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Journal of Beliefs & Values
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Earthing spiritual literacy: how to link spiritual development and education to a new Earth consciousness?
Ursula King
a b a b

Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, UK Available online: 13 Dec 2010

To cite this article: Ursula King (2010): Earthing spiritual literacy: how to link spiritual development and education to a new Earth consciousness?, Journal of Beliefs & Values, 31:3, 245-260 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13617672.2010.520998

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co. interspirituality. religion.66.240.co. though. dialogical imperative. Earth story and human story are intimately interconnected when the whole planet and all life are understood as a vast eco-system linked to philosophical and spiritual dimensions. It just shows that subject-related trends often take a long time to attract more general attention.uk UrsulaKing 00000December & and of Article Francis Beliefs (print)/1469-9362 Francis2010 & Values (online) Downloaded by [99.2010. In the Conclusion it is argued that the idea of developing spiritual literacy in conjunction with Earth literacy can be called a pneumatophore – an idea that is a bearer of spirit that can kindle spiritualities for the life of the human community on Earth. spiritual literacy. UK.520998 CJBV_A_520998. It draws on the metaphor of ‘earthing’ to argue for a close link between spiritual literacy and Earth literacy.informaworld. business and the commercial world (Holmes 2007). December 2010. *Email: uking@blueyonder. Bristol. pneumatophors Introduction A recent survey of different perspectives in the study of spirituality lists under the title ‘Contemporary Spirituality as Emerging in Academic Disciplines’ the areas of psychology. Those working in education are well aware that this is not at all new but has been going on for years.2010. This leads to a discussion of a global. education. but even here the overview is more narrow than necessary. dynamic vision of education. anthropology. as when he says that the idea of spirituality has ‘re-emerged’ in educational discourse and has now become an important element across the curriculum rather than being relegated to religious education only. GreenSpirit movement. 245–260 Earthing spiritual literacy: how to link spiritual development and education to a new Earth consciousness? Ursula King* Institute of Advanced Studies.Journal of Beliefs & Values Vol. deep ecology. Reference is made to the deep ecology movement of Arne Naess and his ecosophy as well as other movements and writers that bring together very practical environmental concerns with deeply spiritual issues.com . Keywords: Earth literacy. Department of the Study of Religions. The last section includes a brief discussion of The Earth Charter (2000) and of resources for teaching on religion and ecology.sgm 1361-7672 Original Taylor 2010 0 3 31 uking@blueyonder. the meaning of religious pluralism. University of Bristol.1080/13617672. The universe story. UK Journal 10. This brief account relates only to Britain. School of Oriental and African Studies. the existence of a ‘dialogical imperative’ and the need to draw on global spiritual energy resources to feed the zest for life.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 This article discusses the development of spiritual literacy in relation to a new consciousness of the Earth and what Thomas Berry calls ‘Earth literacy’. considered of great importance for both personal spiritual development and the further evolution of humanity. 31. global education. No. University of London. It may be helpful. to reflect on some of Holmes’ comments. 3.1080/13617672.uk ISSN 1361-7672 print/ISSN 1469-9362 online © 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10. noosphere.520998 http://www. so essential for the flourishing of all peoples and the planet. Earth Charter. London.

2001. I will not say much about spirituality in general or go into the numerous debates about spirituality. on learning to learn rather than simply being concerned with learning outcomes. I have chosen the metaphor of ‘earthing’ for this linking of spiritual literacy and Earth literacy. In its broadest terms. It also extends beyond emotional and ethical literacy to a much deeper dimension of insight and wisdom that grows from both the heart and the head. How can we ground our understanding and practice of spirituality in the earth? How can we link spiritual literacy with Earth literacy at an important moment in the history of humankind. not only for other fellow human beings but for all life. according to him. Given our vast environmental problems and the existence of an important ecological movement. This is an urgent necessity at a time when we are increasingly faced with exceptionally precarious. Spiritual education and literacy can be explored in relation to many different insights and experiences. spirituality seems to defy exhaustive descriptions and unequivocal Downloaded by [99. it helps us to engage in deep-felt compassion and love. For this. and beyond the acquisition of professional training and skills. Like everything else in our postmodern world. responsibilities and needs. and sometimes rather contradictory. Spiritual literacy does not just evolve by itself.246 U. In a simple technical sense ‘to earthen’ means to fasten electrical equipment to the earth so that the earth becomes an arbitrary reference voltage in an electric circuit. but needs to be fostered and nurtured to grow and flourish. religion and secularisation. pressing problems at ever so many places around the globe. 154). Google lists over 37 million references for spirituality1 – who could cope with that? Like postmodernism. the traditional meaning of spirituality has become so destabilised and fluid that spirituality is open to many different. interpretations. Numerous socially and spiritually sensitive observers of the contemporary world have commented that we need a global spiritual awakening on a much larger scale than exists at present. It therefore requires for its understanding a participatory hermeneutic – an engaged and committed approach that leads to a deeper awareness and a more nuanced self-reflexivity. and discuss what this can mean for education and the development of human beings in general. This represents. and colleges. and in that much larger arc of experiencing the collective evolution of the human species? Those are the questions I wish to explore in this article. in fact it points to the process of ‘grounding’. King Holmes also mentions the increasing focus on the process of learning itself. It is in this context that I want to argue for advancing greater spiritual literacy. but in a more general sense the verb ‘to earthen’ can refer to fastening or attaching things together. as I have written extensively on these (King 2009. Spiritual education has to reach far beyond the formal world of education and must become an integral part of life-long learning. schools.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . spirituality is more than just another object of study. it can be taken as a truly ‘generative theme’ that stirs people into action and makes them work for change (Dorr 2004.66. in our own experience of personal development.240. so that people and planet can relate harmoniously to each other. it seems to me particularly important to reflect on spirituality in relation to our ecological awareness. ‘a basic concept needed throughout the educational program from the earliest years up through professional levels’ (208). in homes. By spiritual literacy I mean a literacy that goes far beyond learning to read and write. 1998). not only for children and young people. spiritual education is needed at all levels. I have chosen to link spiritual literacy to what Thomas Berry (1993) calls Earth literacy. but everywhere.

we are dealing with a great diversity of landscapes in terms of both knowledge and experience. We are all familiar with the famous image of our bluish-green planet floating against a dark background. and spilled over into a conscious self-awareness that now ponders and shapes the evolutionary dynamics of earth. and the latter is part of the great story of the universe. The general awareness of the history of the Earth and life. Earth literacy is certainly on the ascent. of the living world as a great. Within a comprehensive evolutionary vision. Downloaded by [99. constellated into a hundred billion galaxies. whereas spiritual practices operate within widely different. 238) where he writes: The universe flared forth fifteen billion years ago in a trillion degree blaze of energy. We all possess a new consciousness of one planet. In earthing spiritual literacy. first made known through the astronauts’ photograph of ‘Earthrise’ taken from the moon. religion and spirituality. If you look at the stunning photographs of The Earth from the air by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (2002). The great work. it is evident that our planet Earth is immensely rich not only in its natural diversity. the human story is deeply embedded in the earth story.66.240. as a self. but it needs to be much more widely cultivated than is the case at present. I shall say something about each of these. where we are concerned with education. building on earlier insights of Teilhard de Chardin. is much greater today than ever before. grounded in the story of cosmogenesis which he has briefly sketched in a later article (1993. marvellous and ever so vulnerable habitat faced by many threats and disasters. argues for a true ‘Earth spirituality’. This new consciousness of what planet Earth means to humans is well captured in Thomas Berry’s book The dream of the Earth (1988). there is the important landscape of education. forged the elements deep in the cores of stars. especially higher education. There is first the landscape of the earth itself linked to our new consciousness of the earth.styled ‘geologian’ rather than a theologian. and much wanton human destruction. more than what nature poets and mystics could convey during earlier ages.Journal of Beliefs & Values 247 definitions. Then there is the vast landscape of hugely diverse worldviews and faiths. of the great biodiversity of our planet. which is the work of all people. but he is puzzled why there exists such a disparity of responses to these great facts? I will return to this point later. and sometimes mutually exclusive. but also the vulnerability of our biosphere and human habitat in a wider sense. refashioned its matter into living seas. but also in its cultural diversity – the two are intricately interwoven. For the present I want to look at Thomas Berry’s seminal book The great work (1999) where he. Moreover. Both the media and the environmental movement have contributed to this increased sensibility for the richness. spouted into advanced organic beings. contexts. suspended in space and surrounded by blackness.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 He says these are the scientific facts on which people can agree. A new consciousness of the Earth Let me begin with the Earth. whereas others speak of it as the vision of Gaia. is ‘to create a mutually enhancing mode of . so entrancingly told by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry in their book The universe story (1992) with the subtitle ‘A celebration of the unfolding of the cosmos’. For Brian Swimme a new form of consciousness is emerging.

The Association for Creation Spirituality. surprisingly. He speaks of the need to rediscover the spiritual sense of the universe and the necessity ‘to reinvent the human’. and (4) the much more recent and newer wisdom of science (which he. (1999. it is not the type of knowledge that leads to an intimate presence within a meaningful universe … with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than as a communion of subjects’. Berry thinks that it is less available ‘from our modern western religion’ (1999.240. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence’ (2009. associated with the ideas of Matthew Fox and others.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 This shift of emphasis led to the development of Creation Spirituality. Very exciting is the convergence of traditional spiritual perspectives with some of the spiritual insights modern science can yield. 176–95) calls the ‘fourfold wisdom’ where all four have to be in dialogue with each other: (1) the wisdom of the classical traditions. At present I want to say more about contemporary attitudes to the environment represented by ecology and ecosophy. To develop a new world vision requires the fundamental restructuring of politics. however: the natural world is our primary revelatory experience. Ever since the Enlightenment there has been an alienation of the human from the natural world. a loss of intimacy whereby the Earth became literally ‘desouled’. (3) the wisdom of women. This emphasis leaves us unable to benefit religiously from that primary and most profound mode of experiencing the divine in the immediacies of life. 16. This sense of the sacred dimension of the universe has to be recovered. education. religion and financial arrangements around the globe. (2) the wisdom of native peoples. but usually only the different faiths and worldviews are thought of as in a dialogue situation. and where a radical discontinuity between the nonhuman and the human modes of being is presumed. governance. calls ‘The Yoga of the West’). This task is impossible to achieve if humankind does not creatively draw on what Berry (1999. While it exists in native American and other indigenous religious traditions. For Thomas Berry. Berry argues that while ‘we have more scientific knowledge of the universe than any people ever had. Since the dawn of time.66. Emphasis on verbal revelation to the neglect of the manifestation of the divine in the natural world is to mistake the entire revelatory process. All four sources of wisdom are equally important. so that ‘we no longer hear the voice of the rivers. evolved eventually into the GreenSpirit Movement (van Eyk McCain 2010. but these have not been closely connected with a systematic scientific knowledge of the natural world as we possess it today. Added to this is the excessive emphasis in Western religious traditions on redemption processes to the neglect of creation processes. that is to say the wisdom of traditional religions and philosophies. the mountains. the sea. 17). 244) to which I shall return later. for the spiritual resources of science have been little explored so far. ix). formed in Britain in 1995.248 U. . 75) Downloaded by [99. 23). human experiences of nature have often included an awareness of a spiritual presence in nature as well as an experience of a deeper unity with nature. Some people may be particularly interested in the wisdom of indigenous people whereas I am especially interested in the traditionally equally neglected wisdom of women. King human dwelling on the planet Earth’ (1999.

Thomas Berry distinguishes the environmental movement as an adjustment of the Earth community to the needs of human beings from the ecology movement. at different spiritual pathways and transformation. That is not unlike Berry saying that we are the only species that can appreciate the main features of the cosmological and biological evolutionary processes. His deeply reverential attitude towards the Earth is also evident in the GreenSpirit movement and in some of the spiritualities developed by the New Age movement. all the individuals.66.240. Although deep ecology is sometimes criticised as not sufficiently concerned with social justice. The expression ‘as a whole’ is of decisive importance here. Gandhi and the Buddha. Many people may consider the ecological and environmental movements as simply secular and activist. Such a perspective leads to ecology as a philosophy. more challenging paradigm shift based on the acknowledgement that we belong to the Earth. whereas the Earth does not belong to us.Journal of Beliefs & Values 249 Ecology and ecosophy Ecological concerns are at the top of many contemporary agendas but what does the growth in ecological awareness imply? Ecology is often simply described as a practical discipline concerned with the study of organisms in their environments or ‘home’. as a way of thinking about the world. that is to say. ‘Environment’ seems to refer to both our external environment and to nature as a whole. we underestimate our potentialities both as individuals and as a species. which includes thinking about spirituality as our way of being in and part of the world as a whole. which we call ‘Earth’. of which we as human beings are a part. should realise the meaning of their being. of which the universe consists. Naess emphasises ‘Self-Realization‘ for all beings. sometimes called the ‘Age of Ecology’. and in connection with other people. taking on decisive responsibilities for the future of humanity on earth. and that includes a vast potential for further self-evolution which requires the recognition and acceptance of important ethical choices. These are never isolated but interconnected within a greater whole. humans and non-humans. must be made explicit whenever possible. This view is particularly connected with the deep ecology movement. In contrast to the usual understanding of this term. most prominently associated with the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912–2007). self-realisation is for him the universe realising itself. at understanding ourselves. he also speaks about ‘ecosophy’. for scientists study different ecosystems from micro to macro level. so that ecological activism is seen as having a spiritual basis. concerned with counteracting environmental damage. at the greening of our culture and at practical implications of a new GreenSpirit consciousness. this may largely be a matter of emphasis and of sorting out ecological Downloaded by [99. of our acting within and through it.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . understood as an adjustment of human beings to the needs of the Earth community. so that ultimately the whole planet is understood as one vast ecosystem. But the ecological revolution represents a profound paradigm shift that includes ultimately a spiritual dimension. The interconnectedness of this system as a living whole. and devoted to the preservation of the biodiversity of life. and they involve a strong emphasis on non-violence. The latter is the larger. His philosophical views were influenced by Spinoza. New worldviews are emerging in our present era. In Naess’s view. Much of this is in the spirit of Arne Naess who distinguishes deep ecology from shallow environmentalism. The many connections between ecology and spirituality are clearly evident from the rich collection of essays edited by Marian van Eyk McCain in her book GreenSpirit: Path to a new consciousness (2010) which looks at understanding the world as Gaia.

put differently. He fervently advocates the need for an ‘ecology of the mind’ to cleanse and change our thinking and save ourselves from all forms of dangerous pollution of a mental kind. I cannot discuss its considerable literature here. and (3) ecological movement. practical and spiritual questions go together. whereas others understand it in a pantheistic or panentheistic sense. King from other issues. Warren 1997). ‘the true work of ecology is not only through campaigns to save this or that threatened habitat (though this is important too) but also creating an attitude of mind within which the ecological and spiritual are one’ (1992. Another philosopher. of sacred matter as sacred mother. on the reverence of life as sacred. The multiple links between these different movements point to the unique character of deep ecology as representing ‘activism on a spiritual basis’ (Sessions 1993. speaks about the need for ‘spiritual reconstruction’ based on a reverential treatment of the world and of ourselves.240. how to connect our new Earth consciousness to the process of education in order to nurture an ecologically sensitive spirituality? In order to answer these questions. and the need for ‘earth healing’ to redeem and reverse our destruction and domination of the earth.66. and some connect this theme with the Mother Goddess. Both Earth literacy and spiritual literacy appear to be involved in a dynamic process of unfolding before our very eyes. Apart from a general understanding of the universe as a self-regulating organism and a general emphasis on respect and care. been more fully explored than in ecofeminism (see Adams 1994. 214). we would have the power to heal ourselves and our planet. much more reflective work and critical debate are needed for a clarification of all the issues involved here. from formal education in all its diversity to the informal educational process involved in our experience of life – is for me and countless others Downloaded by [99. too.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . requiring a new kind of awareness and commitment. If we fostered a greater awareness of these principles in our lives. All of these combine many practical aims with the recognition of spiritual ideals. there appears no common doctrinal core to the various attempts to formulate a truly ecological spirituality. Cuomo 1998. (2) social justice movement. Many ecofeminists describe the earth as Gaia. Yet these examples point to a more nuanced and self-reflexive awareness and a substantial body of literature that indicate a fast expanding Earth literacy linked to a growing spiritual sensitivity and literacy. The interconnections between consciousness. The question then is how to link the search for spiritual literacy to the process of spiritual development or.250 U. and other beings in the universe. global vision of education Education – all education. values and right action are not unlike some of the principles of Buddhism. For Skolimoski. I will first say something about education. together with the goal of ‘wide’ ecological sustainability. but would like to mention that nowhere has the theme of ‘Mother Earth’. A dynamic. According to him. From an ecological perspective ‘spirituality is not about what gods you praise and how piously you do it. As always in newly emerging fields. 47). Henryk Skolimoski (1992). Naess himself saw the international Green Movement as comprising three movements: (1) peace movement. including natural habitats and Mother Earth herself’ (46). Similar holistic perspectives about ecology and spirituality can be found in contemporary ecofeminism. but about how your life affects other human beings.

our love. joy. Muller argues that. It involves the fostering of a sense of wonder. peace. to the universe. we must now also extend our hearts. to the stars. love.Journal of Beliefs & Values 251 the key factor in the transformation of the world. after extending the power of our hands with incredible machines. The landscape of higher education around the world is extraordinarily diverse and multi-faceted today. for spaces of genuine creativity. 8) Downloaded by [99. hope. where the human being ‘must perceive his right. to the planet. Already in the early 1980s. We are not only ecologically. wrote about ‘The Need for Global Education’ in his inspiring book New Genesis: Shaping a global spirituality (1982. for the community-building aspects of learning that seem to me to be at the heart of any worthwhile educational enterprise. including spiritual ones. including mutually supportive learning communities.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . I am not decrying the need for transparency and accountability. politically and financially interdependent. Robert Muller. Beyond this more general. There is much to be criticised and in need of change. our feelings. the great period of human fulfilment on planet Earth is only now about to begin. breadth and creative human potential out of both teaching and learning.240. the development of responsibility. During my almost 40 years in higher education I have seen a great many changes in the educational landscape. And that includes the transformation of mind. radio and sonar. Whether we look at universities. our ears with cell phones. but I am also looking for the passionate use of the imagination. miraculous place in the splendor of God’s creation’ (8). friendly. of our eyes with telescopes and microscopes. Yet I hope that professionals working in religion and education will still share an awareness of the spiritual dimension of all education and remain committed to a profoundly humanistic and idealistic vision of the intrinsic value and dignity of each human person. Such global education ‘must transcend material. implicit spiritual dimension of the whole educational process much work is going on with regard to an explicitly named ‘spiritual education’ which specifically addresses the education of the human spirit. the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and later Chancellor of Costa Rica’s Peace University. community and belonging. colleges or vocational education. we encounter a bewilderingly complex field with many controversial features. dense network of worldwide interdependencies. This is directly connected with a vision of human flourishing that depends on the creation of mutually supportive communities. economically. loving. but we are also spiritually interdependent as an Earth community. mentally. often highly finance-driven. Like other visionary pioneers Muller perceives the intricate. The recent trend towards ever more quantitative. (1982. our brains with computers and automation. body and spirit – the transformation of our souls. scientific and intellectual achievements and reach deliberately into the moral and spiritual spheres’ (8). Thus he concludes his essay with a strong appeal: We must manage our globe so as to permit the endless stream of humans admitted to the miracle of life to fulfil their lives physically. 3–9). morally and spiritually as has never been possible before in our entire evolution. as well as the nurturing of a deeper sense of identity. The real. Global education must prepare our children for the coming of an interdependent. to eternity and to God’ (8). safe. Muller has articulated better than most the urgent need for global education which he assesses above all from a religious perspective.66. happy planetary age as has been heralded by all great prophets. utilitarian and narrowly vocational training has taken much of the variety. prosperous. and our soul ‘to the entire human family. sensitivity and creativity.

Such a perspective Downloaded by [99. It was frequently an exclusively male domain where the search for holiness was built on the contempt of the body and the world. too focused on an individual person’s inwardness. with the consciousness of living on the same one Earth. a spirituality that is closely connected to the ordinary life in the world with its daily relationships and responsibilities. and even more on the contempt of women. Following on from the interconnectedness of the web of the biosphere – the ecological vision of oneness. Given the contemporary burgeoning of interest in spirituality. it can be surprising how unconnected most of this interest remains with ideas about the world as a whole. Many new ideas have emerged in educational discussions that parallel some of Muller’s own thinking. too static. Nor is the traditional Christian understanding of spirituality of much help here since much of it was developed in the cloister. many more trends can be observed now. Moreover. reflecting many dynamic aspects of education and spiritual development. but sees it rather in separation and isolation from other aspects of human experience. a universality of common belonging. Similarly. and of all of us belonging to the same web of life . Yet since he first dreamt more than two decades ago of shaping a ‘global spirituality’ through the use of education. planetary point of view. even though these were ultimately grounded in community. Spirituality and environmental concerns Within the holistic perspective of an ecological paradigm. how can spirituality help to bring about the personal and social transformation our world so urgently needs? How can we re-vision spirituality ecologically? We all live on one and the same planet. a spirituality which makes sense of our total environment. is often deeply enshrined in the original vision of the world faiths and in the many myths about the origin of the world. emphasising yet again the link between Earth literacy and spiritual literacy. King This is a large spiritual vision that embraces the education of the whole human race. hierarchical and dualistic mode. But such an approach does not understand spirituality ecologically. Much spirituality is too past-oriented. of the intrinsic unity of humankind and the planet – their spiritual oneness – are not alien to the religions of the world.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . Past spiritual advice was often based on strong dualistic notions dividing the ordinary world of work and matter from that of the spirit. we form one humanity. on individual self-development and notions of personal fulfillment based on numerous trends in modern psychology. Let me now return to spirituality and ecology by pursuing further reflections on ecological spirituality from a global. without and within.252 U. Few possess such wide experience and breath-taking powers of the imagination as Robert Muller. of a shared origin and destiny. final destiny of all humanity in different religious traditions around the world. On the contrary. Today we need a different kind of ‘spirituality-of-being in-the-world’. there exist many stories. myths and doctrines about the ultimate. so to speak – I want to emphasise that visions of the world as a whole.66.240. much traditional spirituality is predominantly cast in a strongly patriarchal. pointing in the same direction. This emphasis goes together with the modern focus on the subject. both inside and outside religious institutions. It often consisted of extensive ascetic and monastic practices. His reflections are grounded in more than 30 years’ practical work with United Nations agencies around the world. and for our own human future. with one common destiny and a shared responsibility for the future of life on Earth. however different and torn apart. as a dynamic process and vivifying energy connected with all of life.

Teilhard called his spiritual vision of human connectedness the noosphere. especially in China. in practice often turns out to be the advice of male spiritual mentors to their male disciples. Certain external and internal conditions have to be met for human and natural life to remain in balance. as if perceived from the moon. of love and action. strongly grounded means to live through the whole body. it is still searching a centre. but on reading many spiritual ‘classics’ today. But only relatively few thinkers have considered the planetary dimensions and global importance of spirituality. He acknowledges that he has been deeply influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) whose consciousness of the immensity of the Earth and its peoples. Being earthed and grounded. One is equally struck. understood as a layer of mind and consciousness within the layer of life covering the Earth and arising out of the biosphere. He spoke of the ‘planetisation’ or what would we would today call the globalisation of humanity. addressed to apparently asexual beings. During night watches in the trenches of that Great War the whole world appeared to him as one great ‘thing’. it is not at all certain that a balanced human and Earth community can be created. their common origin and destiny. especially as a woman. which are closely interdependent. Through modern science and technology humanity is ever more closely being drawn together through external forces. If the pressure of the Earth forces us into some form of closer coming together. sometimes developed to pathological extremes. He states in his book Man’s place in nature (Teilhard de Chardin 1966). one is often struck by the one-sided emphasis on renunciation and asceticism. but also his extensive travels in North Africa and Asia. so that spiritual writings throughout world religious literature contain many sexist and antifeminist passages which cannot promote the balanced wholeness and interpersonal connections we seek and need today.240. a heart (for more details see King 1996). what would be still more Downloaded by [99. Yet he asked himself whether this process of human planetisation may in fact be successful and whether it will really lead to the unity we need. that life on Earth will fail if the following external conditions are not met: Should the planet become uninhabitable before mankind has reached maturity. After World War I.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . based on lectures given at the Sorbonne in 1949. We have to think of the immense diversity of the biosphere and noosphere – the sphere of life on Earth and the sphere of human thought and will. and these conditions are a tremendous challenge to humanity. already mentioned earlier. or. To be deeply. He described the globe as surrounded by a layer of blueness which symbolised for him the density of thought. developed through his geological and biological studies. His poetic descriptions of this profound experience in some ways anticipate the much later astronaut’s ‘Earthrise’ photo of our blue planet in space referred to earlier. being linked to all aspects of our environment must also mean that our human embodiment must be part of the spiritual dimension of our lives. and his experience of the global dimensions of World War I. dialogue and global spiritual energy resources Truly creative visionaries can see the world and humanity as one in spite of their confusing and contradictory complexities. Such a one is Robert Muller. should there be a premature lack of bread or essential metals. Religious pluralism.Journal of Beliefs & Values 253 is not without its precedents in earlier religious teachings. but the human community is not yet being moved by the same spirit. Teilhard de Chardin is often misjudged as too optimistic a thinker. being rooted in the Earth and in the whole universe. by the discovery that what first appears as gender-neutral spiritual advice.66.

of cerebral matter needed to store. but this elemental human faith is the underlying ground that connects us to each other and provides the basis for more specific religious faiths and philosophical worldviews. but also great opportunities for mutual learning. Instead of simply acknowledging this diverse landscape of faiths with its spiritual mountains. but what spiritual energy resources do we have to sustain the life of all people and the planet (King 2006)? Fully aware that the whole cosmic process of evolution is animated by immense forces of energy. but this is mostly understood in material and economic terms. When speaking about ‘faith’ here. resistance and violence. Downloaded by [99. in the whole universe. in the Earth. but also spiritual energy resources that can give us hope and healing. King serious. of seeing the whole world and all people within it as one. maintain and increase the zest for life. in the whole universe. is expressed will vary enormously.254 U. whereas the majority of the world’s peoples are still mostly nourished from the streams of a particular religious faith. fundamental faith in the goodness of life and in the world as our home (the Greek word oikos. as much more foundational and primary than the often quoted UrAngst or existential anxiety that so many philosophers have proclaimed. We live in a world of extraordinary ethnic. and increase the sum total of knowledge and aspirations that at any given moment make up the collective germ of the noosphere: should any of these conditions occur. means precisely this. a basic trust in family and friends. Today we hear much about development. the dynamic. courage and strength. it is seen as a problem of wealth and justice. and the world’s effort fully to centre upon itself could only be attempted again elsewhere at some other point in the heavens. today we are regrettably perhaps much less aware of shared religious visions of unity than of the diversity of faiths. positive energies that cradle our life and action. Teilhard asked how we can feed. as the distribution of resources and a balance of power. a situation which provides individuals and groups with tremendous challenges. social. help. Central to his understanding of the human phenomenon and the place of spirituality within it was the role and power of love. We not only need material and biological energy resources for this. rooted in a specific religious tradition or in the primal visions of native and indigenous peoples.66. this foundational trust. We assess the material energy resources of our planet. However. I am convinced that for an ecological revisioning of spirituality the best of our global religious heritage is indispensable. In other words. (1966. then.240. an insufficiency. from which ‘ecological’ is derived. of people relating to each other. in life. in significant others. we must first acknowledge that all people possess some general human faith. either in quantity or quality. of being connected and inspired by the deepest energy available to us. The convergent encounter and dialogue between people of different faiths in East and West is essential today for the development of a ‘spiritual ecology’ since the world’s religious and philosophical traditions possess irreplaceable spiritual energy resources that can make some of the most creative contributions to the future of humanity and the planet. a home). But Teilhard was asking for more than that when he posed the question of how far we have thought of the spiritual dimensions of development. and a faith to live by. Some people consider this trust in the world and its people.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . cultural and religious pluralism. 118) Teilhard de Chardin was much concerned with ‘building the earth’. with developing ‘the spirit of one Earth’. growth and enrichment. of a situation of unprecedented religious pluralism and its ensuing tensions. there can be no doubt that it would mean the failure of life on earth. a basic. For some it exists as a merely humanistic faith. transmit. misunderstandings. How this faith. There is a German word – Ur-Vertrauen – that means a primal trust.

must be cultivated as ‘interreligious dialogue’ between members of different religions and as ‘intra-religious dialogue’ between different members of the same religious tradition. At its best. worse. there exists a great need to critically examine our existing attitudes. we become aware that all the spiritual traditions together present us with an immensely rich. attack and rejection.240. for the overcoming of violence. Universities as places dedicated to the pursuit of learning and knowledge – and ideally also the pursuit of vision and wisdom – provide something of a laboratory situation for the intermingling of people and ideas as well as the encounter of men and women from very different religions and cultures. fortified territories of an exclusive kind. They are part of human planetary inheritance. poverty and inequality. If we do not look at religions exclusively from the outside. There exists not only an extraordinary pluralism between our different religious and cultural traditions. this provides an ideal context for a sensitive exploring of different landscapes of faiths. about different life worlds. but discover their deeper spiritual resources. and of the possibility of human dignity and wholeness. attentive listening to others. For this to be a successful and positive experience. and supporting our mutually enriching growth. that is to say the urgent and necessary incentive to promote dialogue above all else. feeling and acting. it is helpful to enquire into the religious significance of religious pluralism and the existence of religiously significant ‘others’. thinking. The great faith traditions of the world are not isolated. and above all to approach our traditional vocabularies and ways of speaking about ‘the Other’ with a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’. Dialogue is about voices of difference. It is important for all of us to explore together the specific insights and moments of revelation which our respective religious traditions have accumulated and handed down from one generation to the next.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 . It takes courage and humility to acknowledge and respect this diversity by treating it as a rich spiritual resource rather than a reason for competition. sometimes also called ‘trialogue’ or even ‘multilogue’.66. but also within each of our own communities. but also an acknowledgement of the wounds we have inflicted on each other. sustained and transformed. We can learn how the ethical codes of different faiths can help us to construct what has been a called a ‘global ethic’ for conflict resolution. about different moods and experiences. but the range for realising this potential has grown exponentially in today’s world. they are homes of the spirit where our whole being can be nurtured and strengthened. In addition. This requires the often difficult acceptance of differences and diversity. prejudices and short-sightedness.Journal of Beliefs & Values 255 rivers and oceans. but also so much more – a rich revelation of an inexhaustible ocean of love. about different ways of living and experiencing. We can discover the spiritual treasures whereby the lives of countless people in the past and present have been nourished. sharing and healing differences. of greatness and glory. The art of dialogue. religions and spiritualities. compassion and mercy. Here we can see the transforming process of education and the transformative power of a spiritual dimension at work. This process of learning involves the recognition of our profound diversities and otherness. we also need dialogue beyond religious boundaries between people of faiths and others who hold to the different wordviews of secular culture and modern science. and for learning the art of peace-making. global heritage which belongs to all humankind. Downloaded by [99. seeing nothing more than their defective institutional settings and structures. different ways of knowing. The human being has an inborn intentionality for communication and relationships. Our world truly needs a ‘dialogical imperative’. opposition or.

For example. with a sense for justice. Some argue that we humans have reached a new historical moment where we can discern a shared unity and common pattern in the religious history of humankind. about which more below. a new language of faith and a new way of being human. These ideas are shared by many religious and non-religious groups today. all-embracing ‘interspirituality’ that Wayne Teasdale (1999) sees as a special characteric of our new ‘interspiritual age’ (King 2009. (129) Downloaded by [99. but we also need ‘world believers’ with deep roots in one faith. a more universal. in her book Radical ecology (1992) speaks about a ‘spiritual ecology’ and says that the main project of such a spiritual ecology: is to effect a transformation of values that in turn leads to action to heal the planet Whatever religion or form of spirituality one practices. yet remain rooted in their own. speaking and acting. 57–77). It shows us how at a time when the vast complexity of the evolutionary story is awakening us to a new consciousness of the universe. King In our contemporary global world we are meeting new thresholds which require new ways of seeing. Worldly wonder (2003) whose subtitle is ‘Religions enter their Ecological Phase’. They find particular expression in the search for an interfaith spirituality. peace. as is evident from the emerging dialogue between religious worldviews and ecology. yet able to relate to other faiths than their own. different members of faiths.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 These new developments of linking religion and ecology help us to re-vision spirituality ecologically. a relationality that is not only fostered between different human beings. It represents a sustained reflection on the relationship between ecology and religion. I would like to extend this and argue that we need to be spiritually multi-lingual and multi-focussed. of the Earth and of life. It is also of growing significance in the development of an ecological spirituality. This is not arguing for relativism but for true relationality in a very complex world. it is possible to find a connection to the earth and to the political work that needs to be done to change the present way of managing resources.240. This requires revolutionary changes in attitude and action which we cannot achieve if we do not uncover their deeper roots which are ultimately spiritual. We are in need not only of ‘world citizens’ who feel at home in different countries and cultures.66. inspired by a deep commitment to non-violence and love for one another. Carolyn Merchant. and ecological harmony.256 U. but also a relationality that obtains especially between human beings and the Earth. For a brief introduction to this new way of thinking I recommend the small study by Mary Evelyn Tucker. That a deep spiritual reorientation is needed is also expressed in the Earth Charter promulgated in 2000. we are also becoming acutely aware of the growing environmental crisis threatening the continuity of all species and habitats around the globe. the activist Naomi Klein has argued in a substantial article in The Guardian (2010) that the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not just an industrial accident but ‘a violent wound on the Earth itself’ which lays bare the hubris at the very heart of contemporary capitalist society. different worldviews. Some speak of a ‘double belonging’ with regard to different faiths and worldviews. Some religions are more radical than others and some envision a more radical political transformation than others. For developing such an ecological spirituality among members . We require a global ecological spirituality that nurtures reverence and respect for the Earth and all living things. The dialogical mode of interreligious encounter is of great importance for this realisation of a shared spiritual approach to all of life.

other cultures. ecological vision together with a commitment to a culture of nonviolence and peace undergirds the principles of the Earth Charter. among others. gratitude for the gift of live. A planetary. Professor Wangari Maathai. Concluding reflections The important links of cross-fertilisation between spirituality and ecology provide much food for thought regarding education and spiritual development. Scientific.14d). and humility regarding the human place in nature. It is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just. entries on Deep Ecology. important resources are provided by the Forum on religion and ecology organised by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. The 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. I have argued that spirituality needs to be earthed – linked to the body.2 and by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). The greatest problem is that whereas we can agree on ‘the scientific facts’ of our global human situation.16).36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 of different faiths. to reach a higher moral ground … That time is now’ (2005. Taylor (2005). diversity. Nature Religion. institutions.66.16f). to the greater community of life. to the Earth. 22).3 Equally useful is the two volume.Journal of Beliefs & Values 257 Downloaded by [99. The Earth Charter calls for action including the promotion of ‘a culture of tolerance. sustainable and peaceful global society in the twentyfirst century. and beauty is a sacred trust … Fundamental changes are needed in our values. How to resolve this profound tension? Here . the Epic of Evolution. the peoples of the Earth. and some religious groups have already issued statements in response to the Earth Charter.4 This is a profoundly spiritual statement which draws on all available religious and secular sources to meet the greatest challenge humankind has ever met: to create a new peace culture on earth. to the cosmos. This important document was developed through an international consultation process and then approved at the Headquarters of the United Nations Educational. Several ecological thinkers stress the emergence of a new consciousness and the need for radical rethinking as well as the spiritual basis of environmental activism.240. and Paganism. To quote from its Preamble: It is imperative that we. declare our responsibility to one another. the importance of women. and also that there comes a time in human history ‘when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness. award-winning Encyclopedia of religion and nature edited by Bron R. It underlines the need for ‘sustainability education’ (IV. other persons. identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities … The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being. mentioned in her acceptance speech. among others. The Earth Charter invites all people to ‘Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself.14b) and ‘the importance of moral and spiritual education for sustainable living’ (IV. other life. Several religious organisations were part of its consultation process. It informs on all ecological issues and includes. drawing its inspiration from many different sources. and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris in March 2000. 239) again. nonviolence and peace’ (IV. Gaia. of cultural biodiversity. first at Harvard University and now at Yale University. there exists such an enormous ‘disparity of responses’. and to future generations … The protection of Earth’s vitality. and the larger whole of which all are a part’ (IV. the Earth Charter. to quote Brian Swimme (1993. Earth. and ways of living … we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility.

that is for the development of critical awareness. It is a word pregnant with ecological meaning. We will be spiritually nourished by this world or we will be starved for spiritual nourishment. In all areas of creativity. In the wider secular discussion on education and development the tremendously important resources of religions and philosophies are often given insufficient attention.in relation to developing a spiritual literacy that is profoundly grounded in Earth literacy. sticking out into the air. This term is drawn from the plant kingdom. 63–4) Downloaded by [99. are carriers of pneuma. that is to say an idea that is a bearer of spirit that can kindle the life of the human community on Earth. We can say this both physically and spiritually. 1. July 1–2.258 U. There is a single world. There are not two worlds. pneumatophores (King 2009. as long as they help to generate a heightened awareness and sensibility.36] at 08:56 21 December 2011 Notes This article is a revised version of a keynote lecture given at the Annual Conference of the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education. empowering ideas and inspirations that can serve as bearers of spirit and new life for individuals and communities. I close with a quotation from Thomas Berry: We cannot save ourselves without saving the world in which we live. King dialogue is indispensable as is education for transformation. Such ideas may be drawn from traditional religions. transformative. Within the secularity of modern society we need many such pneumatophores – ideas of spirit that feed our zest of life and inspire us to responsible action and the fostering of connections among us. we can think of nodes of thoughts. Botanists use it for the air roots of plants growing in swampy waters. secular society. and a new kind of spiritual literacy. The idea of providing more spiritual education and fostering a greater spiritual awakening is another such idea. I am particularly interested in how we draw on spiritual energy resources to nourish the zest for life that fosters the flourishing of people and planet. self-reflexivity and spiritual sensitivity. transnational or global contexts. a sense of global responsibility.240. Norwich. and celebrating its beauty and abundance. of air or spirit. and of education . If we use it metaphorically. We will live or die as this world lives or dies. they may emerge from the sacred or the secular. I suggest to call such key ideas that can generate new consciousness and action. Yet these contain a wealth of beliefs and values that provide us with some of the most precious spiritual energy resources for affirming the mystery and spirit of life. from national. the world of the human and a world of the other modes of being. University of East Anglia. grounding spirituality – can be called a pneumatophore. (2009. including education. I have tried to illuminate three different landscapes – those of the earth. If they encourage people to live on the planet without destroying the life-support system of the Earth or killing each other. Accessed on 16 July 2010. 2010. . Such roots. 194). we need ideas to think and work with ideas that can inspire and transform us. the sciences or the arts. if this is translated literally. they will enable us to build sustainable communities and live in peace and harmony as one Earth community. of worldviews and faiths. The idea of consciously developing spiritual literacy in conjunction with Earth literacy – by literally ‘earthing’. No other revelatory experience can do for the human what the experience of the natural world does.66. Their origin does not really matter.

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