The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Theologies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (12 April 2024) | Viewed by 5738

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8, Canada
Interests: religion and the environment; religion and literature and the arts; history of the philosophy of religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Platonism, understood broadly as a form of ontological realism, offers a framework for understanding nature that can incorporate a range of religious traditions and individual spiritualities. As such, it offers a context in which to crucially reconceptualise nature and the place of humans with regard to the environmental crisis.

Within the broad context of Platonism as a metaphysical–religious orientation, a range of historical, contemporary, and constructive possibilities present themselves as offering religious and spiritual alternatives to a wholly naturalistic and anthropocentric conceptualisation of nature. This opens up possibilities for conceptualising the environment as a place of encounter, learning, wonder, theurgy, and theophany. Under this rubric, a vast range of papers are welcome:

Papers that explore historical conceptualisations of nature by any number of individual religious thinkers, groups, or sub-traditions within the Platonic tradition are welcome. Such papers could consider topics such as anima mundi, panpsychism, pantheism, theurgy, theophany, participation, the Gaia hypothesis, and so on. The thought of numerous religious and spiritual figures viewed through the lens of ecology, sustainability, human and non-human relations, presents a productive avenue. Papers could also focus on those who have sought to deploy aspects of the Platonic tradition in a modern religious or spiritual context as an alternative to mechanistic worldviews or the reduction of divine presence to that of vestige.

Papers could also explore the traditional characterisations, tendencies and critiques of the Platonic tradition in relation to nature and ecology. This could incorporate characterisations of the tradition that consider it to be fundamentally environmentally friendly, offering an alternative to subject-centred epistemologies. It may also include criticisms of the tradition, particularly those concerning dualism and contemptus mundi, often characterised by extreme forms of asceticism or doctrines that devalue creation.

Finally, papers that explore the religious and spiritual dimensions of Platonism as a resource for the re-conceptualisation of nature are also encouraged in this edition. Such papers could explore contemporary instances of Platonic thought in any range of religious traditions or present-day thinkers. They could also include particular applications of the tradition to contemporary environmental challenges. Lastly, papers could also productively explore the possibilities of Platonism as a ground for interreligious and intercultural environmental dialogue.

Dr. Alexander J. B. Hampton
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • nature
  • environmental crisis
  • religion
  • spirituality
  • Platonism
  • realism
  • human/nonhuman relations
  • environmental ethics
  • environmental philosophy
  • metaphysics

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

18 pages, 275 KiB  
Article
The Great Web of Being: Environmental Ethics without Value Hierarchy
by Ryan Darr
Religions 2024, 15(5), 520; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15050520 - 23 Apr 2024
Viewed by 528
Abstract
Hierarchical views of the world such as the great chain of being have come under sustained critique in recent decades, and rightly so. They have justified not only the domination of non-human creatures but also the devaluation (via animalization/racialization) of many humans. The [...] Read more.
Hierarchical views of the world such as the great chain of being have come under sustained critique in recent decades, and rightly so. They have justified not only the domination of non-human creatures but also the devaluation (via animalization/racialization) of many humans. The rejection of hierarchy and the great chain of being, however, does not require the rejection of the Christian Platonic theological vision upon which hierarchy is often based. In this paper, I argue that Christian Platonic theology has always been in tension with the great chain of being and is better suited to a non-hierarchical view of creaturely value. I then develop the ethical implications of this view in dialogue with both environmental and animal ethics and anti-racist and decolonial scholarship. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
13 pages, 235 KiB  
Article
Christian Neoplatonism and Deep Incarnation: Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno as Inspirations for Contemporary Ecotheology
by Matthew Eaton
Religions 2024, 15(3), 374; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030374 - 21 Mar 2024
Viewed by 701
Abstract
In response to the specter of looming anthropogenic ecological catastrophe, many Christian thinkers have begun to rethink the God/world relationship and reimagine the ontic cleavage between divinity and creation. The idea of “deep incarnation”, which expands the scope of divine incarnation in an [...] Read more.
In response to the specter of looming anthropogenic ecological catastrophe, many Christian thinkers have begun to rethink the God/world relationship and reimagine the ontic cleavage between divinity and creation. The idea of “deep incarnation”, which expands the scope of divine incarnation in an attempt to draw God and creation into closer relation, is a prevalent framework for such reimagination. Two historic, underutilized thinkers that might help deep incarnation theologians expand their own theologies and make sense of the conceptual and ethical differences among them are Neo-Platonist philosopher–theologians Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno. Working within an ecofeminist framework, this article argues that while both Cusanus and Bruno provide significant philosophical grounds for contemporary ecotheologies of deep incarnation, a Brunist perspective is preferable because of its more expansive anthropology and its more inclusive understanding of divinity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
14 pages, 241 KiB  
Article
Goethe’s Platonic Natural Philosophy: How Goethean Science Provides an Alternative Conception of the Cosmos
by Seth P. Hart
Religions 2024, 15(3), 355; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030355 - 17 Mar 2024
Viewed by 768
Abstract
While popularly known for his works of literature and poetry, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe viewed his lesser-known scientific pieces as his most enduring achievement. I will argue that Goethe’s unique scientific methodology is informed by a metaphysical commitment to a form of Platonism [...] Read more.
While popularly known for his works of literature and poetry, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe viewed his lesser-known scientific pieces as his most enduring achievement. I will argue that Goethe’s unique scientific methodology is informed by a metaphysical commitment to a form of Platonism and that Goethe provides an intriguing alternative paradigm that unifies science, philosophy, theology, and ethics. I begin by demonstrating how Goethe’s concept of the Urphänomen offers a Platonic conception of natural beings. I then briefly outline how this alternative scientific approach ultimately derives from his Platonic commitments. Next, I demonstrate the ethical and spiritual implications of Goethean science, establishing that Goethe’s approach bridges the divide between our scientific endeavors and spiritual formation. There is, then, a continued relevance for Goethe in conversations regarding ecological ethics and our perception of nature. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
11 pages, 218 KiB  
Article
Theurgy, Paredroi, and Embodied Power in Neoplatonism and Late Antique Celestial Hierarchies
by Katarina Pejovic
Religions 2024, 15(3), 300; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030300 - 28 Feb 2024
Viewed by 1001
Abstract
This article will place the rituals of the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) for the acquisition of a supernatural assistant (paredros) into conversation with broader late antique debates surrounding the place of daimones within the celestial hierarchy. In considering the writings of Plotinus, Plutarch, [...] Read more.
This article will place the rituals of the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) for the acquisition of a supernatural assistant (paredros) into conversation with broader late antique debates surrounding the place of daimones within the celestial hierarchy. In considering the writings of Plotinus, Plutarch, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, it will survey points of contention surrounding questions of appropriate and inappropriate displays of ritual power, as facilitated by intermediary spirits who act as intercessors between humanity and the divine. Through analyzing the metaphysical underpinnings of the nature of the paredros, as variously articulated within the rituals for their conjuration within the Greek Magical Papyri, it will contextualize the aims of the ritualist against the backdrop of Iamblichus’ theurgy in pursuit of mastery of—and intimate, transcendent communion with—the fundamental numinous nature of the world. In doing so, this article argues that Iamblichus’ theurgy and the paredros rituals of the PGM ultimately grasp towards similar soteriological goals using different ritual methodologies; both seeking to elevate the incarnated body of the ritualist into a higher level of spiritual attainment through direct confrontation with the powers of nature. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
15 pages, 602 KiB  
Article
Environmental Ethics and the Cambridge Platonist Henry More
by Jonathan David Lyonhart
Religions 2024, 15(2), 157; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15020157 - 26 Jan 2024
Viewed by 1137
Abstract
Christian environmental ethics have always navigated the thin line between the Scylla of pantheism and the Charybdis of deism. On the one hand, removing God from the world avoids pantheism but can inadvertently render the divine a distant, absentee father who cares little [...] Read more.
Christian environmental ethics have always navigated the thin line between the Scylla of pantheism and the Charybdis of deism. On the one hand, removing God from the world avoids pantheism but can inadvertently render the divine a distant, absentee father who cares little about what we do with the environment. On the other hand, if we bring the Creator too close to creation, we may begin to blur the distinction between them, fringing on pantheism. While making nature divine might at first seem to heighten the environmental desecration of the earth by making it a literal de-sacralizing of the sacred, this may be only a surface-level reading (or, at least, only true of very carefully nuanced versions of pantheism). For the pantheist, God would not just be the trees but the machines that log them; God would not just be the polar bears but the carbon dioxide that is evicting them. God would be no more present in that which is desecrated than in that which does the desecration (e.g., God would be one with the pesticides, bulldozers, and factory smoke). By making God everything, it becomes difficult to call any person, act, legislation, or event godless. This paper offers Henry More’s view of divine space as a constructive, Platonic Christian middle way between these two extremes, charting a God who is spatially present to nature without being pantheistically reducible to it, in the same way that space is intimately close to the objects within it while nonetheless remaining distinct from them. The bulk of the paper counters potential opponents to this proposal, specifically defending Morean space from the charge that it would break down the Creator–creature distinction and/or cave to the environmental Scylla of pantheism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
20 pages, 320 KiB  
Article
Shakespeare’s Bookish Rulers: Philosophy and Nature Poetry in the Henry VI Trilogy and The Tempest
by Aviva Farkas
Religions 2023, 14(12), 1511; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14121511 - 7 Dec 2023
Viewed by 834
Abstract
Shakespeare’s early Henry VI trilogy and late The Tempest both feature reclusive, bookish rulers who are deposed because their rivals perceive an opportunity in the rulers’ trustingness and lack of interest in political affairs. Furthermore, the deposed rulers also share an interest in [...] Read more.
Shakespeare’s early Henry VI trilogy and late The Tempest both feature reclusive, bookish rulers who are deposed because their rivals perceive an opportunity in the rulers’ trustingness and lack of interest in political affairs. Furthermore, the deposed rulers also share an interest in Platonic philosophies of the Renaissance; they differ, however, in their respective preferences for particular Platonist authors and writings. Henry VI is devoted to Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy. While Prospero, the protagonist of The Tempest, may have focused on Boethius and similar authors when he was in Milan, by the time we meet him on his island, he prefers Neoplatonic magic, bequeathed to the Renaissance by Ficino. While the two stories are not often read together, I argue that doing so yields a fascinating contrast in the modes of existence dictated by different streams of Renaissance philosophical thought. While Henry VI’s credulity and Boethianism lead him to express a preference for a contemplative life and to adopt an attitude of extreme passivity and surrender, Prospero’s suspicion and powerful use of magic associate him with the active life. The ultimate expressions of Henry’s preference for the contemplative life and of Prospero’s association with the active life both involve nature poetry. Henry expresses yearning for the peaceful lifestyle of a shepherd in a pastoral lyric he delivers in 3 Henry VI, while Prospero celebrates human labor and achievement in a georgic masque which he produces. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Platonic Tradition, Nature Spirituality and the Environment)
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