Spirituality and nature in the transformation to a more sustainable world : perspectives of South African change agents

Lockhart, Helen (2011-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The central premise of this thesis is that humans are disconnected and alienated from Nature and it proposes that we need to attempt to restore this connection in order to overcome the current socioecological crises which threaten our survival as a species on the planet. In response to the research question as to whether a spiritual relationship with Nature could assist in the transformation to a more sustainable world, this study examines the concepts of Nature and spirituality and the relationship between them and, in particular, explores the spiritual practices and human-Nature connections experienced by six South African change agents. The objectives of this exploration are to present individual stories which could be used as case studies in learning for sustainability and to promote and encourage deeper conversations about what a more sustainable world might look like. Given the argument that our disconnection and alienation from Nature is at the crux of the planetary polycrisis and that we face a crisis of spirituality with regards to our relationship with Nature, this thesis explores the concept of Nature in depth, taking into consideration different cultural interpretations, environmental ethical positions and perspectives of Nature held in ancient times. Some of the key arguments as to why humans are disconnected from Nature (science, loss of indigenous knowledge, colonialism, capitalism, globalisation, religion and technology) are presented and I consider the implications of the human-Nature disconnection. A comprehensive literature review presents the key sociological crises, including climate change, ecosystem degradation, inequality and poverty, peak oil, urbanisation and food insecurity, which underpin the planetary polycrisis, and also discusses sustainable development, which arose as an attempt to respond to the planetary polycrisis. I argue that mainstream sustainable development is anthropocentric and perpetuates consumption by means of the current economic system. In light of my research question I propose that spirituality could serve as a bridge between humans and Nature. The understanding of spirituality which informs my approach implies a heightened awareness or consciousness, the capacity for deep reflection and compassion, and a profound sense of what it means to part of the web of life – to be another living, breathing, sentient being in Nature without the hierarchies which are often dictated by religious forms of spirituality. It is a spirituality integral to daily life, which informs the decisions about the way we live, and which is expressed through action, i.e. spirit-in-action. While I acknowledge the role that religion could play in the transformation to a more sustainable world, I highlight a number of practices, including mindfulness, meditation, rituals, poetry, re-learning from indigenous knowledge and wisdom, and restoration, which could perhaps assist in moving towards a deeper connection with Nature. In reflecting on what kind of transformation is needed I refer to complexity theory and systems thinking, and earth jurisprudence as examples of transformative paradigms. Given that this is a qualitative study, I have used heuristic inquiry, reflexivity, narrative and poetics in my research approach and conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with six South African change agents (three women and three men). I have documented their stories as narrative summaries, focusing particularly on their spirituality with respect to their relationship with Nature. I have then considered the emerging themes which point to what might be required in order to create sustainable futures. While there are issues of contention surrounding each of the concepts of Nature, spirituality and sustainable development, the change agents agree that there is a definite relationship between them and that they could help to direct our lives towards sustainability. Irrespective of how each of these concepts is defined, it seems that we need to be thinking about what kind of lives we want to live and what kind of lives future generations will be able to lead on a planet with a limited carrying capacity. As to whether a spiritual relationship with Nature could assist in the transformation to a more sustainable world, it seems that it is not so much a relationship, but a deep understanding and conscious awareness or knowing of the interconnectedness and interdependence between Nature, spirit and the essence of being human. Based on the input from the six change agents, I recommend a number of shifts within individual human consciousness, in our communities and within broader society to promote sustainable living. Other recommendations include the possibility of ecopsychology playing a greater role within the sustainable development discourse and ongoing research to continue to provoke conversations about the human- Nature connection and the implications this has for sustainability. While this work is clearly an academic investigation, it has also been a personal undertaking in that I have explored my own spiritual journey, considered my relationship with Nature, and learned more about my role as a change agent in the transformation to a more sustainable world.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die sentrale veronderstelling van hierdie proefskrif is dat die mens afgesonder en vervreemd geraak het van die Natuur en beveel aan dat ons poog om die konneksie te herstel ten einde die huidige sosio-ekologiese krisis te kan oorkom wat ons oorlewing as 'n spesie op die planeet bedreig. In antwoord op die navorsingsvraag of 'n spirituele verhouding met die Natuur kan bydra tot die transformasie na 'n meer volhoubare wêreld, ondersoek hierdie studie die konsep van die Natuur en spiritualiteit, en die verhouding tussen die twee konsepte, en dan veral die spirituele praktyke en mens- Natuur-konneksies wat ses Suid-Afrikaanse agente vir verandering meegemaak het. Die oogmerke met hierdie verkenning is om individuele verhale aan te bied wat as gevallestudies gebruik kan word om insig te kry in volhoubaarheid, en om dieper gesprekke oor hoe 'n meer volhoubare wêreld daar kan uitsien te bevorder en aan te moedig. Gegewe die redenasie dat ons afsondering en vervreemding van die Natuur die kruks van die globale polikrisis is en dat ons 'n spiritualiteitskrisis beleef wat ons verhouding met die Natuur betref, ondersoek hierdie proefskrif die konsep van die Natuur in diepte, met inagneming van verskillende kulturele interpretasies, omgewingsentriese vertrekpunte en perspektiewe oor die Natuur in die antieke tyd. Sekere sleutelargumente wat aandui waarom die mens afgesonder geraak het van die Natuur (wetenskap, verlies aan inheemse kennis, kolonialisme, kapitalisme, globalisering, godsdiens en tegnologie) word aangebied, terwyl ek die implikasies van die mens-Natuur-afsondering oordink. 'n Omvattende literatuurstudie behandel die sleutel sosiologiese krisisse, met inbegrip van klimaatsverandering, ekosisteemagteruitgang, ongelykheid en armoede, piekolie, verstedeliking en voedselonsekerheid, wat die globale polikrisis onderlê, en ondersoek volhoubare ontwikkeling wat ontstaan het in 'n poging om op die globale polikrisis te reageer. Ek voer aan dat hoofstoom volhoubare ontwikkeling antroposentries is en verbruik volgens die bestaande ekonomiese stelsel voortsit. In die lig van my navorsingsvraag doen ek aan die hand dat spiritualiteit 'n brug tussen die mens en die Natuur kan vorm. Die interpretasie van spiritualiteit, wat die beweegrede vir my benadering is, veronderstel 'n verhoogde bewustheid of bewussyn, die vermoë tot diepe refleksie en medelye, en 'n wesentlike begrip van wat dit beteken om deel van die lewensweb te wees - om 'n lewende, redelike wese te wees wat asemhaal in die Natuur, sonder die hiërargieë wat dikwels deur religieuse spiritualiteitsvorme voorgeskryf word. Dit is spiritualiteit wat 'n integrerende deel van die daaglikse lewe is, wat die beweegrede is vir die besluite waarvolgens ons leef, en wat uitgedruk word deur aksie, i.e. gees-in-aksie. Alhoewel ek die rol erken wat godsdiens kan speel in die transformasie na ʼn meer volhoubare wêreld, lig ek ʼn aantal praktyke uit, nl in-die-oomblik-wees (oplettendheid), meditasie, rituele, poësie, her-leer uit die inheemse kennis- en wysheid-skat, sowel as herstel, wat moontlik kan help om ʼn dieper band met die Natuur te vorm. Wanneer ek reflekteer oor watter tipe transformasie nodig is, verwys ek na kompleksiteitsteorie en sisteemdenke, en aardjurisprudensie as twee voorbeelde van transformerende paradigmas. Aangesien dit ʼn kwalitatiewe studie is, het ek heuristiese ondersoek, refleksiwiteit, narratiewe en poësie in my navorsingbenadering gebruik en semi-gestruktureerde diepte-onderhoude met ses Suid-Afrikaanse agente vir verandering (drie vroue en drie mans) gevoer. Ek het hulle verhale as opsommings van narratiewe opgeteken, en gefokus op hulle spiritualiteit in verhouding tot die Natuur. Daarna het ek opkomende temas oorweeg met aanwysers van wat moontlik nodig is om ʼn volhoubare toekoms te skep. Alhoewel daar verskillende standpunte is oor die konsep Natuur, spiritualiteit en volhoubare ontwikkeling, stem die agente vir verandering saam dat daar ʼn definitiewe verwantskap tussen die konsepte bestaan en dat dit kan bydra om ons lewe tot volhoubaarheid te rig. Ongeag van hoe elkeen van hierdie konsepte omskryf word, blyk dit dat ons moet kyk na watter soort lewe ons wil leef en watter soort lewe toekomstige generasies op ʼn planeet met ʼn beperkte dravermoë sal kan leef. Op die vraag of ʼn spirituele verhouding met die Natuur kan bydra tot die transformasie na ʼn meer volhoubare wêreld, blyk dit dat dit nie soseer ʼn verhouding is nie, maar ʼn diepe begrip vir en werklike bewustheid, of kennis, van die onderlinge verbondenheid en interafhanklikheid tussen die Natuur, die gees en die essensie van menswees. Gebaseer op die inset van die ses agente vir verandering beveel ek ʼn aantal skuiwe binne onsself, in ons gemeenskappe en in die wyer samelewing aan om ʼn volhoubare bestaan te bevorder. Ander aanbevelings sluit in die moontlikheid dat ekopsigologie ʼn groter rol speel in die volhoubareontwikkelingsdiskoers en voortgesette navorsing om deurentyd gesprekke oor die mens-Natuur-konneksie aan te moedig, asook die implikasies wat dit vir volhoubaarheid het. Alhoewel hierdie werk duidelik ʼn akademiese oefening is, was dit ook ʼn persoonlike onderneming deurdat ek my eie spirituele reis onderneem het, my verhouding met die Natuur in oënskou geneem het, en tot insig gekom het van my rol as agent vir verandering in die transformasie na ʼn meer volhoubare wêreld.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/18075
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