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.

The Modernist, Secular ‘Technological/Materialist Landscape’

THE SACRED IS ALMOST completely leached from the Nature/Earth Landscape and replaced by a sceptical secularism. This is the imaginative construct and ‘focus of perception’ of the scientific, realist and objectivist mind. In the new modernist, ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape, it could be argued that ‘religious’ enthusiasm is now for the idea of man and man-made progress in scientific discoveries and technological and materialist creations – as opposed to an omnipotent, transcendent God Father revealed through the Bible (His ‘Holy Word’) and in His holy places: temples, cities and churches.

The Nature/Earth Landscape where all natural phenomena are intrinsically sacred has been left far behind and is no longer regarded as a threat. It is derogated as ‘primitive’ or ‘romantic sentimentality’ or ‘new age nonsense’ by the positivist sceptic and materialist alike.

IN THE EARLY 1960s, Erich Isaac described this situation in geography of religion, where in a modern, secular culture, religion’s impact on landscape is minimal. He argued that geography of religion had become in practice “an essentially ethnological and historical study… religion as a great basic power in transforming the landscape has virtually ceased to operate”.[i]

Isaac drew a distinction between ‘religion’ and the ‘religious impulse’, which could be imputed to ‘secular ideologies’. He argued that humanity has become the new object of worship and man’s secular ideologies have important parallels to religion:

“It is not accurate to say that the religious impulse as a transforming power in the landscape has virtually disappeared in the 20th Century. What has actually happened is that this impulse has been translated into another form. … This … has made it possible for secular ideologies to develop, bearing certain important parallels to religion. The important ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries postulate a world order which must be brought into being.”[ii]

One can think of a number of ideologies that would fit Isaac’s description of the religious impulse – in particular Marxism and Capitalism, both of which are based on salvation through material progress, although Marxism in theory is more concerned with social equality and justice. It is arguable that the underlying ideology of the twentieth century is that of human progress as salvation, here on earth, based on a technological/materialism. Indeed, Isaac concluded that for those studying the religious motive in cultural landscape the study of the role of ideology in landscape transformation is essential:

“Problematic though it be, the study of transformations of the landscape made upon ideological principles constitutes the major material for one who would study the religious motive at work in the cultural landscape of the present day.”[iii]

Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, 1978, also noted the decline of the sacred and transcendental and questioned whether in fact there is now a secular church – a church which “is increasingly a social and service center”. In contrast, the medieval church “however much it catered to secular activities, was primarily sacred space: it radiated power”. [iv] Wistfully he concluded that contemporary life has lost its sense of the sacred, whether it be in the forests and streams or the sacred space of the church:

“Today the gods no longer dwell in forests and streams. If we abuse nature we shall pay for our wantonness in the long run and ecologists can tell us just how this will happen with the help of systems analysis and computers. But such rational and longwinded argument cannot chill our spine as can the belief that if we polluted a sacred spring our limbs would at once wither. …our pretense to scientific understanding and power has also corroded our feeling for profound mysteries. The world seems transparent. Contemporary space, however colorful and varied, lacks polarized tension as between the numinous and the quotidian. Contemporary life, however pleasant and exciting, moves on one plane – the plane encompassed by rational and humanist vision. Ecstasy and dread, the heights and the depths, the awesome and the transcendent rarely intrude on our lives and on our landscapes except under the influence of chemical stimulus… A sense of holiness and of worldly splendor has dimmed in modern times, and some people feel the loss.”[v]

Belden Lane also expresses a sense of the loss of the sacred and the mysterious for modern humanity: “As much as we might be tempted, amid the spiritual poverty of our contemporary life, to reach back to a renewed sense of paleolithic wonder, it is no longer possible or perhaps even desirable. The oracle is dumb. All shrines are defunct”.[vi] His description of modern life exemplifies the loss of and the longing for both the Nature/Earth Landscape and the revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape of patriarchal monotheism:

“The rootless character of American life, the Neo-Platonic impulse within the history of western spirituality, radical monotheism’s stubborn resistance to circumscribing the holy – all these would seem to minimise the significance of the phenomena [sacred space] being considered here. They are joined, finally, by the extraordinary impact of modern, critical thought in desacrilizing the world of nature, driving all mystery from it.”[vii]

He argues that, since Descartes and the Enlightenment:

“we no longer attribute numinous power to the landscape. The world is not for us the clear window of access to God that it might once have been… Yet human beings have never more longed for an awareness of God’s presence than today. Seldom have they been so divorced from a sense of place and the experience of meaningful dwelling that it can provide. Modern men and women, no less than their forebears, still hunger for the power of myth and place.”[viii]

Perhaps anticipating the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape, Lane concludes:

“If there is hope for a rediscovery of the spirit, it will not be found in looking back to an innocence once lost, a simplistic return to the paradise of Eden. It will demand a reaching through and beyond the harshest criticisms leveled by the whole of western spiritual tradition. It will require a metanoia, a turning away from all efforts to manage the mystery of God. Only then may it be possible to encounter, by grace, a second naivete – a renewed sense of wonder glimpsed within the myriad landscapes of the holy.”[ix]

Lane places emphasis on the imagination, the experience of meeting and the mystery of grace and wonder which reveals the spiritual multiplicity of landscapes. This points to a description of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape to which we now turn.

[i] Erich Isaac ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape, v.9, no.2, Winter (1959-60),18.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: Butzer, K. (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 94.

[v] Ibid, 98-99.

[vi] Lane(1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 190-1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid, 191.