Conversing with Nature and Other Cultures



Western observers often regard indigenous cultures, and particularly their ideas of animism (attributing agency to non-human others), as being ‘primitive’ and hence inferior. However, as Ingold (2000, 76) has stated:

“This strikes me as profoundly arrogant. It is to accord priority to the Western metaphysics of the alienation of humanity from nature, and to use our disengagement as the standard against which to judge their engagement. Faced with an ecological crisis whose roots lie in this disengagement, in the separation of human agency and social responsibility from the sphere of our direct involvement with the non-human environment, it surely behoves us to reverse this order of priority.”

Of course, not all ‘indigenous’ populations or even individuals within those groups may share the ecocentric perspectives. In the same way, it would be misleading to caricature all of Judeo-Christianity as essentially anthropocentric in its narrative regarding nature (e.g. Samuel Coleridge).

There are likely to be variations of perspective within as well as between different cultural traditions. What is important, though, is the influence of spiritual traditions on the quality of conversation; how we converse not only with non-human nature but also between human cultures.

As Jeff Titon, contributor to this module, has stated in his blog :

“alternative economics are available, both “in the past” and “over there.” Can we learn anything about sustainability from production, consumption, and exchange among indigenous peoples?”

The belief that we can has seen growing emphasis placed on ‘Traditional Ecological/Environmental Knowledge’ or TEK

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