On October 14, 2016, I made a presentation at Harvard Divinity School on Daoism and Ecology. The context for this presentation was conference on Religion, Ecology, and our Planetary Future, organized by Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. This conferenced marked the twentieth anniversary of a series of conferences on world religions and ecology that was organized in the 1990s by Mary Evelyn Tucker, and which led to the formation of the Harvard Forum on Religion and Ecology, now translated to the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.
In this ten-minute talk I reflect on my experience of studying Daoism and Ecology, and attempt to link this to a broader conversation on how the disciplinary structures of the university underpin modes of knowledge production that are antithetical to an ecologically flourishing future. The future of religion and ecology thus entails the ushering in of new modes of thought spanning the sciences and humanitities, and requires an accompanying undsciplining of the university.
October 25, 5:00 pm
120 Clemens Hall, University of Buffalo North Campus
Free and Open to the Public
As China charts a path towards an “ecological civilization,” and a rise to global superpower status, it is in the process of creating a new and uniquely Chinese form of modernity. This form of modernity includes economic development and rapid urbanization, but with lower carbon intensity and fewer environmental costs. It also includes a new dialog with China’s traditions, including the rehabilitation of traditional Chinese forms of culture and religion. How are these two aspects of the new Chinese modernity related? Can China’s rich cultural traditions inform its goals of a peaceful economic development while preserving the environment? This presentation focuses on Daoism, China’s indigenous religious tradition, to ask how Chinese traditions can contribute to the development of a new and ecologically sensitive Chinese modernity.
As the world reaches a population of nearly 10 billion people in 2050, as climate change provokes unexpected transformations in weather patterns, as sea levels rise, and as water and food security become paramount concerns for nations, the question of how China manages these challenges are ones that have serious implications across the world. No one wants China’s vast economic, political and environmental experiment to fail. At the same time, it is evident that the way that contemporary Western and Chinese societies are structured together in a system of global finance, trade and economic exploitation is ultimately unsustainable and will lead to the drastic reordering of the fundamental relationships between the planetary biosphere and the species that inhabit it.
The source of this unsustainability is the inability of modern neoliberal ideology and its attendant cultural forms to conceptualize and operationalize a way of being in the world that inscribes human prosperity within the prosperity of planetary life. Rather we have come to conceptualize human prosperity in a way that is alienated from the ecological systems that make such prosperity possible. As a result, the modes by which we pursue human prosperity serve only to diminish its long term viability by destroying the ultimate foundations for prosperity, that of the capacity of the natural order to produce of its own accord the creative vitality that can support the flourishing and wellbeing of all species. Such a capacity I term the subjectivity of nature. By denying nature’s subjectivity and arrogating subjectivity and agency to itself alone, modern human culture has sowed the seeds of its own destruction.
China’s Green Religion develops a normative critique of this aspect of modernity from an ecocritical analysis of ideas and values found within Daoism, China’s indigenous religious tradition. It also aims to produce an alternative vision for a culture of sustainability that is of relevance to China and the world in the mid twenty-first century.
James Miller speaks at Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School
Center for the Study of World Religions
October 14-16, 2016
This conference marks the twentieth anniversary of the Religions of the World and Ecology Conference series and subsequent book series, and advances the work of understanding and transforming the discourse of religions and ecology for the 21st century. The conference took place on October 14-16, 2016.
The original series of conferences took place at Harvard beginning in May 1996, and concluded at the United Nations and the American Museum of Natural History in October 1998 with over 1,000 attendees. The conferences, and nine volumes arising from them, engaged the world’s leading authorities on religions and environment from every continent and included religious historians, ethicists, and individuals who play important roles in shaping public policy; getting those in the field and those in the academy talking to, and learning from one another.