Eco-anxiety and Spirituality in Literature Conference

deadline for submissions: 
September 16, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
UC Louvain

International Conference 'Eco-anxiety and Spirituality in Literature'

February 23-24, 2023

As the climate crisis accelerates, one response that contemporary authors take amidst the growing feelings of eco-anxiety is to narrate themes of religion and spirituality as a source of solace. Though there is no doubt that the theologies and practices of western patriarchal religions have created systems of harm and contributed to the climate crisis (Lynn White Jr), contemporary authors are reclaiming the spiritual practices and mystic traditions of such religions in order to imagine narratives in which restorative relationships between the human and the more-than-human world are negotiated. Scholars such as Benedicte Meillon have begun to explore how the ecopoetics of re-enchantment can help us understand (non)human nature cultures. Grounded in theories and practice of Land-based Judaism, Andrea Most seeks to understand the embodied relationships between humans and land, while Karen Armstrong assesses how viewing nature as sacred can shift cultural values to slow ecological devastation. These theological explorations play out parallel to the Gia hypothesis which sees all existence (organic and inorganic) connected in self-sustaining relationships (James Lovelock, Bruno Latour).

Such spiritual concerns then surface in the writing of authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers, and Amitav Ghosh as they explore alternative ways of knowing alongside scientific thought in order to find solace and hope in the climate crisis. Indigenous traditional knowledge and spiritual practices that offer insight into how to build better relationships with the more-than-human world have likewise become increasingly interesting to environmental writers. Buddhist philosophical perspectives and secular meditation techniques are also appearing with growing frequency in both literature and classrooms as a tool to combat concerns of eco-anxiety. Similarly, narratives of interdependence and collective spiritual practice—such as the global prayer hour in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future—reflect the ethics of community care championed by social-environmental movements.

While this eco-spiritual dimension is particularly clear in recent literature, environmental writing is obviously not new. According to Richard Watson, “from the earliest instances of epic, pastoral and georgic, literature has offered a critique as well as an expression of nostalgia for the inviolate natural world that has always been not quite with us” (Watson 40). Likewise, in Reclaiming Romanticism Kate Rigby brings the Romantic tradition into the Anthropocene with a decolonial perspective to reflect on how the works of authors such as Wordsworth and Shelley can speak to our current environmental challenges. Looking to Eastern religions, others have examined the presence of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs in environmental literature from the Beat generation to today (Kyle Garton-Gundling). In a similar vein, Samantha Walton has mapped a heritage of cultural myths that perpetuate the ‘nature cure,’ and the ways in which western wellness cultures profit off the idea of nature as a source of healing.

This two-day international conference hosted at UC Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium on February 23-24, 2023 seeks to explore the role of eco-spiritual practices and different ways of knowing in various literary and spiritual traditions. Not restricted to any particular era of writing, this conference will map how representations of the environment have comingled with spiritual practices throughout literary history, and how these practices and sources of knowledge are re-imagined today. From representations of Christian Mysticism to Indigenous Spiritualities to Buddhism and secular meditation, we welcome submissions examining diverse spiritual and therapeutic traditions. However, we are aware that in approaching these diverse traditions there runs a risk of cultural appropriation and perpetuation of the capitalist-colonial attitudes that continue to perpetuate the climate crisis. Thus, this conference seeks to engage critically with multi-cultural interpretations of spirituality in literature from a decolonial framework. We encourage papers on various genres of literature including poetry, memoir, novel, and other exploratory formats. 

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Samantha Walton, Bath Spa University

Dr. Bénédicte Meillon, University of Perpignan Via Domitia

 

Please submit a 300-word abstract and brief bio including your institutional affiliation to kennedy.dragt@uclouvain.be by September 16, 2022.

Keywords and perspectives of study:

Ecocriticism

Environmental humanities

Romanticism

Eco-theology

Literary animism

Romanticism

20th Century and contemporary literature

Medieval/early modern ecologies

Decolonial ecocriticism

Affect studies

Bibliotherapy

Indigenous traditional knowledge

Environmental pedagogy

Post-humanism/ Animal studies/ Plant studies

 

Works cited

Watson, Robert. 2014. ‘Shadows of the Renaissance.’ In The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, edited by Greg Garrard, 40-59. Oxford: Oxford University Press.