Inner Spirituality

WHILE TWENTIETH CENTURY behavioural psychology denies the existence of spirituality, soul and even consciousness, in line with scientific positivism,[i] there is a long historical tradition of locating spirituality or ‘God’ within the individual, in both psychology and religion – hence Jungian depth and archetypal psychology, world mythology, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Western and Eastern mysticism and the ancient primal and polytheistic religions of the world.

Depth and archetypal psychology maintain the idea of spirituality as being inner, inherent in the mind, or intrinsic to the psyche or soul. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), one of the greatest explorers of the human mind and a life-long student of world religions, both historical and cultural – is more than any other Western thinker in recent times associated with the search for inner spirituality. His thinking spans both modernism and postmodernism. English writer and broadcaster J.B Priestly (1894-1984), wrote of Jung in the Sunday Telegraph:

“He was on a giant scale…he was a master physician of the soul in his insights, a profound sage in his conclusions. He is also one of Western Man’s great liberators.”[ii]

Perceiving ‘spirituality as intrinsic to the psyche’ is both a recent phenomenon as well as having its roots in antiquity. However it has never been a mainstream focus of religion in the monotheistic West – and it is outside the orthodox religious establishments that it is again being seriously considered. Donald Broadribb argues that ‘God’ is increasingly being seen in terms of inner experience and process.

“In line with the more introverted religious philosophies of the East to which many Westerners are turning, “God” has come to be understood more and more as an inner experience and less and less as an identifiable “object” existing apart from the individual.”[iii]

Both Jung and the Gnostics of the early Christian period saw spirituality as an intrinsic property of the psyche. Self-exploration at the deepest levels, both believed, leads to spiritual wakening. In fact, “a true spiritual experience may be one of the most basic drives in the psyche, and may even be an essential psychological need.”[iv] Curtis Smith summarises Jung’s view that “the human position is supreme, with the psyche and its realization serving as the basis of religious meaning.”[v] To realise the psyche is to realise one’s interconnectedness with all things:

“At the farthest reaches of the self-realization process the boundary between psyche and world blurs to the point of extinction, so that rather than an impenetrable wall separating psyche and world, psyche and world appear as points on a continuum, forming an indivisible whole. For Jung, therefore human existence is simultaneously universal and particular… to realize the self is to realize one’s interconnectedness with all things.”[vi]

For Jung all religious experience is psychic in origin. While he is arguably the twentieth century’s greatest thinker on religion and spirituality as grounded in the psyche, and hence of depth or imaginative psychology, he is not the only thinker to link spirituality with the psyche. Even Freud (1856-1939), who made a devastating critique of religion on the “manifest” level as illusion, was on the “latent” level preoccupied with religion as mystery deep within the psyche.[vii]

THE INTERIOR JOURNEY into the depths of the psyche in search for the ground of all being, is inherent to both mysticism and depth psychology. Even within the Western monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which were not originally mystical, there are schools of thought and prominent individuals who have emphasised the subjective experience. ‘God’ and the Pleroma (representing a map of the soul) were not external realities ‘out there’ but were to be found within. Karen Armstrong, for example, points out that the Gnostics “showed that many of the new converts to Christianity were not satisfied with the traditional idea of God which they had inherited from Judaism.”[viii] Hippolytus in the Heresies admonishes:

“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you makes everything his own and says, My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body. Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate. Learn how it happens that one watches without willing, loves without willing. If you carefully investigate these matters, you will find him in yourself.”[ix]

By concentrating on the divine energy within, rather than the nature of an external God outside, the mystic was better able to ‘untie the knots’ within the psyche and take ownership of personal ‘evil’, or the unrealised shadowside which conflicts with the ego, as Jung defined it. This was rather similar to the psychoanalytic attempt to unlock complexes which impede mental health and fulfilled living. Karen Armstrong, theologian and a former nun, argues:

“One of the problems of ethical monotheism is that it isolates evil. Because we cannot accept the idea that there is evil in our God, there is a danger that we will not be able to endure it within ourselves. It can then be pushed away and made monstrous and inhuman. The terrifying image of Satan in Western Christendom was such a distorted projection.”[x]

It is not hard to see that the mystic was often at odds with the certainties of mainstream and more dogmatic forms of religion. Since each individual had “had a unique experience of God, it followed that no one religion could express the whole of the divine mystery”.[xi] Donald Broadribb makes the point that:

“Judaism, Christianity and Islam in their main streams have at times during their history persecuted union mystics as heretics who deny the essential division between humanity and God, reserving the possible full union of human and divine for only one person (Jesus, in Christianity) or denying it altogether (as in Judaism and Islam).”[xii]

MYTHOLOGY which is a feature of primal religions, the pagan and the early matriarchal religions, has often been an attempt to explain the inner world of the psyche. However as Armstrong points out, the Gods and Goddesses of the myths were regarded as heathen, inferior and a challenge to the supremacy of the monotheistic God of the prophets of Israel:

“The prophets had declared war on mythology: their God was active in history and in current political events rather than in the primordial sacred time of myth.”[xiii]

Mythology was reasserted however when some monotheists turned to mysticism. Inadvertantly or not, the mystics reissued the challenge to the supremacy of a monotheistic God idealised in dogmatic and politically orientated religious traditions. The mystical experience of “God” has characteristics common to all faiths and hence it tends to pull down the barriers separating religions. Armstrong further describes the mystical experience as being subjective, involving an interior journey.

“[It is] not a perception of an objective fact outside the self: it is undertaken through the image-making part of the mind – often called the imagination – rather than through the more cerebral, logical faculty. Finally, it is something that the mystic creates in himself or herself deliberately: certain physical or mental exercises yield the final vision; it does not always come upon them unawares.”[xiv]

Both Freud and Jung turned to the myths of the ancients to explain the inner world of the psyche and the unconscious.

The American Joseph Campbell’s (1904-1987) work in the study of world comparative mythology and comparative religion, also has strong affinities with Jung and depth psychology. As Armstrong points out, the current enthusiasm for psychoanalysis in the West can be seen as a desire for some kind of mysticism because there are arresting similarities between the two disciplines.[xv]

[i] Behaviourism is a school of psychology that regards objective observable aspects of the behaviour of organisms as the only valid subject of study; cf. Collins English Dictionary, eds., Hanks, P., Long, T.H., Urdang, L. (London: Collins, 1977),132. See also; A Dictionary of Philosophy, eds., Speake, J., Isaacs, A. (London: Pan Books, 1979), 37; The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed., Richard L. Gregory (Oxford University Press, 1987), 71-74 ; The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed., Ted Honderich (Oxford University Press, 1995), 81-2.

[ii] J.B. Priestly, Sunday Telegraph. See review C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Great Britain: Fount Paperbacks, 1977. First published, 1961)

[iii] Donald Broadribb, The Mystical Chorus – Jung and the Religious Dimension (Australia: Millenium Books, 1995), 127.

[iv] John Pennachio, ‘Gnostic Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’, Journal of Religion and Health v.31, no.3, Fall (1992), 245.

[v] Curtis D. Smith, ‘Psychological Ultimacy: Jung and the Human Basis of Religious Meaning’, Religious Humanism v.25, no.4 (1991), 174.

[vi] Ibid, 178.

[vii] R. Melvin Keiser, ‘Postcritical Religion and the Latent Freud’, Zygon v.25. no.4 (1990), 433.

[viii] Karen Armstrong, A History of God (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1994), 115.

[ix] Hippolytus, Heresies 8.15. 1-2 as cited in Armstrong, Ibid, 114.

[x] Karen Armstrong (1994) A History of God, 287.

[xi] Ibid, 275.

[xii] Donald Broadribb (1995) The Mystical Chorus,122.

[xiii] Karen Armstrong (1994) A History of God, 244.

[xiv] Ibid, 253.

[xv] Ibid, 245.

Techno-Wizardary – the Tricksters’ Playground

IRONICALLY, WHILE THE IMAGE of technology is secular, it rests on Christian myths, as Davis points out:

“[T]his secular image was framed all along by Christian myths: the biblical call to conquer nature, the Protestant work ethic, and, in particular, the millennialist vision of a New Jerusalem, the earthly paradise that the Book of Revelation claims will crown the course of history. Despite a century of Hiroshimas, Bhopals, and Chernobyls, this myth of an engineered utopia still propels the ideology of technological progress, with its perennial promises of freedom, prosperity, and release from disease and want.”[i]

The old image of technology for well over a century was industrial. Lewis Mumford called it the “myth of the Machine” and, as Davis points out, it rested on “the authority of technical and scientific elites, and in the intrinsic value of efficiency, control, unrestrained technological development, and economic expansion”.[ii]

The new image of technology is less mechanised and described in the mythology of information, electronic minds cloud computing, infinite databases, computerized forecasting, hypertext libraries, virtual realities, micro-chip engineering, artificial intelligence, bio-engineering, and global internet and telecommunication networking.   Hence:

“Boundaries dissolve, and we drift into the no-man’s zones between synthetic and organic life, between actual and virtual environments, between local communities and global flows of goods, information, labour, and capital. With pills modifying personality, machines modifying bodies, and synthetic pleasures and net-worked minds engineering a more fluid and invented sense of self, the boundaries of our identities are mutating as well. The horizon melts into a limitless question mark, and like the cartographers of old, we glimpse yawning monstrosities and mind-forged utopias beyond the edges of our paltry and provisional maps.”[iii]

The playground of the Trickster is new technology. Erik Davis argues:

“Of all the godforms that haunt the Greek mind, Hermes is the one who would feel most at home in our wired world. Indeed, with his mischievous combination of speed, trickery, and profitable mediation, he can almost be seen as the archaic mascot of the information age… He flies “as fleet as thought”, an image of the daylight mind, with its plans and synaptic leaps, its chatter and overload. Hermes shows that these minds are not islands, but nodes in an immense electric tangle of words, images, songs, and signals. Hermes rules the transtemporal world of information exchange.”[iv]

“A Host of Guises”

TRICKSTER IS MASTER of the persona and masks. His ego is fluid. He is both hero and anti-hero. Davis states:

“More than mere delivery boy, Hermes wears a host of guises; con artist, herald, inventor, merchant, magus, thief… Lord of the lucky find, Hermes crafts opportunity like those brash start-up companies that fill a market niche by creating it in the first place.”[v]

The Greeks were quite clear about it – Hermes is a thief. However the Trickster’s banditry is not based on raw power. He is no mugger or thug. Hermes is the hacker, the spy and the mastermind. He is executor of the slickest legal contracts.[vi]

[i] Erik Davis (1999) Techgnosis, 3.
[ii] Ibid, 3.
[iii] Ibid, 1.
[iv] Ibid, 14.
[v] Ibid, 14-15.
[vi] Ibid, 15.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism.   Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam.    According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii]   In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987),  x.
[ii] Ibid, 207.
[iii] Ibid, 212.
[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge –The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.
[v] Ibid, 241.
[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.
[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand CountryAlmanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions ofThought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.
[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.
[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.
[xi] Ibid, 360.
[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.
[xiii] Ibid, xvii.[xiv] Lopez (1998)  Arctic Dreams, 274.

 

Perceptual Geography

TODAY, WITHIN THE GEOGRAPHER’S profession, the concept of landscape is recognized as a changing and mobile one. Moreover, amongst geographers landscape is increasingly regarded as a perceptual concept and a multiplicity of landscapes are recognised. The idea of landscape as a ‘way of seeing’ has overtaken the positivist idea of landscape as reducible to a series of objective physical traits. As Cosgrove has remarked:

“Landscape is not merely the world we see, it is a construction, a composition of the world. Landscape is a way of seeing the world.”[i]

And Yi-Fu Tuan notes whereas “in the early 1960s a new way of doing human-cultural geography emerged… it now goes generally by the name of perceptual”.[ii]

In the 1960s perceptual geography came of age. David Lowenthal, for example, argued that :

“Essential perception of the world , in short, embraces every way of looking at it, conscious and unconscious, blurred and distinct, objective and subjective, inadvertent and deliberate, literal and schematic. Perception itself is never unalloyed: sensing, thinking, feeling, and believing are simultaneous independent processes.”[iii]

[i] Cosgrove(1984) Social and Symbolic Landscape, 13.

[ii] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Language and the Making of Place: A Narrative-Descriptive Approach’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v.81, 4 (1991)’, 697.

[iii] David Lowenthal, ‘Geography, Experience, and Imagination: Towards a Geographical Epistemology’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 51, no.3, September (1961), 251.

The Revelatory ‘Anthropocentric Landscape’

BY STANDING HIMSELF in spiritual opposition to the Nature/Earth Landscape and hence separating himself away from this landscape, Judaic and Christian man was enabled to objectify and secularize it.

The Canaanite and pagan pervasive I-Thou relationship with a polytheistic sacred Nature/Earth Landscape was driven underground by the powerful, transcendent, patriarchal, monotheistic religions and their adherents who perceived the spirituality and religions of these peoples as a threat to their hegemony.

The relationship with the natural landscape was to become increasingly I-It and de-sacrilised. The new focus was now on man and his salvation in an Anthropocentric Landscape, separated from the Nature/Earth Landscape, which had become perceived as profane. This in turn would open up the way for scientific study and the technological and materialist, manipulated, landscape of the modern era. It was to be the landscape of I-It relations par excellence. Belden C. Lane describes the new state of affairs, or rather the new landscape focus:

“In much of Jewish and Christian theology the freedom of a transcendent God of history has regularly been contrasted with the false and earthbound deities of fertility and soil. God has been removed from the particularity of place, extracted from the natural environment. Hence, the tendency in western civilization has been toward the triumph of history over nature, time over space, male dominance over female dependence, and technological mastery of the land over a gentle reverence for life… The result has been a rampant secularization of nature and activism of spirit in western life, leaving us exhausted in our mastery of a world stripped of magic and mystery.”[i]

Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan argues, it is now generally agreed that the “intense attachment to land based on the belief that the sacred soil is the abode of the gods waned as man acquired increasing control over nature and as Christianity spread to dominate the Western World”.[ii]

FROM AN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND PERSPECTIVE, ecologist Geoff Park recounts the relationship of Maori to the land prior to the advent of missionary Christianity:

“Before contact with the missionaries of the 19th century, Maori believed their physical health and wellbeing were achieved in two principle ways. One was by maintaining the mauri of their places – the life force by which their natural elements cohere. The other was by lifelong observance of the laws of tapu. Rites and rituals broke down the barriers between people and other species, allowed people to flow spiritually into nature and for nature’s rhythms to permeate their own being. A host of daily tasks depended on conscious connection, both to benefit nature and limit human excesses.”[iii]

In contrast, the early European explorers, scientists and colonialists were outsiders who found the landscape harsh and despite using Maori guides and experts, they were sometimes patronising and critical of the Maori relationship with the landscape.

The new colonizers brought with them a new vision of the landscape. The New Zealand landscape – as exemplified by the vision of Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862), the British politician and driving force behind the early colonisation of New Zealand, via the direction of The New Zealand Company – had exploitative and monetary value.

The new colonialists also desired to populate and tame the New Zealand landscape. One could term these landscape perspectives as anthropocentric and materialist. Generally the colonialist and the missionary view from London was that the Maori Nature/Earth Landscape perspective and hence Maori spirituality was primitive, backward and in need of salvation:

“Clearing the land was equated with Christianising the country. Converting the Maori to Christianity was seen as one’s duty inextricably bound up with another, that of “civilizing” the landscape. The firm assumption was that both duties would inevitably bring improvement. By the time the twentieth century arrived the landscape was regarded as an adversary against which the settlers pitted themselves.”[iv]

An example of an early missionary’s attitude to the Maori Nature/Earth Landscape perspective and spirituality is given in a sermon by the young German missionary Cort Schnackenberg at one of the Wesleyan West Coast mission stations in 1844. Schnackenberg admonishes Maori to:

“…apply the same rule to the cultivation of your hearts – the light from Heaven is shining upon you – look at yourself in that light and if you find your mind, your heart to be a wilderness, cultivate it in the same manner as you do your fields, cut down the bush, great and small – spare no sin… dig your hearts by deep repentance that it may become soft and fit to receive the seed of God’s word – if it strikes root within you. Watch it carefully and weed your hearts ever afterwards until the harvest – in times past the preaching of God’s work produced no fruit in this place, because it fell on strong ground, or was choked in the bush.”[v]

Park notes that while Schnackenberg and his wife were told by European visitors that they were living in the finest place in New Zealand, this:

“representative of religion committed to getting away from nature could only see what he called ‘The Tapu of Mokau’ cruelly infusing the lives of the river people. [Maori] were intelligent enough, even ‘touched occasionally by nobility’, but their primitive union with nature had empowered ‘the works of the devil’ – pagan spirits, cruelty and superstition – to operate unchecked.”[vi]

However, as is often the case, there is another side. This writer’s own nineteenth century northern Irish ancestors who settled in Canterbury opined in letters sent home after six months in New Zealand:

“I feel as happy as a king. I have not been to church, mass or meeting but twice since I left home and that was in Australia. There is not a house of worship within 25 miles of me. I used to have some queer notions about religion and you need not be surprised if they are queer still (such as no personal Devil yet Devils many). I have nature in her truest form and revelation for my guide and with God for friend and Father I may be little worse than many who like the parson’s horses find their way to the church gate but there they leave their religion behind and if far from church be near grace. I am far enough from church but I sincerely believe New Zealand is as near heaven as any country. But for the people I can not say… there are times when the more lonesome the place and the wilder the scene, I take the most delight.” “[vii]

It must be admitted that other early Europeans, or the new Pakeha, also saw the landscape as inherently beautiful because it was God’s handiwork.[viii]

By contrast, Lynn White, JR writing in Science, 1967, is explicitly damning of Judeo-Christianity’s impact on the Nature/Earth Landscape.[ix] He argues in his now famous paper ‘The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis’, that modern science and technology have grown out of Judeo-Christian values of man’s transcendence of and mastery over nature, which has caused an ecological crisis:

“The victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture… Our daily habits of action … are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian teleology… We continue to live, as we have lived for about 1700 years, very largely in a context of Christian axioms… By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”[x]

From the thirteenth century until the late eighteenth century – when the hypothesis of God became unnecessary to many scientists – every major scientist up to and including Leibniz and Newton explained his motivations in religious terms. Thus modern science “is an extrapolation of natural theology” and modern technology can be at least partly explained by the “Christian dogma of man’s transcendence of, and rightful mastery over, nature” because:

“Over a century ago science and technology – hitherto quite separate activities – joined to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecological effects, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt… Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes towards man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim.”[xi]

The fact that most people do not think of these attitudes as Christian – that is “that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man” – is irrelevant; because no new set of basic values has been accepted by our society. Both “our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our ecological crisis can be expected from them alone. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny”.[xii]

Here again a qualification should be added. Different spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes can be held and interwoven at the same time – either by individuals or by different sectors of the same society.

In this regard Peter Bishop points out, in a note to this author, that care should be taken that the view of non-western religions in terms of environmentalism should not be too idealized nor should be the “historical suddenness and definitiveness of a shift to a modernist, secular landscape”. In particular, Bishop argues:

“There have been numerous counter-trends. For example, the bulk of Europe’s population in the 18th and even 19th century were peasants and farm labourers. Their relationship to nature sustained continuity with much earlier beliefs. Much of the European Romantic tradition valued nature in terms of its spirituality. Nature writing, especially in North America was a major influence throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.” [xiii]

A LANDSCAPE ‘FOCUS OF PERCEPTION’ is not necessarily a totality of landscape perceptions in a particular historical period nor is it mutually exclusive, although it can be a major trend. Hence an analysis of landscape should not be reductive – rather it requires an attitude of circumspection and awareness of complexity while still taking cognisance of predominant phenomenology.

In other words, what we are talking about here is a predominant spiritual imaginal-visionary landscape ‘focus of perception’ – in this case the revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape. If White’s and the other theorists’ arguments are accepted, there will still be exceptions and counter-trends.

[i] Lane(1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 19. See also: Walter Harrelson, From Fertility Cult to Worship (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1969), especially Chapter One; Harvey Cox, The Secular City (New York: Macmillan, 1965), Chapter One; Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 184-5.

[ii] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety’, 26.

[iii] Geoff Park, Nga Uruora – The Groves of Life (Victoria University Press, 1995), 134.

[iv] Trudie McNaughton (ed.), Countless Signs — The New Zealand Landscape in Literature (Auckland: Reed Methuen Ltd., 1986), 8.

[v] Park (1995) Nga Uruora, 134-135.

[vi] Ibid, 134.

[vii] Letters from James and Hamilton McIlwrath (Canterbury: September 8, 1862 and December 1, 1863 ) to parents John and Jane Logan McIlwrath and brothers in County Down, Ireland.

[viii] McNaughton(1986) Countless Signs, 6-7.

[ix] Lynn White, Jr ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, Science, v.155, no. 3767 (10 March 1967), 1203-1207.

[x] Ibid, 1205.

[xi] Ibid, 1206.

[xii] Ibid, 1207.

[xiii] Peter Bishop, ‘Note to the author’, September, 2009.

A ‘Nonsense Concept’

WHILE MANY WESTERN THEOLOGIANS during the twentieth century had become uncomfortable with the concept of spirit and spirituality, Western theology was itself under increasing philosophical attack and siege. Spirituality, metaphysics and theology became ‘nonsense concepts’ with the advent of logical positivism, the philosophical school based on linguistic analysis in the 1920s and 1930s. Logical positivism rejected metaphysical speculation and held that the only meaningful statements are those that are analytic or can be tested empirically. Based on linguistic analysis (to clarify the meanings of statements and questions) and on demands for criteria and procedures of empirical verification (for establishing at least in-principle truth or falsity of statements, by observation or experiment), logical positivism was essentially a systematic attack on metaphysics by demanding observations for conferring meaning. Metaphysics was rejected as nonsense.

In the modern world of the twentieth century it often seemed that ‘spirituality’ was on very tenuous ground as regards meaning. Evans (1993) has argued that the skeptical contemporary world-view regarding spirituality is to some extent in all of us: “It is part of the largely unconscious mind-set of our culture”.[i]

‘Secular’ Postmodern Spirituality

HOWEVER, UNEXPECTEDLY spirituality has returned in a ‘secular’ postmodern age. While ‘spirituality’ cannot be proved as such, the concepts of ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ have not been disproved, nor have they been successfully rendered nonsense concepts.

In the postmodern era, the positivists and the sceptics brandishing scientism, have themselves come in for criticism. The Enlightenment model and modernist science with its off-shoot, technology, has been discredited as contributing to the degradation of the environment and threatening the planet. There is a new scepticism which questions whether scientism and its philosophical axioms are the best epistemological route forward, let alone the planet’s saviour. The public is increasingly turning against a purist science and technology without debate on values, for example unease over biogenetic engineering. In the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century, positivism and scientism have been found wanting by many.

One can not live by positivism and scientism – at best they are tools for clarifying meaning, but are not the meaning itself. Spirituality, it would seem, has escaped and we are still searching for meaning. New Zealand botanist and ecologist, Philip Simpson illustrates this with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, which he argues:

“…provides an ethical or spiritual dimension to human life that is ecocentric rather than egocentric. Some see the living Earth concept in mystical terms. There is no doubt that a competitive model of Earth is damaging to our relationship to nature, and science is strangely lacking in providing meaning.”[ii]

Spiritual reality is being recognised, despite a lack of proof; while science is found to be lacking in meaning, even by some scientists. However the question of what ‘spirituality’ is, or how one defines it, remains.

One thing is certain however, ‘spirituality’ has become secularised. Jon Alexander maintains that the trend to use the word spirituality in an experiential and generic sense appeals to our irenic age but it also presents some theological difficulties: “Today we encounter the word spirituality so frequently in our reading and conversation that it is surprising to learn that its use is a recent phenomenon.”[iii]

John Elias argues that the 1960s began with the announcement that God was dead and it seemed that the United States had finally become a secular society – but by the 1970s some scholars were already talking about the return of the sacred and others were maintaining that the sacred had never left, except among certain social scientists. Elias maintains certain words are now heard that had virtually passed from usage, even in religious circles:

“While the word religious remained in use, the words spiritual and spirituality were rarely uttered during the decades when the focus was on the secularization of society and its institutions. Today these words are used without apology in both religious and non-religious circles. Social scientists use the term spiritual or sacred as a category to explain understandings of selfhood and human striving. Religionists use the words to highlight the highly personal elements of one’s religious life.”[iv]

Whereas in earlier centuries spirituality had been equated with religion, now as Walter Principe points out, there were many aspects of religion which were less related to the spiritual ideal and some which were even opposed to it.[v] Van Ness argues that while Nietzsche was perhaps the most explicit in charting an irreligious spiritual path, spirituality born of radical scepticism is also found in the naturalistic and nondogmatic views of some Oriental sages.

A SPIRITUAL LIFE in a “world come of age” was notably also the argument of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian executed by the Nazis for his part in a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was very impressed by his non-religious co-conspirators who were also executed and while he “characteristically identified spiritual life in theological terms, as life shaped by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, his last writings place an emphasis on wholeness and vitality”, which are the “hallmarks of a more general rendering of the spiritual dimension of human existence.”[vi]

Van Ness states that in Bonhoeffer’s last writings “The positive evaluation of the secular world begun in the Ethics was even more firmly stated in the idiom of “the world come of age”. Bonhoeffer argued that “God is increasingly being pushed out of a world that has come of age, out of the spheres of our knowledge and life, and that since Kant he has been relegated to a realm beyond the world of experience.” [vii]

If God was increasingly being pushed out of a world come of age as Bonhoeffer argued – Bonhoeffer’s relation to the philosophy of Nietzsche is complex. However in his prison theological deliberations he seemed to move beyond Barth’s dialectical appreciation of Nietzsche to a “closer embrace of a religionless or secular spirituality such as was championed by the author of Thus Spake Zarathustra”.[viii] Van Ness states that from “Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard and Barth also, Bonhoeffer learned that religion, including the Christian religion, was part of what an authentically spiritual life must criticize and move beyond.”[ix]

Given the many compromises of historical Christianity, some measure of worldliness and freedom to criticise was indispensable to a profound spiritual life. Both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer opposed tyranny in both its secular and religious forms and both recognised the importance of spiritual discipline – for Nietzsche it was solitude and for Bonhoeffer it was silence. Both have a simplicity which confounds them being classified as specifically religious or irreligious.[x] Thus, the authentic spiritual life had to move beyond the dogma of monotheistic and often fundamentalist patriarchal religions in the West.

Spiritual Revolutionaries

THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION in the latter half of the twentieth century has embraced the new wave of secular spirituality. This has involved a challenge to, and a rebellion against, traditional patriarchal religions and of necessity a re-definition of what is essential in religion for women – a reconsideration of spirituality.

The roll-call perhaps begins with the coolly observant French academic and writer Simone de Beauvoir who, although not professing to be a feminist at the time of writing The Second Sex in the 1940s, has had a pioneering role in the challenge by feminist philosophy to the prevailing patriarchal ideologies of the twentieth century[xi]. Then there was Merlin Stone who examined and dissected the archaeological evidence for the Goddess and the patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures’ suppression of women and their matriarchal religions[xii]. Stone was closely followed by Naomi Goldenberg, a psychologist of religion and feminist theologian who maintained that “When feminists succeed in changing the position of women in Christianity and Judaism, they will shake these religions at their roots.” [xiii]

American academic Mary Daly is perhaps the most damning, challenging, radical and creative of the recent feminist theologians and philosophers. A former nun and a Professor of Theology at Boston College, her critique of the detrimental effects of patriarchal religion is chilling[xiv]. More recently Muslim feminists, for example Irshad Manji (2003), have risked their lives by taking on fundamentalist patriarchal Islam.[xv]

Feminist philosophers and theologians have confronted the authority of the dominant patriarchal monotheistic Western religious traditions and establishments head-on. They have realised that women’s spirituality and dignity have been plundered and defiled along with the natural world. Based on this they have searched out and created alternatives. For example, the association of postmodern theology with process theology, the ecological movement and the feminization of the divine, is pivotal in the work of ecofeminist theologian Carol P. Christ[xvi] Postmodernist arguments are frequently used by feminists. For example, Ellen Leonard argues that no theology can claim universality and all theologies are political:

“Traditional Western theology is now seen as determined by dominant world powers and groups. The critique of this theology comes from the “new theologies” which argue that Western theology is culture-bound, church-centred, male-dominated, age-dominated, procapitalist, anticommunist, nonrevolutionary and overly theoretical.”[xvii]

These feminist revolutionaries reject dualistic and hierarchical thinking which devalues women, body and nature.[xviii] They demand a re-visioning of the divine and a new theology in the light of contemporary experience – especially woman’s experience.

For religious archetypes, icons and myths, feminists have harkened back to a pre-patriarchial era when the Goddess or Goddesses and polytheistic Gods were worshipped.[xix] Feminist theologians have gone inwards into the imagination to focus on the symbolic meaning of the Goddess, Goddesses and other Gods, allowing them to explore new patterns of spirituality.[xx]

Like their foremothers of the matriarchial ‘pagan’ religions, feminist theologians have turned to Mother Earth and tried to formulate a spiritual search which is nature and earth-centred. Ecofeminists are at the forefront of the ecology and ecospirituality movements. They have challenged traditional philosophy and theology by advocating a holistic understanding and epistemology with recognition of the spiritual interconnectedness of all of creation and co-responsibility for our world.[xxi] Ecofeminists have combined a critique of the destructiveness of patriarchal attitudes to nature and women, with an affirmation of a spiritual search which is nature-earth centred rather than anthropocentric. Ecotheologian and Catholic Priest, Thomas Berry argues that:

“The greatest support for the feminist, anti-patriarchal movement can be found in the ecological movement…What has become progressively clear is the association of the feminine issue with the ecological issue.”[xxii]

Ariel Salleh maintains that:

“Ecofeminism confronts not only social institutions and practices, but the language and logics by which Western patriarchy constructs its relation to nature. In doing so, it has already travelled a long way down the very same road that deep ecological opponents of anthropocentricism are looking for.”[xxiii]

[i] Donald Evans (1993) Spirituality and Human Nature, 102.

[ii] Philip Simpson interview, ‘Exploring the Gaia Hypothesis’ in Nga Kaitiaki, no. 21. August/ September (1989), 10.

[iii] Jon Alexander (1980) ‘What Do Recent Writers Mean by Spirituality?’, 247.

[iv] John L. Elias (1991) ‘The Return of Spirituality: Contrasting Interpretations’, 457.

[v] Cf. Walter Principe (1983) ‘Toward Defining Spirituality’, 139.

[vi] Peter H. Van Ness (1991) ‘Bonhoeffer, Nietzsche and Secular Spirituality’, 331.

[vii] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, trans. Reginald Fuller et al, ed. Eberhard Bethge, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1972), 341. Note: Nevertheless,“God is the beyond in the midst of our life”, 282.

[viii] Ibid, 337.

[ix] Ibid, 338.

[x] Ibid, 339.

[xi] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (London: New English Library, 1970), 352.

[xii] Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (New York: Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976).

[xiii] See Changing of the Gods – Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions (Boston:Beacon Press, 1979), 5.

[xiv] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father –Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973); Gyn/Ecology – The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978); Pure Lust – Elemental Feminist Philosophy (London: The Women’s Press, 1984).

[xv] Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith (Canada: Random House, 2003).

[xvi] Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-imagining the Divine in the World (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003 ).

[xvii] Ellen Leonard, ‘Experience as a source for theology: A Canadian and feminist perspective’, Studies in Religion v.19, no.2 (1990), 146.

[xviii] See Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women, New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975) and ‘Ecology and Human Liberation: A Conflict between the Theology of History and the Theology of Nature?’ in To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 57-70. See also Marsha Hewitt, ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, Studies in Religion v.20, no.3 (1991), 271.

[xix] See Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (1976); William G. Dever, ‘Women’s popular religion, suppressed in the Bible, now revealed by archaeology’, Biblical Archaeology Review, v.17, no.2 ( 1991), 64-65; Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974); – Myths, Legends and Cult Images (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); Charlene Spretnak, ed., The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within the Feminist Movement (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Press / Doubleday, 1982).

[xx] Marsha Hewitt (1991) ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, 157.

[xxi] See Sally Mcfague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987); Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women , New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975); Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); Charlene Spretnak, The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics (Santa Fe: N.M. Bear & Co, 1986); Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-Imagining the Divine in the World (2003).

[xxii] See Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988) ,160-161.

[xxiii] Ariel Salleh, ‘The Ecofeminism/Deep Ecology Debate: A Reply to Patriarchal Reason’, Environmental Ethics v.14, no.3 (1992), 215.

Revolutionising Religion

POSTMODERNISM HAS IMPACTED on religion. While modernist concerns with falsifiability have undermined, some would say fatally, orthodox religions; the impact of the postmodern pluralist spirituality challenge to fundamentalism is particularly devastating.

Vanhoozer distinguishes ‘modern theology’ from ‘postmodern theology’ and describes the situation of theology within postmodernism. Modern theology is situated within the Enlightenment critical and scientific narrative, while postmodernity marks both the end of theology and new beginnings. Postmodernity lets the particulars speak for themselves without having to conform to prevailing ideology or political system.[i]

Arguably the most appropriate methodologies for postmodern discourse are phenomenology, existentialism and hermeneutics.

For example, Dan Stiver talking about theological method in particular, emphasizes hermeneutics in postmodern theology; the “intertextual” and “intratextual nature of postmodern theology; the pluralistic spirit and the situated nature of the theologian. Contrary to those who would deny a distinction between modernist theology and postmodern theology, Stiver argues that theology in modernity relied largely on a foundationalist paradigm. The basis for theology had to be “nailed down” first.[ii]
However, it was largely on the defensive because theology could hardly measure up to public standards for rigorous certainty and unchallengeable methods.

Postmodern Spirituality

THE RENAISSANCE OF ‘SPIRITUALITY’ has been associated with postmodernism.

“Postmodernity as spiritual condition” is argued by Vanhoozer. The condition of postmodernity “is neither simply philosophical nor simply socio-political, but spiritual, a condition in which belief and behavior come together in the shape of an embodied spirit”.[iii]

Ecofeminist, postmodern theologian Carol P. Christ argues that together with “many spiritual feminists, ecofeminists, ecologists, antinuclear activists, and others” she shares “the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is at root spiritual”.[iv]

Frederick Mark Gedlicks argues that for “religious pluralism to flourish in a postmodern era, the predominant expression of belief must be spiritual, rather than fundamentalist”.[v]
He distinguishes fundamentalism, metanarratives, discrimination and government power from postmodernism, religious liberty, nondiscrimination, government absence and spirituality. That the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘postmodernism’ have both been linked in De Paul Law Review (2005), a secular law journal dealing with the laws of state and society, would indicate perhaps that both concepts have now ‘come of age’.

GORDON D. KAUFMAN (1925-2011), the renowned American liberal theologian whose research, writing and teachings had a profound influence on constructive and systematic theology – gives an early working example of postmodern spiritual theology. He places an emphasis on mystery, imagination, and imaginal construction. Kaufman maintains theology is, and always has been, an activity of “imaginative construction” by persons attempting to put together as comprehensive and coherent a picture as they could of humanity in the world under God.[vi]

For Kaufman theology as “imaginative construction” contrasts with the conventional conceptions of theology whereby the work of theologians is “understood to consist largely in exposition of religious doctrine or dogma (derived from the Bible and other authoritative sources)”.[vii]
Rather than concentrating on traditional doctrines, dogmas and their systematic presentation in a new historical situation, Kaufman places emphasis on imaginative construction and the powers of the human imagination: ‘symbolic perspective’ and plurality.

Hence Christianity is just one of a plurality of world views. He stresses de-emphasizing traditional doctrines in new historical situations, and the de-emphasis of the importance of literal historicity. All this exemplifies a postmodernist theological perspective.[viii]

[i] Vanhoozer (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, xiii-xiv.

[ii] Dan R. Stiver (2003) ‘Theological Method’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 172-179.

[iii] Vanhoozer(2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 23.

[iv] Carol P. Christ, ‘Rethinking Theology and Nature’, in: Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (eds.), Weaving the Visions – New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (Harper: San Francisco, 1989), 314.

[v] Frederick Mark Gedicks, ‘Spirituality, Fundamentalism, Liberty: Religion at the End of Modernity’, De Paul Law Review, (2005), Abstract. See ‘Social Science Network’: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm? abstract id=634262.

[vi] Gordon D. Kaufman, In the Face of Mystery – A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), ix.

[vii] Ibid, 40.

[viii] Cf. Sheila Davaney (ed.), Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

Landscape – a ‘Focus of Perception’

LANDSCAPE IS a ‘focus of perception’ and by this is meant a focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating. Landscape as a ‘focus of perception’ is a manifestation of personal and collective creativity and imagination, which originates in the psyche.

Denis Cosgrove comes close to describing landscape as a ‘focus of perception’ when he concludes that:

“landscape is a social and cultural product, a way of seeing projected on to the land and having its own techniques and compositional forms; a restrictive way of seeing that diminishes alternative modes of experiencing our relations with nature.”[i]

A ‘focus of perception’ excludes to some extent other ways of seeing and experiencing the landscape which are not in focus. Like horse blinkers one sees, feels, has being in, and relates to what is focused upon and ignores what is out of intentional focus.

A ‘focus of perception’ is relational rather than objective, originates in and is mediated by the inner psyche of the individual, and is a manifestation of personal and collective creativity and imagination.

Pre-verbal, Universal, Landscape Perception

GIVEN THAT LANGUAGE is inextricably tied up with our perception of landscape, at this point one could ask, along with the deconstructionists, whether it is language which ultimately creates our perception of landscape and our ‘being’ in landscape. Or is the landscape – in which we have ‘being’ – based on something more fundamental than language?

It was philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) who referred to language as “the house of being”.[ii] In support of Heidegger, Saroj Chawla suggests there is “a close relationship between language, philosophy, and our handling of the natural environment”.[iii] For example, in comparison with Amerindian languages, English language habits are not very conducive to a holistic and careful attitude towards the natural environment. English as the ‘language of technology’, is now being adopted by other cultures and becoming a world language. If any change is to come about in our attitudes to the natural environment “it will have to be at the level of perception, and at the linguistic level, such perception is reflected in language”.[iv]

Sallie King, however, goes further. She suggests the reality of a non-verbal cognition and unmediated perception, which is independent of a verbal-cultural tradition:

“The sensorial experience of listening to music, as of drinking coffee, illustrates that there is something even in mundane experience that eludes the grasp of language: our ordinary lives are full of qualities beyond the denotative reach of our words… In coffee and music we have seen the reality of non-verbal cognition, we have seen the impossibility of the verbal-cultural tradition producing the experience.”[v]

King suggests that we need to examine further the way in which “reflective consciousness inspects non-verbal knowledge and issues its report”.[vi] She also suggests that phenomenological data for such inquiry can be found in both mystical and secular experiences. Furthermore, the universality of pre-verbal landscape perception is shown in our ability to imagine and enter into others’ perceptions of landscape, even that of animals. As Lopez points out:

“In recent years the writing of people like Joseph Campbell and Claude Levi-Strauss has illuminated the great panorama of human perceptual experience, pointing up not only the different approaches we take to the background that contains us (the landscape) but the similarities we seem to share.”[vii]

We can apprehend, understand, and imagine other human and even animal perceptions of the landscape, even those which diverge markedly from our predominant ‘focus of perception’. Lopez makes a plea for tolerance for perceptions of landscape other than our own:

“It seemed clear to me that we need tolerance in our lives for the worth of different sorts of perception, of which the contrasting Umwelten of the animals on the island are a reminder. And we need a tolerance for the unmanipulated and unpossessed landscape. But what I came to see, too, was that we need to understand the relationship between tolerance and different sorts of wealth, how a tolerance for the unconverted things of the earth is intertwined with the substance of a truly rich life.”[viii]

While, as Takeshi Yamagishi has pointed out, the individual’s existential landscape may be a ‘primary landscape’[ix], our ability to understand, imagine and enter into other’s perceptions of landscape is universal.

Direct, primal, feeling and mystical perception of the “unmanipulated and unpossessed landscape” is, as Lopez argues, the substance of a truly rich life.

TO SUMMARISE, landscape is not something totally objective ‘out there’, independent of us and our ‘being-in-the-world’. We generally bring a cultural, experiential and linguistic component to our ‘focus of perception’ and our being in landscape. However, it can be argued that there are some direct primal, feeling and mystical experience aspects to perception and perception of landscape, which are unmediated by language and prior to the subject-object split. This is not to deny that such experience can not be described later, however inadequately, and moulded to fit in with our existing epistemology and cultural perception of landscape. The implication of all this is that landscape perception can be at a deep level, unmediated, potentially universal and therefore not totally culturally determined. As we shall see, this type of perception is archetypal.

[i] Cosgrove (1984) Social and Symbolic Landscape, 269.

[ii] Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, Trans. Peter Hertz (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1971), 63.

[iii] Saroj Chawla, ‘Linguistic and Philosophical Roots of Our Environmental Crisis’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no.3 ( 1991), 253.

[iv] Ibid, 262.

[v] Sallie B. King, ‘Two Epistemological Models for the Interpretation of Mysticism’, Journal of American Academy of Religion, LVI / 2, Summer (1988), 266.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 275.

[viii] Ibid, 313-4.

[ix] Takeshi Yamagishi, ‘Landscape and the Human being’, Human Studies, 15, (1992).

A Focus in Feeling

LANDCAPE IS a focus in feeling. For environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, environmental perception is not restricted to vision but is multimodal and feeling, or affect, is central:

“Affect is central to conscious experience and behavior in any environment, whether natural or built, crowded or unpopulated. … because virtually no meaningful thoughts, actions, or environmental encounters occur without affect … an affective state is an important indicator of the nature and significance of a person’s ongoing interaction with an environment.”[i]

Moreover there is no evidence that feelings are preceded by cognitive processes. Ulrich argues that there is mounting empirical support for the view that “many affects are essentially precognitive and constitute the initial level of response to environment.”[ii] Ulrich maintains that while culture is an important and significant variable influencing aesthetic reactions, it has perhaps been overstated.[iii] He argues that “there is no evidence that fundamental perceptual and cognitive processes vary between cultures” and further that “emotions are universal and have the same qualities across different cultures”.[iv]

Ulrich’s conclusion that “feelings, not thoughts, come first in environmental encounters, and the observer’s initial feeling reaction shapes subsequent cognitive events”[v] has been supported by the research of others.[vi] Cross-cultural, universal, pre-verbal, precognitive emotive perception is inherent to archetypes. This is significant because as we shall see, it points the way forward to an archetypal analysis of landscape.

[i] Roger S. Ulrich, ‘Aesthetic and Affective Response to Natural Environment’, Behaviour and the Natural Environment, Irwin Altman and Joachim F. Wohlwill, eds., (Vol. 6 of Human Behaviour and Environment, Plenium Press, New York, 1983), 85.

[ii] Ibid, 89.

[iii] Ibid, 110.

[iv] Ibid, 109.

[v] Ibid, 117.

[vi] See for example Harry Heft and Joachim F. Wohlwill, ‘Environmental Cognition in Children’ in: Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman (eds.), Handbook of Environmental Psychology (Malabar Florida: Krieger Publishing Co., 1991), 175-203; Rachel Sebba, ‘The Landscapes of Childhood – The Reflection of Childhood’s Environment in Adult Memories and in Children’s Attitudes’, Environment and Behavior Vol.23, no.4, July (1991), 395-422. As Sebba finds from research(p.395), “the environment which an adult remembers as significant in childhood was personally experienced without adult mediation and the related experiences were only found in childhood. The child’s sensory perception remains in adult memory as a central childhood experience because its relative importance is at its peak at this stage of life. The adult recalls the natural environment due to qualities that are substantially different from those of the man-made environment”.

The Inner, Imaginal ‘Postmodern Ecological Landscape’

FACED WITH AN ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, the landscape which now confronts us is postmodern and ecological in focus. The Technological/Materialist Landscape is now frequently being questioned and even rejected for what could be termed a new, inner and imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

This Postmodern Ecological Landscape is concurrent with a revision in epistemology. As has been shown, the modernist domination, objectification and externalisation of nature, built into concepts of science and modernist epistemology, has been increasingly criticised.[i]

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have returned to the primal animist sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that perhaps we are more self-consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscapes.

It could be argued that it is the inner archetypal landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs, that creates the outer landscapes of our being in the world. Indeed, as shall be shown in the final chapter, this is what was argued by Henry Corbin in his translations and interpretations of the writings of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic mystics and the Shi’ite, Mazdean and Sufi mystics in respect to their ‘visionary geography’.

If this inner landscape of the psyche – or as cultural historian William Irwin Thompson terms it, “imaginary landscape of the “middle way of the mind”, in which “we humans come to know our world”[ii] – is accepted, then we would seem to have arrived at, or spiraled into, old understandings, feelings and rememberings of our spiritual embeddedness in the natural world.

American environmentalist and academic Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that Barry Lopez is one of a number of contemporary writers of ecological literature who offers a postmodern and holistic view of humans, nature and spirit. Most of these writers share a sense that “in allowing the mysterious otherness of nature to present itself, the ultimate dimension of life, the sacred, is revealed”.[iii]

For Lopez, imagination is the key to the relations and interactions between the natural world and human beings. These relations are mediated by the imagination and creations of the imagination. Thus Lopez asks: “How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in? How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?”[iv]

Lopez argues that we must approach the land with an “uncalculating mind” and with an attitude of regard, because whatever evaluation we finally make will be inadequate: “To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know that the land knows you are there”.[v]

Imagination, mystery, wisdom, the sacred within the mundane and the reciprocity of I-Thou relation are all characteristics of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape. Lopez speaks of a relationship with the arctic landscape which is mystical, emotional, lyrical and reverent:

“I came to believe that people’s desires and aspirations were as much a part of the land as the wind, solitary animals, and the bright fields of stone and tundra. And, too, that the land itself existed quite apart from these.”[vi]

This is a very different imagination and ‘focus of perception’ from the secular I-It world of the modernist Technological/Materialist Landscape, in which the sacred has been critically and rationally excised from the landscape.

Oil workers in the arctic told Lopez “the Arctic was really a great wasteland ‘with a few stupid birds’, too vast to be hurt. Whatever strong men could accomplish against the elements in such a place, they insisted was inherently right.” A drilling supervisor said “Technology is inevitable. People just got to get that through their heads”.[vii]

Lopez like other recent writers of ecological literature, who could be described as postmodernist, share not only an extensive knowledge of the land but also an unabashed I-Thou relation with the Nature/Earth Landscape. They are not restricted by the I-It objectivist epistemology of science, technology and materialism. Rather they are willing and unafraid to use poetic language and acknowledge imagination and metaphor as a means of exploring and describing other ways of knowing. There is an emphasis on wholeness and relationship with the natural world. In Lynn Ross-Bryant’s words:

“Their intent is to know humans better by knowing them as part of the natural order, and, insofar as possible, through metaphor and imagination, to know the land better as well. Through this use of the imagination they come to an awareness of the whole process of which humans are an interrelated part which leads them to a double emphasis, first on human responsibility to the whole and all its parts and second on human spirituality as it is rooted in this experience of the whole.”[viii]

Unlike The Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape where the sacred is transcendent, and the Technological/Materialist Landscape where the sacred is leached from the landscape and men would objectify and manipulate the land to their own materialist ‘progressive’ ends, there is a revisioning in landscape perception by these environmentalist writers towards a Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

These writers “share a love for and extensive knowledge of the land emphasizing nature as nature rather than nature as a springboard to transcendent reflections on humans”.[ix] Ross-Bryant argues that for Lopez there is an interaction between humans and nature:

“imagination and desire encounter the landscape and the living things in it: knowledge is gained – not simply of one’s imagination, nor purely of the land, but of the mysterious process in which land and humans – all living things – are involved.”[x]

This is in essence a description of the mystical I-Thou relation.

Lopez wants to change the way we imagine the world. He shows the different ways in which Eskimos, explorers, painters and oil workers have imagined the arctic landscape and the consequences of their imagination. Ross-Bryant says of Lopez’s spirituality and what he identifies as sacred is an encounter with wholeness and mystery in the encounter with the earth:

“The experience of wholeness and mystery that he everywhere encounters in the things and people of the earth is the heart of his spirituality and his connection with what he identifies as the sacred.”[xi]

THE IMAGINATION HAS A ROLE IN EVOLUTION and one might add a spiritual revolution. Lopez states “The continuous work of the imagination…(is)…to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution”.[xii]

It could also be argued that it is the continuous work of the imagination to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed of, that is reflected at the collective level in historical changes in landscape ‘focus of perception’. In this regard, it is worth noting Bishop’s argument that:

“Postmodernism marks not so much the end of history, as the end of history as concrete reality … Indeed, it marks the beginning of history (the past memory) as a metaphorical reality. By identifying the possible plurality of histories, HISTORY can be deliteralised. Like all the old literal power-words – Progress, Duty, Heritage, God – ‘History’ now becomes an imagistic truth.”[xiii]

For cultural historian William Thompson the orthodox religion of our era is “scientific materialism,”[xiv] but at the same time “Gaia [the Earth] is a new landscape” and the new mentality is a “planetary culture” or “postmodernism”.[xv] While he uses different terms, Thompson’s arguments accord with the perspective of the postmodern ecological landscape.

Thompson critiques modernism and argues for the return of the imagination as a mode of participatory perception – a way of being in the world and knowing.

“[T]he value of the imagination returns to challenge the reductionist mentality of modernism that ruled during the period of the mechanization of the world picture.”[xvi]

Thompson points out that in the straightforward linear world that Whitehead called “scientific materialism”, “it is precisely simile and metaphor that the materialist is trying to eliminate in reductionism” and that:

“this naïve philosophy, cultural constructs like “space” and “objects” are taken to be independent of the mind that frames them through its own threshold of possible perceptions, and by a strange inversion that amounts to a perversion, “mind” and “culture” are reduced to accidental collisions of these imaginary “real” objects in “real” space.”[xvii]

We are at one of “those exciting times when the creative imagination of an entire civilization is undergoing a transformation of its basic mentality”.[xviii] The dynamic mentality of modernism, the mentality of Galileo, Newton and Descartes with its linear equations is moving into a postmodernist science of which Chaos Dynamics is one important expression.[xix]

The Gaia hypothesis has stimulated a new way of knowing the planet and it is “as large and imaginatively provocative for our era as Darwinian evolution was for our great-grand parents time”.[xx] It gives “a new way of appreciating how the part participates in the whole” .[xxi]

Again there is great emphasis on the imagination. Thompson maintains that the imagistic mode that we call the Imagination is an ancient faculty which seems to involve a prelinguistic form of mind in which “thought is developed through correspondences, homologies, and participations of identity”.[xxii]

The imagination “is like a transformer” and metaphors are by their very nature transformers.[xxiii] Thompson argues that it is the “metaphorical process through which the Imagination takes in knowledge and steps it down into the conventional imagery of the sensory world with which we are all familiar… the Imagination is an intermediate realm, the realm of the artist, scientist, or prophet who renders the Intelligible into the Sensible”.[xxiv] The fundamentalist is not able to follow the symbolic utterance and takes image literally.[xxv] Thompson concludes that:

“Between the heights of the macrocosm of the Gaian atmosphere and the elemental depths of the microcosm of the bacterial earth lies the middle way of the Mind and it is in this imaginary landscape of the middle way, whether we call it the Madhyamika of Buddhism or the Christ of Steiner or the Da’at of the Kabbalah, that we humans take our life and come to know our world as the dark horizon that illuminates our hidden center.”[xxvi]

In Thompson’s view, landscape is inextricably tied to the interior mind and the imagination; and this is a postmodern view of landscape.

LANDSCAPES ARE BOTH IMAGINAL AND VISIONARY. In this chapter it has been shown that landscapes are sourced in the personal and collective imagination of the psyche. That our landscapes derive from personal and collective imagination has long been recognized by geographers wrestling with the concept of landscape. The prime role of the imagination in creating landscape is inherent in postmodern geography. It is however in the consideration of spiritual landscapes that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes: the primal sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; the Judeao-Christian revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape; the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; and the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape which allows for an Inner Landscape from which our outer landscapes are a manifestation and materialization.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the animist, sacred, Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that we are more consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscape.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes have simultaneously undergone historical change and are timeless. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual, imaginal-visionary landscapes, which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent and centred in the individual’s psyche, is the subject for the next chapter.

[i] Cindy Katz and Andrew Kirby, ‘In the Nature of Things: The Environment and Everyday Life’, in: Transactions – Institute of British Geographers, v.16, no.3 (1991), 259-271.

[ii] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1989),169.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 38.

[iv] Lopez, Arctic Dreams, xxvii.

[v] Ibid, 228.

[vi] Ibid, xxii.

[vii] Ibid, 398-399.

[viii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, 39.

[ix] Ibid, 39.

[x] Ibid, 41.

[xi] Ibid, 49.

[xii] Lopez(1998) Arctic Dreams, 414.

[xiii] P. Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory, and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10, no.1 (1992), 17.

[xiv] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, 52.

[xv] Ibid, 130; see also 123.

[xvi] Ibid, 131.

[xvii] Ibid, 50-51.

[xviii] Ibid, xviii.

[xix] Ibid, xix.

[xx] Ibid, 130.

[xxi] Ibid, 84.

[xxii] Ibid, 80.

[xxiii] Ibid, 83.

[xxiv] Ibid, 84.

[xxv] Ibid, 83.

[xxvi] Ibid, 169.