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Spiritual Ecology (Sponsel, 2016)

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Course Title

Spiritual Ecology


Les Sponsel
University of Hawaii


Anthropology, Religious Studies

Subject(s) Religion and Ecology

Spiritual ecology refers to scientific and scholarly studies of the vast, complex, diverse, dynamic, and promising arena at the interfaces of religions and spiritualities with environments, ecologies, and environmentalisms. The term spiritual ecology is used simply because it is most inclusive, referring to individual as well as organizational ideas and actions in this arena, and because it parallels the names of other major approaches within ecological anthropology like historical ecology and political ecology.

This advanced course pursues a systematic and thorough anthropological survey and critical analysis of spiritual ecology in historical and cross-cultural perspective. Although it has deep roots, spiritual ecology is also a most exciting new interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary frontier for research, teaching, and practice that has been growing exponentially since the 1990s. Here the anthropological method of cultural relativism will be applied by suspending judgements on different religious beliefs and actions, although some criticisms will be considered, particularly from the “New Atheists” in the last regular class meeting.

The instructor will discuss his own research and publications on various aspects of this subject, including his continuing long-term fieldwork on the relationships among Buddhism, sacred places, ecology, and biodiversity conservation in Thailand, drawing on his forthcoming book Natural Wisdom: Exploring Buddhist Ecology and Environmentalism. Special segments will focus on sacred caves in northern Thailand, the controversy surrounding the sacred mountain Mauna Kea in Hawai`i, and religious responses to global climate change.


See PDF here.