, in fact, the result of a Western way of life which leaves the poorest populations of the world struggling with the effects or a lifestyle they will never be able to afford. How ironic is it that in a book trying to understand the relationship between religion and the Anthropocene, “religion” is reduced to churches, and the environmental crisis is mostly European and American.
Geneviève Pigeon is professor of religious studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Geneviève PigeonDate Of Review:November 16, 2017