Bookbeat: May 2009

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future

by Bron Taylor, Religion
(2009, University of California Press)
Available through Amazon

In 1859, Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species, shattering traditional explanations for the fecundity and diversity of the biosphere. Religion will never be the same. Where this cognitive shift has been mostly deeply made, traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. Where traditional religions have not declined significantly, to the extent their practitioners encounter societies that have adopted an evolutionary worldview, such conventional religions find themselves on the defensive. Yet the desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, and the human place in it, has not withered away. Some find ways to graft evolutionary understandings onto longstanding religious traditions. Yet increasingly, new perceptions, both explicitly and implicitly religious, have filled the cultural niches where traditional religious beliefs have come to be seen as implausible. In Dark Green Religion, Bron Taylor provides detailed evidence that many of the innovative responses to the Darwinian revolution are forms of religious (or religion-resembling) expression, in which nature is considered sacred and worthy of reverent care, and non-human organisms are considered kin and as having intrinsic value.

After wrestling with the terms critical to its analysis, rattling assumptions about what counts as “religion” and describing various types of dark green religion, Taylor explores its early roots and manifestations, focusing especially on the century and a half since Darwin published his evolutionary treatise. He analyzes the material products emerging from the individuals and groups under scrutiny – writings, art, music, crafts – as well as newer modes of communication, such as photography and motion pictures. Through interviews with those engaged in these productions and practices, and close observation of a variety of performances and groups, he provides a “you were there” intimacy unavailable from archival research alone.

Readers will not only learn afresh about streams of dark green religion in Europe that influenced America, they will also discover the spiritual dimensions of easily recognized environmental saints, such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and many others. But this essential backdrop, while sometimes surprising, is just the beginning. Readers will also consider whether radical environmentalism is a dangerous example of dark green religion . . . the sport of surfing a global manifestation of it . . . motion pictures, documentaries, and theme parks an influential expression of it . . . scholars and scientists key producers of and inspirations for it . . . and the United Nations, its global champion. By the end of this global tour, readers can evaluate whether, in this age of globalization, such spirituality is rapidly spreading, virus-like, and is poised to play a major role in the future of religion, perhaps even contributing to what might already be coming into view in nascent form – a global, civic, ‘terrapolitan’ earth religion. In short, the journey into Dark Green Religion will enable readers to consider whether the emergence and global diffusion of such nature-based spirituality is a harbinger of hope, or a portent of doom.

- Publisher

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