What is the ecological thinking that is needed at a time like this?

Here is my proposed short abstract for the “European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment” (EFSRE), due to take place in Manchester next year. It promises to be a great event. Any thoughts, comments or references would be much appreciated. Thanks.

What is the ecological thinking that is needed at a time like this?

In a number of works, Frédérique Neyrat has offered a critique of the “saturated immanence” of much recent ecological thinking. Neyrat agrees that the concept of “nature” needs to be freed from the reductive binaries in which it has been locked by modernity, in such a way that the material realm can be appreciated as animated and enchanted. But he does not agree with the way this has so far been attempted. One of his primary targets in this regard is Bruno Latour. For Neyrat, the way in which Latour attempts to deconstruct the “human/ nature” dichotomy causes a relation of hierarchy to be re-inscribed. We are left with a paltry form of “eco-constructivism”, where solutions to the contemporary environmental crisis can only be conceived in terms of technology, pragmatism and resilience.

In this paper, however, I will seek to turn the tables on Neyrat. Contrary to his critique, I will propose that Latour offers important resources for the ecological discourse that is needed at this time. In particular, I will argue for a reading of Latour’s work in terms of a “political theology”, where prescriptions for human activity are framed by ideas of humility and care for a material realm that is “gifted” and that therefore always escapes the ability of human beings to master and dominate it. In this way, I will propose that Latour’s work invites theology to make a contribution to ecological discourse, thereby answering some of the challenges that Neyrat has identified.

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