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Facing Gaia: A New Enquiry Into Natural Religion

2013
University of Edinburgh

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ''natural religion'' is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ''natural religion''.

 

LECTURE ABSTRACTS:

 

1. Once Out of Nature - natural religion as a pleonasm

 

The set of questions around the two words "natural religion" implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect "natural religion", but to dispose of it by offering at last a ''secular'' version of nature and of the natural sciences.

 

2. A Shift in Agency - with apologies to David Hume

 

Once nature and the natural sciences are fully ''secularized'', it becomes possible to revisit also the category of the supernatural. Then, a different landscape opens which can be navigated through an attention to agencies and their composition. Such a freedom of movement allows the use of the rich anthropological literature to compare the ways different "collectives" manage to assemble and totalize different sets of agencies.

 

3. The Puzzling Face of a Secular Gaia

 

In spite of its reputation, Gaia is not half science and half religion. It offers a much more enigmatic set of features that redistribute agencies in all possible ways (as does this most enigmatic term "anthropocene"). Thus, it is far from clear what it means to "face Gaia". It might require us to envisage it very differently from the various divinities of the past (including those derived from nature).

 

4. The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe

 

The paradox of what is called "globalization" is that there is no "global globe" to hold the multitude of concerns that have to be assembled to replace the "politics of nature" of former periods. What are the instruments —always local and partial— that are sensitive enough to Gaia's components for the limited technical and emotional apparatus of assembled humans?

 

5. War of the Worlds: Humans against Earthbound

 

In the absence of any Providence to settle matters of concern — and thus of nature, its barely disguised substitute — no peaceful resolution of Gaian conflicts can be expected. The recognition of a state of war and the designation of enmity is indispensable if a state of diplomacy is later to be reached. Under the pressure of so many apocalyptic injunctions, what is a Gaian political theology?

 

6. Inside the 'Planetary Boundaries': Gaia's Estate

 

Although the resources of "paganism", New Age cults, renewed themes of Christian incarnation, and process theology offer rich mythological insights, it is not clear whether they are at the scale and sensitivity needed to face Gaia. A search for collective rituals should begin with works of art and experiments able to explore in sufficient detail the scientific and political composition of the common world.

Videos

'Once Out of Nature' - Natural Religion as a Pleonasm

Prof. Bruno Latour - 'Once Out of Nature' - Natural Religion as a Pleonasm

A Shift in Agency - with apologies to David Hume

Prof. Bruno Latour - A Shift in Agency - with apologies to David Hume

The Puzzling Face of a Secular Gaia

Prof. Bruno Latour - The Puzzling Face of a Secular Gaia

The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe

Prof. Bruno Latour - The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe

War of the Worlds: Humans against Earthbound

Prof. Bruno Latour - War of the Worlds: Humans against Earthbound

Inside the 'Planetary Boundaries': Gaia's Estate

Prof. Bruno Latour - Inside the 'Planetary Boundaries': Gaia's Estate

Contributor(s)
  • University of Edinburgh