Prasenjit Duara on Spiritual Ecologies: Sustainability and Transcendence in Contemporary Asia

Prasenjit Duara on Spiritual Ecologies: Sustainability and Transcendence in Contemporary Asia


Hello, everyone and welcome
to the environment forum at the Mahindra
Humanities Center. I’m Ian Miller, co-convener
of the forum with Robin Kelce, a professor of photography and
Dean of Arts and Humanities here at Harvard. This is the final event
of ours for the semester. We’ll continue in the spring
with a set of exciting events, always exciting events
here at the forum, but these are
particularly great. I’m excited to welcome these
two scholars to campus. The first is a discussion with
a historian of science Deborah Cohen from Yale, recently
moved from Barnard, on the uses and abuses of historical
thinking in the climate change debate and in the manufacture
of climate knowledge. And then second, we’ll
have a very welcome visit from a familiar figure
here at Harvard, the eminent
psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton, who has turned
his gaze from the causes and costs of conflict
and violence issues that he’s been dealing with
since he was involved in the US occupation of Japan in
the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, to
questions of climate change and environmental damage. It promises to be a terrific
lineup for the spring. And it would not be
possible, I have to say, I’m very happy to say,
without the unwavering support of the Mahindra Center. I’d like to begin by thanking
Homi Bhabha, director of the center, Steve
Beale, and Sarah Raiser, as well as the full
staff at the center. You make all of this possible. You bring all of us together. And it’s somehow invisible,
because you do it so well each and every time. Thank you very much. I’m also grateful to all
of you for joining us here at the forum. I’m absolutely delighted
with the turnout. I thought it’s
raining, the climate has impacted our
talk about climate. No one is going to show up. And here we are, almost
overflowing the room. It’s just perfect. Thank you for joining us on
a cold, rainy night for what promises to be a warm
and engaging talk. I’m also grateful
to, or I’d like– I’m pleased to introduce
tonight’s, excuse me, to introduce our
work in this series as well as to welcome Professor
Michael Puett, who will join us for the Q&A following the talk. It was kindly agreed to
introduce tonight’s speaker, Prasenjit Duara. Prasenjit joins us from
Duke, and he’s here to talk about issues
related to his most recent book, The Crisis
of Global Modernity, Asian Traditions. And I have to
shill for the book, because it’s a wonderful book. Pick it up. It’s incredibly provocative,
and a great read. The Crisis of Global
Modernity, Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future. Now, to my eye, the purpose
of the forum is fairly simple. It’s not all that complicated. Our work is, at
the end of the day, an effort to situate
the humanities and the social sciences
in the natural world. I emphasize the
proposition because it’s meant to carry a double
meaning in this case, signaling both the immersion– thank you, I saw
that that moved. Signaling both the
immersion of our work as humans into an
encompassing material world, a kind of ecological
embeddedness that is sometimes lost in our focus on the
realm of ideas and texts. And second, the
recognition that work in these fields from the
arts and fiction making to history and the
social sciences offers crucial
resources as we struggle to come to terms with the
reality of our changing climate and our changing world. Now, it seems that
lately many of us want to see the first
of these meanings as more radical, more
interesting, more cutting edge. Frankly, to use the term that
my graduate advisor used to use, sexier intellectually, right? The material turn, and
the new materialism seem to be everywhere
these days. These days, ubiquitous
phrases used in ways that signal a
sea change in how we are trying to think as scholars. I sit on the board for a
nationally competitive graduate fellowship down in New York. I go down every year. And it’s a signal of the kind
of durability and applicability and kind of trendiness
of this term, it turns out that
something like 60% of the finalist applications
for the fellowship last year used the term entanglement. Meant to use– signal
this embeddedness, this material term. It’s become the new
buzzword of our age, it seems like, the way
discourse was when I was a grad student in the 1980s. We all read
Foucault, we were all engaged in the cultural turn. Now, we’re turning back to
the material world, it seems. It’s everywhere in
humanistic discourse. We can see them and
see that in fairly theoretical or philosophical
ways, and a growing body of work, critical work
in particular, on ontology, the so-called ontological turn. And in a renewed
sense of urgency around more
traditional questions, such as agency, now
distributed in a way it was not in our
writing space and place, in a richer ecological sense. In more immediate
and apparent efforts, it’s there in such efforts
as our work on book history here at Harvard, practiced by
Anne Blair, Bob Darnton, Leah Price, and others
here on campus. Scholarly work has
never been immaterial, these folks remind us, not in
the ways we like to pretend. They show us that
the history of ideas is also a history of technology. In this case, one
especially useful, portable, and durable technology. The book. We see it everywhere. And we see op eds
now in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the
New York Times telling us it won’t go away. Now, lately I sometimes
think that the second aspect of our mission, the
more commonplace aspect, is more challenging. The material turn is underway. It has momentum, as
is evident in the work of those brilliant
graduate students who are cranking out grant
applications every fall. We see it in our
work, we hear it in the questions that come from
our students in our classrooms. But what about the uses of
the humanistic tradition? As we struggle to come to
terms with our changing global climate, how can
the deep traditions, and I use that word advisedly
and technically, the deep traditions, legacies,
histories and cultures enshrined in literate
canons from around the world help us to understand and act
in this particular moment? How our history in the
deep past, useful today. How can we write, as Homi said
in his eloquent introduction to our forum hosting
Naomi Oreskes, how can we learn to write
in the first person, in specific and
personally meaningful ways about forces
that so far exceed our individual capacity
for representation or even comprehension? Forces and dynamics such
as global climate change. What is the role of the
humanities and scholars who practice the humanities
in such a moment? Few places, perhaps no
place, offers a greater depth of intellectual resources,
defined here as millennia, of literate culture with which
to confront these questions than China and East Asia, the
locus of this evening’s forum. And it’s difficult to imagine
two scholars who are better suited to usher us into
that deep past than Michael Puett and Prasenjit Duara. Michael will introduce Professor
Duara and this evening’s talk, but I’m absolutely delighted
to be able to introduce him this evening. Michael is Walter C. Climb,
professor of Chinese history and anthropology here at
Harvard, and the author, co-author, editor, and co-editor
of four extremely well-received books, with another
quickly on the way. But he’s probably
best known at Harvard as simply one of the best
teachers this school has ever seen. Michael is a genius
in the classroom. If you haven’t watched him
teach, sneak into the back of his lectures. They are fabulous,
and they’re electric. And the reason is
sitting right here. This is a professor who asks
his students, asks all of us really, if you read his work,
to live as the sages did, to put philosophy into
practice, to see how it applies, to understand his contradictions
as you think about the choices and values of your
everyday life. His intellectual
work in that sense defines that aspect
of the forums mission. That is, to summon the
deep past, in this case the Chinese past,
the Asian past, into the service of
the present, using it to defamiliarize our
world, and to make new ways of being visible and viable. Please join me in
welcoming Michael, and welcome to the forum. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much, Ian, for
the much nice introduction. My deep thanks to you
and Professor Kelce for putting this together. This is such an
extraordinary forum. And it’s a deep
honor for me today to introduce Professor Prasenjit
Duara, the first time this year in the session that we’ll be
bringing in voices from Asia. And as we will see, with a voice
that will enable us to do so in truly extraordinary ways. Professor Duara has been
for years one of the leading figures, not simply
in helping us have a new
understanding of Asia, but much more
importantly allowing us to use the materials, the
indigenous concepts in Asia to rethink our most fundamental
assumptions, our most fundamental approaches. And we think, what
we used to think of as the big
questions, now posed in radically different ways. Prasenjit Duara first
broke onto the scene in– with his first book. It was called Culture
Power in the State. It was an attempt to rethink
state formation in China in the first half
of the 20th century. But the way he does this
is not the way everyone else was doing it,
which is, of course, to look at how states operate. He actually begins
at the rural level, shows over the
course of 50 years the radical transformation
in the rural areas effected by the state. And thereby makes an argument
how we should understand new state formation in China. But he makes it very
clear, this should lead us to rethink
state formation in Asia in general, and state formation
throughout the entire world. In the subsequent decades
since the book was published, this has become one
of the key works in allowing us to rethink these
processes of state formation. Immediately, he moves
on to yet another work. This one is called Rescuing
History From the Nation. Arguing that yes, most
of our historiographies are dominated by accepted
notions of the nation state, and many people at the
time were saying we should work against this
and deconstruct our notions of the nation state. Prasenjit Duara was the leader
in saying absolutely true. But then what do we do next? And the book was an
attempt to actively rethink what history would mean if
we did not take the nation state as the central focus. Hereto, we have an
extraordinarily influential work that has really
helped us we conceptualize the practice of history. Following was his third book,
Sovereignty and Authenticity, an attempt to rethink our
notions of sovereignty, the nation state in Asia. But again, forcing it onto
an international level, and here again
forcing a fundamental rethinking of our assumptions. And most importantly,
his latest book, The Crisis of Global Modernity,
our discussion for tonight. A truly extraordinary
work, in which he forces a complete
rethinking not only of the rise of
modernity, which is not a minor topic in
itself, but even arguing that not just we need
to re-conceptualize modernity, but how would we redo
history so we don’t fall into the dangers of assuming
a modernity narrative even as were trying to deny it. He comes up with
a brilliant vision of history of
circulation, then rereads the entire so-called modern
period through such a history. As he goes, he rethinks
our fundamental assumptions about what secularized
states are, as they arose
during this period. Rethinking why they arose,
what they were really doing, what they were working against. And then perhaps
most brilliantly of all, shows how discrete
conceptualisation forces us, or I should even
say inspires us, to rethink our notions of
the circulation of religions that are ongoing. All of which is then used
to make a strong, and I found incredibly powerful and
moving, argument for how we can we conceptualize the
ecological crisis precisely by rethinking our most
fundamental assumptions, our most fundamental
approaches, and making a sophisticated and brilliant
argument for therefore what we in the
humanities need to do to take part in that effort. We are therefore honored to have
Prasenjit Duara today to bring this brilliance
to us as we’re all trying to wrestle
with these questions. And I therefore
ask you to join me in giving our very warmest
welcome to Professor Prasenjit Duara. [APPLAUSE] It wasn’t that bad, was it? [LAUGHTER] It wasn’t that bad. may as well just
listen to Michael. I mean, I couldn’t
recognize myself there. But that was fabulous,
thank you very much. [INAUDIBLE] I’m very much humbled now. So please, scale down
your expectations. I’m very pleased, at any
rate, to see all of you here. Every time I’ve come to
Harvard over the last god knows how many years,
it’s been raining, but people still show up. I don’t get rained
out at any rate. Now, let’s see. We– I’m going to extricate
some sacrifices from you, because you’ve taken
15 minutes of my time. And it’s a rather
long, long talk. So So– Good. –give me — good, he says. OK. So, yeah, let’s see. This way, right? Has it moved? It should have. Yeah, OK. So the talk is based on the
book, which you’ve heard about, and which I will plug
again at the end. Although it’s not new anymore. But there’s the crisis
of global modernity. But it also deals with
some of my recent work that I’m working mostly with
Cambodian activists and so on. And also working
with my good friends, Mary Evelyn Tucker
and John Green, who I’m very pleased
to say are here. I was just at Yale last
week or the week before, where we were discussing sort
of the methodology of trying to develop a
methodology and agenda of environmental
humanities, particularly from the Asian context. Although that will
not be the talk here, given what the pre-talks that
I’ve had with several of you, maybe in the discussion
we can talk about that. So, what is the problem? Can I read this? OK. So what as– as Michael sort
of pointed out very, very well, much of the problem has awoken
to the climate change issue recently. And I think environmental
humanities is of course a reactionary response to that. Can I get a kind of
a full screen here? How do I do that? Can somebody help me? Because it’s half, and
my eyes are not as good as they used to be. Is there– no, I mean,
here the screen itself, this laptop is divided into two. With my future slide,
which I don’t need. Oh, it’s In presenter view. It’s in presenter view, so it
should be in display settings. Of course, I’m a Mac user. So I’m a little useless. [INAUDIBLE] Great, thank you. You just want your– I just want my screen. No problem at all, sir. Yeah, I thought
it would be that. [INAUDIBLE] technology. But I didn’t want to mess– thank you. There you go. No problem. Sorry about that. So the humanities have
sort of responded to it, and we know that
the crisis is, well, according to most
scientists in the world, it’s really a product
of the overreach, of human overreach,
of the modern goal of generating wealth by
conquering nature, if one can make a bold
statement like that. Even so, many policy
makers look to– they look, of
course, to renewable energy, which is the one
that is most important. That is to say, most
policymakers in much of the rest of the world. But also look to geoengineering
and market mechanisms to address these problems. Now, to begin with,
I’m not opposed. I’m certainly not sympathetic. I think we need
all that we can get to address the problems of
climate change that we have. But I think that geoengineering
and market solutions, market mechanisms, are really– have many, many side
problems, including the issues of delivery, of
governance, of many plans sort of sit-in the drawers
of scientists desks or in the files, I guess. And because of
problems of governance, of cultural
understanding, of society, and most of all, of course,
of political ecology, and the politics of
these kinds of issues. And of course many also
geoengineering solutions can have all kinds of
disastrous side effects that require once again
civil society, and what is now known as citizen
science, to be able to address. So renewable energy
is, of course, great. But I don’t think
that it can still alleviate our current rate
of accelerating climate change and rising ocean levels. I follow closely the economic– the ecological
economist Tim Jackson, who has a treadmill argument. He is the director of
the sustainable economy program in the UK, and is very
involved with the UN as well. And Tim Jackson argues from kind
of a semi-Marxist perspective that as long as we remain on
the treadmill of accelerating production, the reduction
of polluting energy inputs will simply increase its use for
higher production and profits. And at the same time,
increase the exploitation of other resources. I think one of the best
examples in recent times is the rarer quest, which
is really digging very deep in many parts of the
world, and also producing, of course, abysmal conditions. But it’s necessary for
your and my cell phones and for everything
else that we’re doing with contemporary technology. So ultimately, it
seems to me that we will need a kind of value
change in the world that can limit the mentality
of increasing GDP and consumption, that treadmill. At the same time,
of course, we need to address the
problem of poverty. Because after all, we cannot
stand up when the third world stands up and says OK,
you’ve had your goods. What about us? And so I think any notion
of environmental justice has to build that in a way that
the Paris climate conference did not necessarily address. Ecologists and people
like Tim Jackson have tried valiantly to show
that the tools– the problem of alleviation of poverty, and
the alleviation or at least addressing mitigation
of climate change are not necessarily
contradictory, particularly if we are committed–
if we do not remain committed to incessant
GDP growth as the only measure of prosperity. And they consider
many different– how it is that our very
notion of prosperity has become reduced to
this kind of GDP growth. And it’s only measured
in those kinds of terms, which
of course in turn involves increasing consumption
at a rapid rate and so on. And he talks about– he considers [INAUDIBLE],, who
is still at this university, right? Yes. OK, good. I could never figure
out where he is. That’s a good point,
but [INAUDIBLE] capabilities ideas,
which I think are also very interesting. But of course, he has to– he has to, what should
I say, adapt them to the conditions
of what it means to have a fulfilling life
without necessarily going on by increasing capabilities. But not having sort of access to
the full resources of the world all the time, that is with
limited thresholds, right? And one of the things
that Tim Jackson argues is that as long as we can– he says that you can
have a satisfactory life to fulfill all kinds
of purposes with a, what he calculates, a $15,000
per capita income in the world. And if the world could
maintain it at that level, you could find
many different ways of achieving your
capacities and capabilities, and fulfilling your
desires for many things. It almost sounds like when
Marx talks about go fishing in the morning and hunting
in the evening and things like that in his communist
utopia, but with the Marx– but you may have to
do fishing, and not go on with your latest gadget. Fly fishing, perhaps. So my work is really– now, the paper is designed to
probe this problem of value change and adjust to– I don’t know anything
about Costa Rica except what I’ve given you. I was giving a class
lecture, and I was– I stumbled onto it. And it seems to me
the perfect example. And I’m sure that if
you will– if there are Latin Americans you
will correct me, and show me how many problems there
are in Costa Rica. But they have a per
capita GDP of $12,000 USD they have 5% of the
world’s biodiversity, but the population is 0.06% of
the world’s population, right? They have 25% of their
land is protected, as you can see in this map here. And 50% of the land is forested. It’s not– a lot of it
is new growth forest. It’s not primeval
forests or something. But nonetheless, they have it. And the happiness planet– happy planet index
discovered it to be– rated it as the greenest and
happiest country for three years in a row in the world. It has displaced
Bhutan by far, and also many of the Scandinavian
countries in those indices. And it’s not just
the happiness panel. Gallup poll also found the
Central American nation to have the highest level
of well-being in the world. So it’s not– it’s not some
pie-in-the-sky goal that these guys are talking about. I think a lot has to
be done, but there is– it’s in the
realm of possibility. So what is my argument? I argue that we begin to
see the glimmers of value change in a convergence
of historical trends of marginal, local communities
in Asia and elsewhere in the developing world seeking
to conserve their livelihood resources, and coming together
with modern groups committed to environmental
protection, right? This convergence, I argue, is
a kind of emergent phenomenon, in the fashionable sense of
the word emergent of Whitehead and others. But it is of course
a very weak force. But it is poised, I think,
on something very globally significant. They reflect a kind of
philosophical attitude that– and the possibilities
of a sustainable life in opposition to the
neo-liberal model that we have, that we have lived with now,
the neo-liberal capitalist, or even, what I would say,
the national modernization cosmology focused on
the conquest of nature, and to feed unending wealth. As I said, it’s a weak position. There are lots of
weaknesses within this oppositional mosaic,
and we can talk about them. I’m not going to dwell on the
weaknesses so much this time. I’ll mention them. But my goal is really to try and
see what this kind of position is, what kind of– is it possible to sort
of track it, to trace it, and to view it from world
historical patterns that are tied to ideas of transcendence. And my final
argument is that I do believe there is a concept,
a new concept of sick reality of nature that is
beginning to emerge, and that it has social
discursive as well as some legal
underpinnings globally. But you just have to
have the right optic to see how it’s working. So I really want
to draw attention to this possibility
in the world. So I go into some
depth about some of the theoretical
concepts in the book and that have been
very important for me to understand this phenomenon. I use very much,
or a version of, it’s not the orthodox
idea of transcendence that Axial Age
sociologists develop, including our teacher
Ben Schwartz was a very important part of this. In fact, I first heard
about it from him. But I have followed the
literature on transcendence. I see it not in the traditional
terms of a god or something like that, but really a
position of knowledge, what I call a meta epistemic
position of knowledge, I mean. It is something that people
have with material consequences, whether or not that transcendent
position is there or not is not significant to me. It works as if it is important
for the people who see it, right? And a lot of philosophers have
now been coming around to it. Charles Taylor has
become a big advocate. Even Jurgen Habermas,
who is of course your ultimate rationalist,
post-Marxist rationalist, has come around to
this point of view. And he, of course, is super
enthusiastic about it. He talks about this is the
transcendent position, which is a position from
outside the world, really allows you to get a
synoptic view of the world as a whole, distinguishing
the flood of phenomena from underlying essence. And then he goes
on about how you get the difference between
health, and myth, and law. And it’s just I think
he overdoes it, but– because it’s not entirely that. But it is very much the
capacity for transcendence. If I had to define
it, is the capacity of abstraction from the
here and now, right? So it is the capacity. And it emerges, of
course, at the time when you begin to get
empires in the sixth century BC that spread across. And that’s what the axial– axis– I’m assuming most of
you are familiar with this, refers to the Axial Age
across the sixth century onwards, where you have
philosophers who posit this meta-epistemic locus. And it does refer to
the point at which there is the condition of
Universalism becomes possible, something
beyond the here and now. And it also generates a
reflexivity of the self and its position in relation
to this world, right? What is my status? What is the meaning
of my life in this? How do I relate to it? How do I relate to
the world around it? And how do I relate to power,
to material power in the here and now? How does this alternative
source of moral authority, which is beyond this world,
relate to power in the world? So it’s a source of
ethics and ethical power. And this– this
transcendent role has been completely
underestimated in historical studies. But if you look at it,
everywhere, it’s everywhere. From the earliest periods,
you begin to get establishment institutions, whether it’s the
church and the church-state relations, the Mandate
of Heaven, Bauman power . These are, of course,
become establishment. I mean, the whole
idea is that once you have a hold on
transcendent power, then political power wants
to grab that as well, right? As always. But then you also have
oppositional movements that are based on
this, whether this is– the most important is
the Protestant movement that we know about. But they are all
through history, whether it’s Franciscans, Sufis,
Buddhists against Brahmans, Buddhist [INAUDIBLE],,
the [INAUDIBLE] movement, the Confucian movement, the
Taoists, Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. I mean, all these people really
work on this alternative source of moral authority, right? And the problem
with the Axial Age is that they thought it
happened just once, right? But it’s a recurrent phenomenon. And in that sense, it
becomes a historical process. It’s very much part
of historical process. And it’s very important for
renewal, social renewal. So, and part of the
argument in the book is that there is
a big difference between transcendence in
the Abrahamic societies and in the non
Abrahamic societies. And the book goes on
to discuss a great deal of this difference. But I do want to say that
what Max Weber called the intellectual
religions of the east did not have an omnipotent god
in that transcendent position, right? But more rational
techniques of cultivation, whether these are
ethical self cultivation is a big term in
Neo-Confucianism, yogic, meditative in approaching
transcendent authority, rather than pure faith or
just secularization. So there is a measure
of rationality that we will, of
course, always recognize that underlaid the
sacred authority that was involved in that. So all the major
problems of the world manifest themselves, the
environmental problems that we have today,
locally and can best be addressed perhaps locally
without a universal vision that the transcendent
position gives us, that locus can give us. It becomes a problem of kicking
the can down the road, right? It becomes nimby. We don’t want this
chemical factory here, take it somewhere else. That doesn’t address it. And this is happening
all over the world. Today, Thailand is produce– it is constructing its
most polluting industries in the Burmese strip,
which adjoins it. That’s where it does it, because
there is no movement in Burma against it in that space. There is on the Myitsone Dam,
and the Irrawaddy river and so on. There’s huge civil
society movement, but not in that space. And there’s nobody
there to complain. So you– so what I
argue in the book is a position of for
dialogical transcendence, where you can have
this back and forth, which becomes very
difficult, much more difficult in the
Abrahamic traditions, which has a much broader sense
of the transcendent. So, one of the
principal problems in addressing the universal
or planetary dimensions is of course
nationalism, something I’ve railed about for
about 30 years now. Though I’ve become much
more sensible towards it, I think, the problem of
national sovereignty, which prevents collaborative
solving of common problems. And I’ll just show you one
picture of the Himalayan rivers. And it locks national leaders
into this whole competitive GDP and resource
control game, right? So one of the things–
the other thing that I try to do in
this book is also talk about how the idea
of national sovereignty is so closely tied
up with the idea of modern national history, of
modern history, which of course began as national histories. And that it has the
role, by talking about, by seeing history as linear
and tunneled from origins to destiny, it becomes a means
of claiming sovereignty, right? This is our people, our land,
our tradition, our culture, you get out. And besides, you
cannot interfere. So, it prioritizes
national interest way above the planetary
interests, right? In a way, the
universal transcendence of pre-national
religions has been blocked at the
nation as the highest level of transcendent–
transcendence, and mobilize for Tribalist
and capitalist competition. This is my general take
on nationalism in general. So what I try to do, as
you pointed out Michael, is that I tried to
substitute not circulation, but circulatory histories
for the linear tunnel histories of nations
and civilizations with the idea of
circulatory histories. And now, I’m trying to– I’m developing a paper on it. And one of the– one of the common sort of
ways in which I thought could be very usable was the
Deleuze and Guattari idea of rhizomatiks,
right, which were the same thing can appear
in different places simultaneously. But I’m now much more
persuaded, although I have to study much more
physics for that, to talk about in terms of
currents, ocean currents, and the whole sort
of ocean physics in a way, and how that also redistributes. And it ties back, of course,
to the natural sphere in very interesting
kinds of ways. So does the rhizome, but– but I’m still working on that. So maybe in a year. So, what is circulatory history? Events have effects that
disperse over space and time, right? A major wall can have
distant effects on prices, or political alliances in third,
fourth 20,000 other places. And I’ll just give a
personal narrative. Not a personal, a personal
historical narrative, which is the case of the Ahomes. The Ahomes– I come
from a part of India called Assam in northeast India. Here, you can see that. Where is the pointer? Is the pointer working? Do I point here? Yeah, there it is. This is Assam, where you have
the Brahmaputra River out here, right? Now, and this is, you can
see, it is Yunnan, right? Just around here, Yunnan. The Ahomes came to
the Brahmaputra region in the 13th century. They were part of the Dali
kingdom, or the Delhi kingdom, until the 14th century, which
was an independent Buddhist kingdom not controlled
by the Chinese empires. Until the Mongols come, and
then the Mongols overrun it, and the Thais are gone. It’s not exactly true, but
it’s pretty close to the truth. Go on to create Thailand,
what is now the– the Thais of Thailand, where
is one of the very important vessels groups comes– come over, go to the west,
to the Brahmaputra River, called the Ahomes. And manage– they have very
good river technologies. And they keep out the Mongols. They keep out. And it’s not until
the 19th century, when the British conquered
them, that you have it. So what they also import– they Hinduize after a while. They [INAUDIBLE],, and they
import people from north India. And people of my class
background from Assam will say oh yes, we are
from those families, whether or not we
are from there. Nonetheless, it is
the Mongol invasion that made us who we are
there right now, right? So talk about the effects
of circulatory histories. Now of course, and I always
take the example of it’s also narratives which change. With the dispersal of the event,
and the effects of the events, the narratives also change. So at the time of the 1940s,
you had Japanese imperialism celebrating its great victories. With today, it’s
turned against it very much by those
very people, places where it is, where there’s
Taiwanese Aboriginals, or Koreans, or
Chinese, and so on. And there may even come a time
when, well, they resisted it so far, when Japanese
schoolchildren are reading textbooks about their
imperial history that has a very different view from
what it was at a certain time. So there is a certain
sort of looping back to events and their
concatenations with different
meanings and endings. So this is the way in which
history really circulates, is circulatory, both in– I also give this other
example of Marxism coming into China from several
different sources, right? Japan, Russia,
France, and so on. But it comes in. Of course, the local
force transforms it, becomes a peasant
revolution, right? Maoism taught. But then– and
that goes out then, cycles out to the
rest of the world. But what does it become now? Essentially, if you look
at what Maoism is today, it is a Tribalist movement. You have it among
[INAUDIBLE],, you have it among Central Asians, you have
it among central India in Nepal and these kinds of places. They’re essentially
Tribalist movements. And so you have these
kinds of transformations, but the reference is still back
to a certain type of Marxism, right? That’s going around
and shaping societies and reshaping society. So that’s the kind of
thing I want to talk about. The important point here is that
history is a shared planetary heritage. We need to realize transcendence
at a planetary level to match the global
nature of human history, and the problems humans
have created, right? So it’s really going to be very
difficult to validly depict national histories as the basis
of the kind of sovereignty that opposes all
kinds of interventions that are necessary. So here– I mean, this
has been well studied. The Himalayan
rivers, as you know, have produced life for
over a billion people, billion and a half, and
many, many species around in the circa Himalayan region. And what is happening with
glacial melting, river diversions, which is
happening in China, and now also in India. And a dam building, most of
all, are endangering the sources of livelihoods of these people. And intergovernmental
cooperation is absolutely essential. But you find that there
are three countries in the world in
particular who refuse to share information and
cooperate internationally on river knowledge. And how much sedimentation
is taking place, how much. And they are, as you
would guess, one is China, one is Turkey, and
the third is Rwanda. And you know what they
all have in common? Any guesses? Rivers originate
in those countries. I was standing there giving
this talk in a Tibetan student government, I said, oh,
that would be Tibet. And so there was, yes, I guess
if you can make that claim. So this is a huge
problem, right? That you cannot find out. It’s not– it’s
not easy to have. And the Mekong Commission,
which is among the most active, and there’s a lot of
work on Mekong calling about social act, civil
society activists, and political activists, is
been one of the most successful. But still way, way
below what should be– what should be happening there. So is it possible to
elevate sustainability to a transcendent level, right? It seems to me most
people will say, well, it’s corporations and
capitalism and so on. Well, certainly that
is definitely an issue. But I think the
more proximate issue is the problem of
national leaders and how they’re so tied
in to the ideologies of national interests. For example, you
had the proposal of Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, who
was the first in the Kyoto Protocol, he was the chief
climate negotiator for Japan. And he had a very simple,
a very elegant proposal. He said the government
should collectively own a capped carbon budget of
$660 billion gigatons of CO2 in total emissions
between 2010 and 2050. And then he had this
idea that these credits will be auctioned off on
a polluter pay principle. And that those
payments will then seek to recover the
damages that were caused. And he had all kinds of
provisions for handicapped– for handicapped provisions for
developing societies and so on. And it was something
that certainly the NGOs who had been among
the main forces behind all these climate
change talks, had agreed on. And they had the
principle agreement on this kind of thing. But it was always the
national governments that would claim national
mitigation circumstances and so on. And for a long time, it
was China and the US. The US saying you all, you’re
polluting totally much more. And then China was
saying well, you’ve done it historically per
capita so much more, and so on. Then finally we get to
some kind of first step with the Paris 2015 UN
Climate Change Conference, what is known as COP 21. And that was a huge
moment of celebration, although it was just
the first stage. Because it was all
voluntary, and it and it didn’t have anything to
do with your capacities to implement any of that. And then we come
to a stage now when that’s off the table
with the US, right? So we’ll have to
see now what’s– so it’s always many steps
backwards at every point. So although, as I said,
government and inter-government agencies are officially
behind this effort, it is really global
civil society that is the main pressure
group behind them, NGOs, quasi-government
agencies, like IBCC and things like that,
private-public initiatives. All of these have
been very important in this whole
movement in the world. And not least among these
is the transformation of religious societies
in the world. Now, of course, the pope
has gotten very big into it. But until recently, it was many
Asian societies which had– Asian religious
group which embed dialogical but authoritative
realm for self formation and values renewal, right? So what I want to discuss is the
tendency towards the converging goals for both religious and
non-religious social groups, civil societies, is
linked by this idea of ecological spirituality,
which Buddha talked about. First, let me talk a little
bit about cultural circulations in the Anthropocene. So it’s part of the circulatory
history moment, right? One of the examples
I give in my book that people seem to
enjoy much is the idea of Ram Mohan Roy, who
is often considered the father of modern India. And in 1831 he was in Bristol. He was a Unitarian. He was a– he was a
Vendantist, but he saw an equation between the
Vendanta and Unitarianism. And he was in Bristol. And I found this letter
circulating in Peabody, in the Peabody– in the Salem archive that
has this little fragment that Ram Mohan Roy
will come in to Salem. And so we are circulating
this lock of hair of his, in order to sort of celebrate
his saintliness and things like that. And he couldn’t come, because
he dies just then in 1831. And so but then
apparently that opened up a whole archive, which showed
how Thoreau and Emerson had read some of his
translations and well, other translations also, but
had read some of his stuff and were preparing
to start over. And this led very
much to the kind of Peruvian transcendentalism,
right, which in turn– and civil disobedience,
which, in turn, influences someone like Gandhi. Although Gandhi doesn’t fully
admit it, but through Tolstoy it influences Gandhi. And Gandhi then, of
course, influences Martin Luther King, right? So you get the sort of looping
back and forth the whole time, which is part of this cultural
circulations, right, of what we can call spirituality, right? So they are– they
have typically been thought of as
counter-cultural movements among hippies, or urban groups,
or rural reconstructions in East Asia. I think they’re very important. And in the Transpacific,
but I think they’re developing
a new relevance as their causes become
tied to the most marginal groups in
Asian societies, and I would say in
Latin American societies and African societies to
a lesser extent as well. So on the one hand, you have
American spiritualist movements that embrace a
holistic view of nature from Thoreau, to deep
ecologists, to World Wildlife, to all of these
kinds of agencies. Both, I would say, on the
extreme wilderness Ang side, but also the corporatist
types like Conservation International and so on,
who I think also have some very interesting ideas. But they’re forging
linkages with groups that are developing
around Gandhian ideas, around Buddhist forests
monks, among Daoist temples, and others as well. So at first glance, this
seems like little driblets that are going around. But I think one
of the things that is really transforming them
is this hyper-connectedness of our age. And I’ll talk a
little bit about how this kind of the
new civil society that– the new media
civil society, which also has such
destructive effects, can also create new types
of allegiances and alliances that give it a certain
flexibility and resilience, I think. You can just look at Hong Kong,
the way it’s been resilient. What they do is these different
types of movements that are converging, I
think they converge upon a non-binary philosophical
attitude with consequences not only for lifestyle changes,
but for the ecological future of the planet. As I keep saying, it
is a very weak force, but a very resilient
form of politics that networks across the
global space of the new media to achieve some of its goals. I’ll give you some
examples of that. First, we– just a little
explanation on the term spirituality. The way I define spirituality,
also taken in collaboration with Peter van der
Veer and others, is that really it is a residual
realm for the transcendent that comes, that emerges
with the global trend towards secularization,
privatization of religion, the destructuralization, and
particularly the laicization, especially in Europe
that happens here, which is I think at the
root of the green movement and so on as well. Modern spirituality
as such is a new step in historical society, which is
derided as dreamy but important repository. And we know that
it was in the West. It was started very much
with the Unitarians, the theosophists, new age
spirituality, and so on. And as I’ve discussed,
in North America, ecological spirituality
John Thoreau– I mean, Thoreau’s
spirit insights were carried
particularly by people like John Miller, Aldo
Leopold, of course, Rachel Carsons, and all
those people [INAUDIBLE].. And today has emerged as
a significant American environmental movement, although
it has many different branches. And you already begin
to see the hook up with Asian
environmentalists thought and proto-environmentalists
thought with American Buddhists and others, right? Like Gary Snyder, Alan
Watts, and others. Today, modern associational
groups and circles have also grown in Asia,
Latin America, and Africa, who seek to protect
the environment and join with the
people who are really most immediately and
most powerfully affected by climate change. That is marginal indigenous
traditional communities who have been bearing the brunt
of the ecological devastation of the world. These marginal communities often
tend to view nature as sacred. Though not necessarily, we
shouldn’t romanticize them, but they often need to view it
as sacred in order to preserve what they have, the
little that they have . And they often use– and they employ the
psychology to protect it. If you look at tree-hugging
movements and so on, these have very much to do with
their local notions of what nature is about. And the biggest environmental
movement in India took off with the
Cziko movement, which is a tree-hugging hugging
movement of 1972, right? And spawned a huge
movement from there. I mean this kind of alliance
is not just happening in the developing world. And I will give you an
example of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which could
have had a huge impact. Until, I think it was January,
the Army Reserve Corps of Engineers had agreed that
this will not take place in this Dakota country, right? And it was only with
the new president, with that unnamed
president, who– were this was reversed. So if it had been
pursued, it could have had a rolling effect. I think it’s set back now. I don’t think it’s
going to disappear. But you did have a lot of
people mobilize around it. And there’s a lot of indigenous
symbolism and sort of nature, sacristy, and so on
going on here as well. Now, within the
Asian traditions, we have theologically an Indic,
Chinese, and indigenous peoples cosmology. The sacredness of nature
is of course a byproduct of a perspective integrating
social moral and natural order, what in Chinese is
known as tianren heyi, the organic unity. And this is of course
now something that has– that was forgotten for
the last 100 years, but it’s coming back
in a big way not least due to some of Professor
Puett’s efforts I’m sure, since he has
such an impact on the most impactful class in the US. So but also I should say that
John and Mary Evelyn have left, but this whole religion,
the whole study of religion and environment,
begins at Harvard with Mary Ellen Tucker
and John Graham, who produce the 10 volumes of world
religions and the environment, right? In the 90s, I think it was. So they were really ahead
of their time in many ways. What draws these divers
currents and phenomena is their anti-dualism, the
idea that you cannot have an integrated and organic
view, cannot operate on the assumption that humans
and nature are a binary, that humans can in fact
conquer nature as something. And rather see nature is
very much part of yourself. I’m sure you heard a lot
about this in your discussions here before, so I won’t
bore you with those details. But I do have lots
of examples here, which I don’t think we need to
go into since time is short. But one of the very
important activists in all these Asian
religions are in fact the Thai Cambodian
Laotian Buddhist monks. These are forest
monks who have– I’ve been spending a lot of
time with the Cambodian monks and the local communities who
have now sort of taken over from the monks. The monks are also
still very important, as they have this ceremony
of ordinating trees, right? And the ceremonial
role being of trees and so on, which has unleashed
a very powerful movement against deforestation and dam
building in those regions. And the Thai Buddhist monk
Bhikku Buddhadasa, of course, puts it very simply. He says once–
the way he relates it is that one’s realization
of the interconnected of all– interconnectedness
of all things in life forms, which are transient
and changeable, will help deflate
one’s ego, knowing that everyone is
one and the same, being subject to the
same natural laws. His spirituality rejected
specific religious identification. He was very much the
spirituality mode, this non institutionalized
religion, this de-institutionalized
notion of something spiritual. And he was one of the
most important, I think, inspirations for the forest
monk environmental movements. The other place that this
is very important is Taiwan. Taiwan has one of the most
dynamic civil societies in Asia today. And within that, the Buddhist
groups are very powerful. You all heard of Ciji,
but there’s Fagu, there’s Foguan [INAUDIBLE]. There are many others. And all of them have as
one of the central planks, the central plank in
most, one vow, which is protect the environment. And you may have individual
critiques of what they do or what they don’t and
how much they give in and how much they don’t,
but there are also some very powerful thinkers
among some of these. I have worked on one
or two of them as well. So, and anyway, there’s
a lot more here. I don’t think we need
to go into all of this. But I do want to sort of try
and understand– try and see how we can understand the
relationship of these religions to this, what is ultimately
a new project, right? The Environmental Protection. You can say that Daoism
is interested in nature. Therefore, it’s a
smooth, continuous flow. So we really have
to change our notion of historical understanding. It’s not one of
substantial transition from the substance of one thing
to a substance of another. It’s if we look at it from
the philosophical idea of emergence, then
you know that when a historical event or process
impacts the social formation, it effects an emergence which
combines both the prevailing factor and the new thing. But the interesting
historical problem is that the new phenomenon
seeks to justify itself only in terms of the old, right? So this is the narrative
challenging, as it were, the circulation, right? And I think that we’ve
had– all of deconstruction has been based on this,
the separation, right? Your claim. And I think we should
really go beyond that and recognize, with people
like Paul Ricoeur and so on, that the important
thing is the pertinence. If these people feel
impelled to do something, that is a good cause, right? And they connected with
something that they can see was there, then that’s
good enough, right? What is the pertinence,
and does the permanence have persuasive power? So I think this is something
very important, that. And here I just
want to talk about, and I’m also indebted once
again to Mary Evelyn for this, Pope Francis’s June
2015 encyclical on care for our common home. This is a very radical
document, and likely to have a huge impact,
because it’s going to be thought in all
the Catholic schools around the world. And which integrates
ecology and justice. And it’s very radical,
because popes earlier had made kind of environmental
noises earlier, but they stayed within the
framework of the stewardship argument. Now, those of you who are
in environmental humanities would be familiar with
Lynn White’s critique of Christianity as
something that sees nature as something given by God
to humans to do whatever you like with it, right? For your bounty. And the response of the church
to that kind of critique is that while God gave it to
humans to be a steward of, to steward it, right? So there’s still a duality,
but it’s one of care. And what this pope
does is that he does refer, for various
reasons, to many earlier pope’s statements and things
that– but he’s changing the underlying argument. It’s not about
stewardship or anything. It is tied very much on a
very different concept of what is the divine will, right? He’s talking about– he
invokes Mother Earth, he invokes Francis of Assisi. And he really refers
to integral ecology, connecting humans
to the environment, and to the evolutionary
process, right? So he’s making these
radical changes framed within of course a
hermeneutic tradition, which he has to. But it really gives you the
sense of the pertinence. Is it pertinent or not? How is it going to be accepted? And how long? We don’t know how long
this pope will last. But there are many forces
working against him. But I think he’s
turning out to be one of the most interesting
figures of our time. Of course, we’ve talked also
about India and the Hindu groups that are
fashioning themselves also in this response. Of course, here
there’s a problem that you get Hindu poulsbo mixed
in with the Hindu naturalism and so on. But those are one of the
problems that we also have. I talked about Taiwan. So these religious
groups in Asia may be particularly
suited to mediate between precarious
local communities and this transcendence
of sustainability. In many parts of
Asia, communities are resisting efforts to
exploit or industrialize their natural resources, but
appealing to the security of commons, right? Daoism, animism, Buddhism,
Christianity, Hinduism are utilized to protect
resources by using terminology in China of shantou, right? These are sort of
sacred home lands, sacred groves, the hope– whole segments of Yunnan
are now considered to be sacred forests of
marginal peoples and so on. Community forests, holy
water, especially in India, to oppose local environmental
pollution now, apparently. Talking about the environment,
the legal underpinnings, the Ganges polluted as it is. One of the most polluted
rivers probably in the world. As now, it’s now considered
to be a crime, a legal crime to pollute. And no– what is it called? The Ganges is considered to be
the equivalent of a person, has the rights of a person. So you can be charged
for killing it, right? So you can get that
kind of sentence. And this of course,
in Latin America, you have a lot of these
countries with trees and so on. So I think there is a
kind of legal underpinning to this idea of the sacristy
of natural creatures, I should say. And I’ve talked about
several of these. Here is a conference I did in,
just two or three months ago, in Phnom Penh. And where it was
really exciting, because you could see
although it was started by these [INAUDIBLE] group,
a [INAUDIBLE] and there are two or three
different forests. Bihar, [INAUDIBLE],, these
were forest dwellers, semi sort of Cambodian
and semi tribal. They were Hindu Buddhist. And they took on the movement. And once they started
digging on the movement, the Buddhists joined them. And then local civil
society joined them. And it became so
prominent that it got the attention of global media. And suddenly, it
became a place where all levels of civil society
began to enter there. So there were– they
set up very articulate. At this particular– this monk
to your right, by the way, he’s in– I have his name. Venerable Ben Solute, I think. He’s at UVA, this guy. Very articulate. He spent a lot of time in
India, so he speaks English. And he is very interesting. The other guy is
probably, but he’s– he says I talk to
[INAUDIBLE] all the time. You don’t want to go too
close to a person like that. But the other guy, he
doesn’t speak English, but he seems to be much more– with much greater integrity. Anyway, he won’t
talk to [INAUDIBLE].. Here are some of the pictures. This is also from
the cover of my book. This is a very– this are
these, this group that has been demonstrating since I think 20– long before 2010. But they got– came
to attention in 2011. What they’re doing, they call
themselves Cambodia’s avatars. And for them, avatar has a
meaning in the Hindu Buddhist tradition. And what they did is they began
to lead weekly demonstrations in the main square in Phnom
Penh, where they would engage in their own forms of ritual
theaters of protest, right? So it will be something. It would be ritualized. It would be theatrical. But it was a petition. It was their form of protests. And it attracted
so much attention. And they took on
the name avatar, but not because of their local
meaning, but because the movie. So they’re depicting themselves
as this creature below, right? So that is what this
whole thing is all about. But that’s a very interesting
aspect of circulatory history, where it comes back again to
you but via the global media, right? And they got huge global
attention on this. And I think there are several
people, several groups that are studying the impact of avatar. I don’t know if they
started studying this. I don’t think those
two have been joined. It’s a good cultural
studies project. I met several of these people. This is dam activism. This is the
[INAUDIBLE] movement, The tree-hugging
movement that set off the whole environmental
movement in India. Now, people say that in
China, the environment is so– in such bad shape. And most of the attention
now is being placed on the government’s efforts. And certainly there
has been a great deal of government effort
recently, but mostly in the realm of renewable
energy, and mostly in response to middle class
urban Chinese, right? So if you know the
movie, Chai Jing’s movie Under the Dome,
which I should have included a discussion of it. But it’s a very
interesting movie, very powerful about how you
cannot breathe in Beijing. Now you can’t breathe in Delhi. And they did manage to
clear, that but how? I mean, it brought– it was
very much a middle class movie, a middle class urban movie. And whole rural areas continue
to be very much kicking the can down the road, right? So you need a much
greater kind of effort. And of course, in China we know
that the principle problem has to do with the mixed messages. So the center grandpa is
always says good things, and even abolishes your taxes. But then the local government
has to then pick up the flag, right? Or pick up whatever
you have to pick up, and they have profit
motives, right? They have production
targets and so on. So that’s always
a kind of tension. So but nonetheless,
environmental NGOs have grown by leaps
and bounds in China. They have become– I don’t know if I have it here. I’ll just come back to that. I have to show you that. Yeah, the numbers in 2008, there
were 2,768 environmental NGOs. And by 2013, this
had gone up to 8,000. This is one area
of civil society, the green public sphere,
which is permitted in China to some extent. And the reason it is
permitted is because in a way they act as watchdogs. They’re not activists so much
as protectionists, right? They’re watchdogs. Because the laws are all on
the books, the laws are there, but it’s really
the implementation. So between the media and these– and the NGOs you begin to get– five minutes more. You’ll begin to get some kind
of legal results as well. But it’s a mixed story, of
course, as you’d expect. I’ll just go back
to this Daoism. Now talking about pertinence
and Daoism let me just– this is Dao– you
know the Dao is in China, in the post
[INAUDIBLE],, the post opening years, have been much less
successful in getting attention than the Buddhists or
the Confucianists, right? And there’s no sort of natural
global constituency for them. Naturally is important. And so when this alliance of
religions and conservations approached them–
this is, by the way, this is an alliance that’s
based in Bath, in England. It’s been very, very big. And it really begins to try and
link up traditional religions with conservation efforts. They agreed to join
with them, and they became– they declared Lowndes
to be the [INAUDIBLE],, right? So Lowndes has become
the protector god of the environment, right? This is what has become. He’s officially stated as that. And when you go– and
they, although they don’t have huge
popular followings, they control all
the Daoist temples. And I just went to
Mao Shan last summer, and they control the temples. And they are
beautifully kept now. You’re not allowed to burn more
than three sticks of incense. You have to recycle. You have to use
these, what you call, these photo roll take–
these, what are they called? Anyway, solar energy
and things like that. And they have strict rules
of all of these things. So at some level, it’s working. And it is having a
kind of an impact. It’s part of the
public sphere here. And here is– I love this
flag of theirs, which is yin-yang in green, right? The greening of Daoism. And then people
have found all kinds of things that have survived
the Chinese revolution and the Cultural Revolution,
like this fengshui forest. All over, there’s
huge forest coverage. And fengshui, people are just
beginning to get into it. Because fengshui is just seen
as some kind of urban modern, urban fad, right? But in fact, it’s the
[INAUDIBLE] very much at the core of it is this idea
of the organic nature of human and natural prosperity, that
the two cannot be separated. So you have Chris Coggins is
doing very good work on this with his whole team in China. And the Chinese
local government, several local governments
have become involved in this as well. There’s one thing
that more I want to talk about the Chinese
green public sphere, on the global green
public sphere, and the relationship
between these popular– and whether or not
religious movements and global civil society. I’ll give you just one example. In the mid 1990s,
in the early 1990s when the Three Gorges
Dam was being set up, was being planned. And the construction had begun,
the surveying had taken place, and so on. And the Chinese
government had gotten billions of dollars
of funding from not just the Western governments,
not just IMF and World Bank, but also Morgan Stanley
and other investment banks and so on. And there were of course
moments of protests from local scientists and so
on, but nothing was– no fuss was made until Dai Qing
wrote the book [INAUDIBLE],, which got translated
immediately. And by 1999, when the
Chinese government went for the second tranche
of its billions of dollars, none of these
governments, not the IMF, not the World Bank,
not even Morgan Stanley gave it the money because
it had been lobbied by environmental groups. Its shareholders had been
lobbied, right, and told to avoid this kind of thing. So I mean, you can see
how a small little stir can make a huge global
scale sort of activism. So it became much more expensive
for the Chinese government. And it’s still a
very dicey project. They claim that the 2008
earthquake, as you’ve heard, was a consequence of the
settling of the reservoir, the final reservoir. And apparently [INAUDIBLE]
was telling people if you really go after
me, I’ll tell people, I’ll tell the world how
many people are still being resettled from the
Yangtze Valley and so on. Apparently that didn’t happen. But this is happening all over. Suddenly, all over Southeast
Asia and the Mekong Delta, you know about Myitsone, the
Burmese [INAUDIBLE] thing that canceled– was
canceled in 2011 and so on. And Yunnan of course
is the great cradle of all of these movements. And that Yunnan southeast
Asian connection is very interesting as a
transnational area of activism. So my final, I hope– yeah. So I think that’s– so you have these two
different notions of sacrality that are beginning to sort
of come together in Yunnan in an unstable kind of way. One is the sort of religious
and– well, actually two. One is the religious, the
other is local communities, marginal communities who have
a certain conception of nature around them. But the other is
the modern sector of civil society and
civic activism, which also includes a lot of scientists. And this is happening to the
idea of modern protection. And the best example
of this, of course, is the United Nations, a
common heritage of humankind. The protected regions, right? Legally, there are
160,000 legally protected areas in the world,
nationally and internationally, including about 1,000
World Heritage sites which are both cultural and natural. More of them are
about biodiversity. And it covers 12% of the
land area of the world. By the way, this doesn’t
include the oceans, where most of the strangling–
a lot of the strangling is taking place. And some studies have
shown that they’ve reduced rates of deforestation,
protected species, and conserved land and water. I like to call this a kind
of a modern sacrality. Because after all,
what is involved here? It’s an inviolability, right? When you protect an area,
you’re saying it’s inviolable. And why is it inviolable? Because it arises from
the elemental earth to protect the
sources of life, which is after all what also religious
sacrality is often related to. So there, at least
partially the legacy of ecological spirituality
and ecological activism. National and global
legal institutions are beginning to
recognize these demands. And we have examples
of the Indian Supreme Court, who declared that
the Orissa Kondh where in fact the most bauxite mining
in the world takes place, is declared the sacred
site of the Kondh. And so no more mining
can happen there. This has, of course,
other types of problems. But it’s a very
interesting development. And there was a rash of
other legal protections then that came about at
that point, especially with marginal groups, with
tribal communities, and so on. Yunnan also has the
sacred sites of– the history of that
is very interesting. We don’t have time
to go into it. The tree pattern
and rivers of Yunnan protected areas, where activists
like Pei Shengji, Yu Xiaogang, and so on have created the
whole notion of sacred forests. So, OK. I don’t think– I think my conclusions are
pretty evident from my talks. So I’ll just stop here. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] I leave you with this world
map with total percentage of each country and their
natural protection, yeah. Thank you so much. You’re welcome. I took a long time. Well, it’s important material. And is this my glass? I have one. This one might be yours, sorry. Yes, OK. So we are on a
truncated schedule for complicated reasons
having to do with room booking and so on. Far more detail
than you all need. But we will be on a– coming to a rather abrupt end. And we’ll need to vacate the
room in about 20 minutes. So in order to move with
alacrity into the Q&A, I’d like to introduce
Michael and ask Michael to begin the discussion. And then after that, we’ll
open to the floor to questions and comments such
as time allows. And come to light. Without further ado, Michael. Wonderful. I will be very brief, because
I do want to open things up for discussion. But let me just say thank you. That was extraordinary. It is both extraordinary in
terms of– all of your works is breathtaking in It’s
re-conceptualization of world history and just the amount
of material you bring in. But thank you for
another reason too, because it’s also equally
true of all of your work, but now with such an
important implication, it’s really inspiring. I mean, it’s one
of the few talks I think I’ve ever heard on
the crisis where you come away thinking there is hope,
and not just because– I’m always [INAUDIBLE]. Cup is always half-full for me. Indeed. And not just in the rah rah
sense, we can really do this, with a real sense of– no,
no, no, there are actually are movements going on. There really are possibilities. And what seems at the moment
like a completely overwhelming danger facing us,
your argument is still that’s part and parcel
of the dangerous ways we are conceptualizing it,
and the dangerous ways we’re conceptualizing our point
and parcel of what is going on. That’s good. And if we actually
answer all of this– I better write that down. –it ends up it
opens up everything. So thank you. Thank you for both the
brilliant re-conceptualization and the feeling,
convincingly so, of these possibilities
that are actually emerging. So thank you. Thank you. Welcome. Thank you very much for that. I have many questions. I’d love to ask about
Shinto, for example, but we’ll have other
opportunities for that. What I’d like to do
in order to recognize all of you who have come is
open the floor to questions. And please raise
your hand, and let us know who you are
as we move ahead. Let’s come right back here. Go ahead. I’m Catherine [INAUDIBLE] I’m
the president of Cambridge and have been to
China many times. Often in the United States, when
we have an environmental issue that has been caused, probably
maybe by manufacturing and other things, the
push back and forth is not only for the environment. But people say, well, what
about the economic improvement of the people that are
benefiting by whatever this development is? So how do you tie the
two things together, the environmental protection
versus the movement forward to people to bettering
their economic standing? Should I answer
now, or take it– Oh sure, absolutely. Well, I did try to address
it in Tim Jackson’s view, but of course that’s
not an immediate view. That’s the long term view. And I don’t have a
program for action here. I do have a scholarly
view that in the agenda of environmental
humanities, what I argue is that we should still
be looking into issues. The traditional
pillars and categories of environmental studies
is adaptation, mitigation, political ecology, and
so on, to show who gains and who benefits by certain
environmental moves, and how the poor are often
left out of that, right? So to some extent,
you can address it through an ecologically
informed economic study, right, to address the
questions of poverty. Of course, there
are policy people who say that you can just do
what the Chinese are doing. The positive side of what
the Chinese are doing, is just build a lot of renewable
energy structures and so on that will generate
employment and so on too. But ultimately, I think we
have to move to the Tim Jackson argument, which is that we
have to get rid of the idea that wealth and economics
is related only to greater and greater production. That there has to be a
diversity of goals and values of what we think of as
prosperity, including the ways you use your time,
the kinds of activities you do with that, and so on. So I have a
three-pronged answer. I don’t know if
it’s satisfactory. Yeah, I think Bill
had a question. Yeah, over here. [INAUDIBLE] thank you
for a wonderful talk, and for a wonderful book. Thank you. And it’s just wonderful to
have even an iota of optimism in the world on these issues. On almost any issue. [INAUDIBLE] from off the cuff. On the China front,
I guess I want to press you just
a little bit more, because I think Taiwan
is an example of what can happen obviously in
a Chinese cultural area. There are a variety
and extraordinary– Tsuji and other
organizations have been extraordinarily helpful. Having an opposition party
that is a Green Party also has something to do with it. But it in our– Of course, of course. — own lifetime, since the
time when you and I as graduate students were in Taiwan,
we’ve seen the physical transformation of
this landscape. Absolutely. On the mainland by contrast,
you have obviously things in a quite different way. But the area, if I
were to think of where I would be optimistic of
where that would head, it’s actually sadly not
because of civil society, or because of local activists
in Yunnan, or whatever. It would be because of a kind of
relentless engineering on top, or the guy who really turned
the Ministry of Engineering, I’m sorry, of environmental
protection around. [INAUDIBLE],, former
president of [INAUDIBLE].. You now have a
relentless crackdown on coal-fired
power plants and so on all across the country
in terms of production. One size fits all. And my guess is that
this is going to, to the degree that
this happens, will make a dent and a difference
faster almost than anything else. But the civil
society part, which is the truly optimistic one
if this is a global movement, how do you see this in a
world governed by Xi Jinping Souchong? And in a world in which civil
society, and particularly religious affiliated
civil society, is under such pressure. Last thing I’ll say, I
remember when he came to power. A friend of mine, a Buddhist,
said to me, don’t worry. Don’t worry about Xi Jinping. He’s secretly a Buddhist. He’s going to bring
the Dalai Lama back. [INAUDIBLE] So give me some
hope on that front. Well, I think that we
are not yet in a position to say that civil
society will develop, will flourish in
China or something, but I think it does play a role. And while there is
a huge crackdown as well under Jinping, I’m not
sure it is happening so much in the environment over there. I haven’t followed the
contemporary scene that much. But certainly there
are still all kinds of protests that are going on. I mean, not environmentally
related, but land related. And I think that is an
important dimension of it, because when you control
the land, I mean, you can sell it
off or something. But right now, with
the property situation, people still have, in most parts
of China, a share to the land. And they’re recognizing that
they cannot let that go easily, right? In some parts of
South China, they’re being transformed into
cities and so on or whatever, semi-urban residential things. But I think there are forces
in society, not civil society forces, but forces in society
that have not angled it necessarily in an
environmental direction but in a land
direction, which I think is an important component. So that’s the very
long and slow, but you’re absolutely right. This is the biggest challenge. And I do think– and Jinping
is working on the gamble, on the bet, the wager
that just having a lot of renewable energy
will do a lot of good stuff. And a lot of engineering
technical stuff that they’re doing as well,
and with rivers and so on, though I think that is
going to be another disaster. These are these big projects. So I think it really is
also rural urban becoming increasingly– not only
east coastal thing, but a rural urban thing where
you can see contamination where you cannot, right? This is a global problem. But it’s even bigger in China,
because it’s that much more difficult to see
in those places. But I don’t have a good
answer, you’re right. That is a global
weakness at this point. Though I’d be interested
in other views, if people are more optimistic
about Xi’s top-down approach. I have a question here. I have a number of questions. And we’ll move–
we’ll move through. That’s fine, that’s fine. Robin will be next on the– OK. [INAUDIBLE] The mic, the baton. So, I’m disheartened,
as someone who spent half his professional
life in energy efficiency, and the other half
in renewable energy. And have a deep– I’m sorry, you are, sir? I’m George Wood. OK. And a deep abiding commitment
to the environment. I still– and know the
results in New England and the US of these efforts,
and the huge mountain that we have to climb in
this country and New England. I’ve sought, and your
talk speaks to me, to something that’s much
bigger and more powerful. And that is to connect with
people’s spiritual belief. And having read the
encyclical three times– Oh, you have? –and he speaks both to
the anger that a lot of us feel in environmental
movement, to the hope, but also to something you
spoke of in your speech, and that is the divine. And from me, and I would
love to hear your thoughts, how do you– has a much bigger
global view than I do, rather New
Englanders, how– New England is the world. How do we as people and– get more people like
the pope to proselytize about the divinity in
nature, and I think, change from within, right? The spirit. And I think that’s part of
what you’re speaking to, but that to me– I know all the
technical solutions. I see the actual
practical picture. But I think the real movement
is what you’re speaking to, and that’s to connect
with the divine. Well, I’m glad you
brought that up, because I don’t think
I mentioned this. Precisely at the time when we
were in Cambodia doing this, or maybe a little earlier,
there was an event in Oslo that I went to last month. They gave me a
Honorary Doctorate. But which was a very interesting
event, and the people in Cambodia alerted me to it. It was an interfaith rain
forest movement event. So the pope sent his
representative, direct representative. People from all– many
African, Latin American, Asian societies, as well as, of
course, Europeans and Americans attended that. It was a huge event
supported by the rain forest initiative in Oslo. By the way, Norway is
spending more money than any other for
global ecological. They also got the most
oil, so there is– but they’re also into
renewable energy. They are spending
it at least too. And this was a very
important event, because the statement of it
says that rain forests are the principle carbon
sinks in the world. And the indigenous people
who inhabit those areas are the ones who
are suffering most. And it is the duty of the world,
the religions of the world, to protect those areas. And it even mentions
who are the ones who are devastating it, right? Not personally, but industries. So I thought it was– and
the pope had a very important representative. The Dalai Lama sent his. There were many Chinese
groups, Buddhist groups. There were many Hindu groups. There were many
Muslim groups as well. So if you’re interested,
I can send you the link. There’s a huge sort
of reports on it. And they are now going ahead. I don’t know their program of
action, but it’s been set up. And it’s a recognition. Again, like COP 21, it’s
a kind of a landmark, I think, in many ways
for this kind of change. It’s a spiritual
attention to it. Let’s see what happens. There are always many
good developments that we can feel
optimistic about. We’d like to come up here, and
we’ll begin with a young woman and then, given time,
we’ll move down the line. Thank you. Thank you for your
wonderful talk. Please tell us your name. Oh, sorry. So I’m [INAUDIBLE]
from Boston University. I’m from China. So it’s interesting to
see that you connect these ecological thinking
or movement to Taoism or Confucianism. But it’s a little
bit awkward for me to say that this is not
ecological thinking. It’s kind of
spiritual or religion, because China is kind of
secular society, right? Because of communism. So I grew up in China. So it took me some time
to understand what is religion when I came to the US. And according to my
understanding, so transcendence or sacred, right, it’s much
about the afterlife, or not the world, which is not
this current world, right? So, but this ecological
thinking or movement concerns very much
about the current world. And the thing is that, I
think, I wonder whether we can argue things only
the other way around, is that instead of the– Sacred. –one to make this really
the ecological thinking as a religion, ? Right I wonder it is a
secularly usage of religion in our secular life, right? That actually makes more
sense for me, instead of making it as a
spirituality or religion. And it– OK. So that also bring me about your
interpretation, about the word, [INAUDIBLE]. So, the interpretation
of the word [INAUDIBLE] is more as homeland, right? Yeah, I know. And then so I don’t understand
why you translate it as sacred land. No, no. I didn’t translate
it as sacred land. I mean, I added that
as another category. It was not a translation. Well [? shangto ?] is,
for instance, it’s the– very interestingly, as
Bill knows very well, the most important pre-war
environment regimes were the Nazis, right? At least in the early phases. And the most important concept
for their environmentalism and for their
political ideology was heimat, which is homeland,
which is what [? shangto ?] is. I mean, the Japanese Kyoto,
Chinese [? shangto ?] is really using
the German concept with all its metaphysical
and originary dimensions. Of course, changed as it
circulates in different parts. But in Yunnan, this thing has
started again, [? shangto. ?] And that is to say, these
environmental groups in Yunnan are saying that children who
get environmental education in the school, just
they’re not interested. They are– it’s just
something they have to do. Whereas if you involve
in the local communities, in their [? shangto, ?] and get
them to see invasive species, and which invasive
species are bad, this, that, have them do
projects outside and so, it has much greater effect. It affects them
spiritually as well, right? So in that sense. Now, to come back to your first
part of your question, which is that you’re
saying that it’s more that religion is being
instrumentalized, used instrumentally. I would rather not
think of it that way. I think the concept
that I want to use is really pertinence, right? This is the idea I
was trying to develop. What is the pertinence
between something that had or may have
had other motives, but have those qualities? And what is the new project? So I would rather not
instrumentalize it, because it has many
creative possibilities. It’s not just being used for
that one instrumental purpose, right? We cannot transcend
time and the clock. And I am– We are in linear time. –deeply, deeply sorry. But so grateful for a rich
talk that has filled our time, and filled our evening. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for your comments.

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