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Welcome to the 2021 ISSRNC online conference - Religion and Environment: Relations and Relationality.
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Sunday, February 21 • 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Author Roundtable on Pandemic, Ecology Theology: Perspectives on Covid-19

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(LIVE conversation with presenters. Please watch session video beforehand.)

This author roundtable is on the new book ‘Pandemic, Ecology and Theology: Perspectives on COVID-19’ (ed. Alexander J.B. Hampton, Routledge, 2020). The pandemic has demonstrated human creativity, and the resilience of the oft neglected presence of nature. Equally, it has exposed deep social inequities and structural deficiencies about the way we organize our civilization and our knowledge. The contributors, though differing in their diagnoses and recommendations, share the belief that this moment, with its transformative possibility, not be forfeit. Equally, they share the conviction that the chief ground of any such reorientation ineluctably involves our collective engagement with both ecology and theology.

Derek A. Michaud, “The Multidimensional Unity of Life, Theology, Ecology, and COVID-19”

The COVID-19 pandemic is a multidimensional crisis with biological, psychological, political, and spiritual dimensions. Efforts to address the crisis limited to a single dimension fail to promote holistic human health. For human flourishing, an adequate conception of humanity, the natural world, and the challenges we face as well as metaphysical grounds for hope to motivate long-term remediation efforts are needed. Paul Tillich’s multidimensional unity of life accomplishes all this by framing the ecological interdependence of all within a transcendent horizon and viewing all beings as participants in the power of the Ground of Being to overcome estrangement motivates eschatological hope.

Sean J. McGrath, “Eschatology in a Time of Crisis”

The perfect storm of COVID-19, international collapse, and climate change is an opportunity for the Church to remember her eschatological call. Through a reading of the Epistle of Barnabas and a retrieval of Heidegger's reading of Paul, eschatology is contrasted with teleology and utopianism and presented as an attitude for our time. This presentation will summarise the essence of eschatology in two theses: one concerning the uni-directionality or eventfulness of eschatological time, and a second concerning the futurity of justice. In the end I locate the heart of eschatology in the active-passivity of investing in this world while trusting in its divine transfiguration.

Willemien Otten, “The Recovery of Nature’s Religious Role in the Context of the Pandemic”

The coronavirus pandemic throws religion scholars for a loop. The magnitude of the pandemic shatters the classic defense strategy of theodicy, which justifies God's benevolent character in the face of natural catastrophe. This consideration advocates a holistic approach to nature by disentangling it from the grasp of scientific objectification. The article moves from premodern examples of natural agency to a focus on nature's role as ally in the modern thought of W. James and, especially, R.W. Emerson. Breaking through the nature-culture divide, Emerson provides us with a unique take on nature's otherness as inherently religious.

Lisa Sideris, “Listening to the Pandemic: Decentering Humans through Silence and Sound”

Religious and secular interpretations of nature frequently construe natural processes as a commentary on human wrongdoing. Some interpretations of the meaning of COVID-19 show a similar anthropocentric bias. This paper explores the possibility of locating meaning in and connection with nature in the midst of pandemic-induced stillness, without fixating on humans and our own egocentric preoccupations. Practices of attending to nature and natural soundscapes can function as a decentering spiritual exercise akin to prayer. Attunement to biophony, the sounds produced by living organisms, can pave the way for what might be termed biophany, the manifestation of nature's vital, sacred presence.

Alexander Hampton, “Ecology and the Unbuffered Self: Identity, Agency, and Authority in a Time of Pandemic”

This consideration characterises the crisis and opportunity of COVID-19 in three parts: First, it sets out the problematic conceptualisation of nature in the modern social imaginary by focusing upon the buffered self in terms of its sense of identity, agency and authority. Second, it sets out how the pandemic fundamentally disrupts these three facets of the self in terms of the fragilization of economic values, the notion of unique human agency, and the limitation of the authority of discursive reason. Finally, it concludes by outlining the opportunity for a renewed relationship with nature by proposing the recovery of the premodern concepts of metaphysical participation, teleology, and rational intuition. In doing so, the pandemic crisis is considered in the wider context of the ecological crisis of the modern age, and as an opportunity for rethinking our collective concept of nature, and the place of our selves within it.

avatar for Lisa Sideris

Lisa Sideris

Faculty, Environmental Studies Program, UC Santa Barbara
avatar for Derek A. Michaud

Derek A. Michaud

Lecturer of Philosophy, Coordinator of Religious and Judaic Studies, University of Maine
avatar for Sean J. McGrath

Sean J. McGrath

Full Professor of Philosophy, Memorial University of Newfoundland
avatar for Willemien Otten

Willemien Otten

Professor of Theology and the History of Christianity, University of Chicago Divinity School
avatar for Alexander Hampton

Alexander Hampton

Assistant Professor, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto

Sunday February 21, 2021 1:00pm - 3:00pm MST
Online (Live)