As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to take a look back and shine a spotlight on a few of the many wonderful volumes that have come out in the field this year. To go to the publisher's page for any book, just click on the title. Further resources for exploration have also been provided, when available. Titles are arranged chronologically.
Loving Stones: Making the Impossible Possible in the Worship of Mount Govardhan
Oxford University Press
From the publisher:
Loving Stones is a study of devotees' conceptions of and worshipful interactions with Mount Govardhan, a sacred mountain located in the Braj region of north-central India that has for centuries been considered an embodied form of Krishna. It is often said that worship of Mount Govardhan “makes the impossible possible.” In this book, David L. Haberman examines the perplexing paradox of an infinite god embodied in finite form, wherein each particular form is non-different from the unlimited. He takes on the task of interpreting the worship of a mountain and its stones for a culture in which this practice is quite alien. This challenge involves exploring the interpretive strategies that may explain what seems un-understandable, and calls for theoretical considerations of incongruity, inconceivability, and other realms of the impossible. This aspect of the book includes critical consideration of the place and history of the pejorative concept of idolatry (and its twin, anthropomorphism) in the comparative study of religions. Loving Stones uses the worship of Mount Govardhan as a site to explore ways in which scholars engaged in the difficult work of representing other cultures struggle to make “the impossible possible.”
Listen to this interview about Loving Stones in the New Book in Hindu Studies Podcast.
Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking: From Eriugena to Emerson
Stanford University Press
From the publisher:
A fresh and more capacious reading of the Western religious tradition on nature and creation, Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking puts medieval Irish theologian John Scottus Eriugena (810–877) into conversation with American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). Challenging the biblical stewardship model of nature and histories of nature and religion that pit orthodoxy against the heresy of pantheism, Willemien Otten reveals a line of thought that has long made room for nature's agency as the coworker of God. Embracing in this more elusive idea of nature in a world beset by environmental crisis, she suggests, will allow us to see nature not as a victim but as an ally in a common quest for re-attunement to the divine. Putting its protagonists into further dialogue with such classic authors as Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and William James, her study deconstructs the idea of pantheism and paves the way for a new natural theology.
“Only an accomplished scholar and philosopher in her own right could meet this challenge: pairing ancient and modern thinkers to address one of the most urgent issues of today. Does not nature amount to much more than what we have made of it? Does not nature think more than is thought? Willemien Otten not only ask these questions, she foresees the answer.”
—Jean-Luc Marion, University of Paris, Sorbonne
Living Landscapes: Meditations on the Five Elements in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain Yogas
From the publisher:
In Living Landscapes, Christopher Key Chapple looks at the world of ritual as enacted in three faiths of India. He begins with an exploration of the relationship between the body and the world as found in the cosmological cartography of Sāṃkhya philosophy, which highlights the interplay between consciousness (puruṣa) and activity (prakṛti), a process that gives rise to earth, water, fire, air, and space. He then turns to the progressive explication of these five great elements in Buddhism, Jainism, Advaita, Tantra, and Haṭha Yoga, and includes translations from the Vedas and the Purāṇas of Hinduism, the Buddhist and Jain Sūtras, and select animal fables from early Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Chapple also describes his own pilgrimages to the Great Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, the five elemental temples (pañcamahābhūta mandir) in south India, and the Jaina cosmology complex in Hastinapur. An appendix with practical instructions that integrate Yoga postures with meditative reflections on the five elements is included.
Listen to this interview about Living Landscapes in the New Books in Hindu Studies Podcast.
A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time
Edited by Stephanie Kaza
From the publisher:
Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking, and deep ecology whose decades of writing, teaching, and activism have inspired people around the world. In this collection of writings, leading spiritual teachers, deep ecologists, and diverse writers and activists explore the major facets of Macy’s lifework. Combined with eleven pieces from Macy herself, the result is a rich chorus of wisdom and compassion to support the work of our time.
See this article in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review about the publication of this volume.
Watch this video conversation about the book with Joanna Macy from the Charter for Compassion.
Read this interview about the book with editor Stephanie Kaza in Deep Times: A Journal of the Work that Reconnects.
Living Earth Community: Multiple Ways of Being & Knowing
Edited by Sam Mickey, Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim
Open Book Publishers
From the publisher:
Living Earth Community: Multiple Ways of Being and Knowing is a celebration of the diversity of ways in which humans can relate to the world around them, and an invitation to its readers to partake in planetary coexistence. Innovative, informative, and highly accessible, this interdisciplinary anthology of essays brings together scholars, writers and educators across the sciences and humanities, in a collaborative effort to illuminate the different ways of being in the world and the different kinds of knowledge they entail – from the ecological knowledge of Indigenous communities, to the scientific knowledge of a biologist and the embodied knowledge communicated through storytelling. This anthology examines the interplay between Nature and Culture in the setting of our current age of ecological crisis, stressing the importance of addressing these ecological crises occurring around the planet through multiple perspectives. These perspectives are exemplified through diverse case studies – from the political and ethical implications of thinking with forests, to the capacity of storytelling to motivate action, to the worldview of the Indigenous Okanagan community in British Columbia.
Living Earth Community: Multiple Ways of Being and Knowing synthesizes insights from across a range of academic fields and highlights the potential for synergy between disciplinary approaches and inquiries. This anthology is essential reading not only for researchers and students, but for anyone interested in the ways in which humans interact with the community of life on Earth, especially during this current period of environmental emergency.
Watch the vlog series containing interviews with the contributors.
Read about the conference on which the volume is based.
Read testimonials and find out much more about the volume here on the Forum site.
Pandemic, Ecology & Theology: Perspectives on CoVid-19
Edited by Alexander Hampton
From the publisher:
As the sequential stages of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic have unfolded, so have its complexities. What initially presented as a health emergency, has revealed itself to be a phenomenon of many facets. It has demonstrated human creativity, the oft neglected presence of nature, and the resilience of communities. Equally, it has exposed deep social inequities, conceptual inadequacies, and structural deficiencies about the way we organize our civilization and our knowledge. As the situation continues to advance, the question is whether the crisis will be grasped as an opportunity to address the deep structural, ecological and social challenges that we brought with us into the second decade of the new millennium. This volume addresses the collective sense that the pandemic is more than a problem to manage our way out of. Rather, it is a moment to consider our broken relationship with the natural world, and our alienation from a deeper sense of purpose and meaning. The contributors, though differing in their diagnoses and recommendations, share the belief that this moment, with its transformative possibility, not be forfeit. Equally, they share the conviction that the chief ground of any such reorientation ineluctably involves our collective engagement with both ecology and theology.
“This volume is not only timely, it is essential reading for those who want to understand how theology and theologians are responding to our all-encompassing pandemic. Provocative and suggestive for reimagining human-Earth relations.”
—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.
And we wanted to give a shout out to Yale colleague Willie Jennings. Though his new volume, After Whiteness, is not specifically focused on ecological concerns, the issues it raises regarding racism in theological education and the need for human communion certainly impact and intersect with our work.
After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging
Willie James Jennings
From the publisher:
On forming people who form communion Theological education has always been about formation: first of people, then of communities, then of the world. If we continue to promote whiteness and its related ideas of masculinity and individualism in our educational work, it will remain diseased and thwart our efforts to heal the church and the world. But if theological education aims to form people who can gather others together through border-crossing pluralism and God-drenched communion, we can begin to cultivate the radical belonging that is at the heart of God’s transformative work. In this inaugural volume of the Theological Education between the Times series, Willie James Jennings shares the insights gained from his extensive experience in theological education, most notably as the dean of a major university’s divinity school—where he remains one of the only African Americans to have ever served in that role. He reflects on the distortions hidden in plain sight within the world of education but holds onto abundant hope for what theological education can be and how it can position itself at the front of a massive cultural shift away from white, Western cultural hegemony. This must happen through the formation of what Jennings calls erotic souls within ourselves—erotic in the sense that denotes the power and energy of authentic connection with God and our fellow human beings. After Whiteness is for anyone who has ever questioned why theological education still matters. It is a call for Christian intellectuals to exchange isolation for intimacy and embrace their place in the crowd—just like the crowd that followed Jesus and experienced his miracles. It is part memoir, part decolonial analysis, and part poetry—a multimodal discourse that deliberately transgresses boundaries, as Jennings hopes theological education will do, too.
We hope these resources are of help you in your scholarship and look forward to what 2021 will bring for the field of religion and ecology.