Eco-anxiety and Spirituality in Literature Conference

February 23-24, 2023 at UC Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve BE

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. Others, such as Andrea Most seek to understand the embodied relationships between humans and land through practices of Land-based Judaism, while Karen Armstrong assesses how viewing nature as sacred can shift cultural values to slow ecological devastation. These theological explorations play out parallel the Gia hypothesis which sees all existence (organic and inorganic) connected in self- sustaining relationships (James Lovelock, Bruno Latour).

Eco-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 consolation in the climate crisis. Indigenous traditional knowledge has likewise become increasingly interesting to Indigenous and European/settler authors alike. Buddhist philosophical perspectives and secular meditation techniques are also appearing with growing frequency in both literature and classrooms as a tool to and 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 recently 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 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, in approaching these diverse traditions we must be diligent to acknowledge the risk of cultural appropriation and perpetuation of the capitalist-colonial attitudes of superiority. 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, novels, and other exploratory formats. 

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Bénédicte Meillon, University of Perpignan Via Domitia

Dr. Samantha Walton, Bath Spa University

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

Key words and perspectives of study:

Ecocriticism

Environmental humanities

Eco-theology

Literary animism

Romanticism

Contemporary literatures

Medieval/early modern ecologies

Indigenous traditional knowledge

Decolonial studies

Affect studies

Bibliotherapy

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.



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