Ecospirituality expresses the joining of spirituality with ecological perspectives. There are numerous types, traditions, expressions, and understandings of ecospirituality. It does not refer to any one set of beliefs, but to a range of ethical or moral, religious, spiritual, or agnostic beliefs, tendencies, or actions that relate to ecological concerns. Ecospirituality has evolved since the 1960s and is currently part of popular culture in North America. The connection between spirituality and the Earth has deep and historical roots in many religious traditions and in particular with those that have remained in tune with the rhythms and limits of the Earth, such as some indigenous traditions around the world.
Ecospirituality has many meanings, the first referring to a thirst for connection between spirituality and the Earth, given the extent of and the general lack of religious responses to the ecological crisis. There is a recognition that the ecological crisis threatens all life on Earth, and it is fundamentally a moral, spiritual, and religious problem.
Since the early 1970s there has been a global, public, and political consciousness of the need for ethics and religions to be consistent with ecological and social liberation, noting, as does Steven Rockefeller (1992), that there are many diverse cultural paths joining in this awareness. Discussions have been increasingly cross-cultural and interreligious. Organizations such as the United Nations, the World Wildlife Fund, World Conservation Strategy, and numerous religious groups have been involved in interdisciplinary work aimed at developing religious and spiritual responses to the ecological crisis that are connected to political decision-making. From the initiatives of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions hosted a Religion and Ecology Project involving ten conferences since 1996, bringing together scholars and environmentalists from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Jainism, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This work is entering a phase of discussions with the United Nations.
The foundation of this collaboration among religions, academics, and activists is an awareness of a commitment to a new ecological worldview that reflects alternative values, ethics, and actions about and toward life on Earth. There is an understanding that religion not only broadens the conversation beyond discussing environmental issues in terms of economics, political legislation, or scientific analysis, but also that at the heart of spirituality is an encounter with the sacred: an intuition of the wondrous mystery in the power of life and being. Ecospirituality is a manner of speaking about this kind of religious experience that is awakening, slowly and unevenly, within the human community. As Rockefeller suggests, an appreciation of the miracle of life and of the beauty and mystery in the being of animals, plants, and the Earth as a whole becomes so intense as to generate a keen sense of the natural world's sacredness. This awareness of the inner mystery of life is at the heart of most religions.
Ecospirituality is not connected to any one tradition. As well as pertaining to established religious traditions, ecospirituality can refer to a myriad of Goddess, Wiccan, deep ecology, ecofeminist, or any mixture of Eastern, indigenous, and New Age beliefs and practices. Ecospirituality can refer to those who do not want any religious affiliation. It can have roots within the Gaia hypothesis, originating as a scientific theory in the 1970s from James Lovelock and which revives the name of a female Greek goddess of Earth. Lovelock proposed that the best way to understand the Earth is as a living planet on which all life functions as a systemic, interconnected whole—alive in the sense that the Earth is self-organizing and self-regulating. This theory has been debated intensely, and there is a slow acceptance of its validity. The relationship between ecospirituality and Gaia does not originate with Lovelock but with those who share his sense that the Earth is alive and humans are an integral member of a larger community of life.
Ecospirituality is also a term that can be applied to the work in cosmology and particularly that of Thomas Berry, a cultural historian of religions. Berry's work in scientific and religious cosmologies—stories about the origin of the world that provide orientation, guidance, and meaning to life—has done much to revive a sense of the sacredness of life, the Earth, and all the processes of the universe. He offers a comprehensive context for rethinking our current situation and for understanding ourselves as part of a larger evolutionary whole that is both spiritual and material.
There are several elements within ecospirituality, and priorities are divergent. One challenges the belief that humans are the center of life, or anthropocentrism. Some propose a biocentric approach wherein the intrinsic value of animals, plants, rivers, and mountains has a priority over their instrumental value as resources for humans. The ecospirituality insights emerging from deep ecology, ecofeminism, and cosmology are in this vein. Others would attend to the ethical dimensions, such as environmental ethics, ecofeminism and issues of domination, and social ecology wherein the relationships among ethics, social issues, and ecological issues are the central pieces of their ecospirituality. Others would put a priority on public policy and activism, seeking to change institutions, economic agendas, and legislation. Still others work to change the ideas, values, and beliefs at universities, colleges, workshops, and conferences. Finally, there is a plethora of ecospirituality rituals.
Berry, Thomas. Dream of the Earth. 1988.
Gottlieb, Roger, ed. This Sacred Earth: Religion,Nature,Environment. 1996.
Griffin, David Ray. Spirituality and Society. 1988.
Hull, Fritz, ed. Earth and Spirit: The Spiritual Dimensionof the Environmental Crisis. 1993.
Kinsley, David. Ecology and Religion: Ecological Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspective. 1995.
Lovelock, James. The Ages of Gaia. 1988.
Rockefeller, Steven, and John Elder, eds. Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue. 1992.
Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John Grim, eds. Worldviewsand Ecology. 1993.