Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Ecotheology 9.3 December 2004

'Nature', Post/Modernity and the Migration of the Sublime

Richard H. Roberts
Issued Date: 22 Feb 2007


The transformation and attrition of nature under conditions of modernization
has been represented as a conflict between ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature.
Beyond, as it were, the antithesis of the pre-modern and the modern, a
‘third nature’ of seemingly infinite malleability is associated (e.g.) with
cyborgs, virtual reality and genetic engineering under so-called postmodern
conditions. It is possible to relate these processes of disembedding and
progressive dissociation of ‘natures’ from a shared or received physical
world with what Max Weber characterized as the ‘disenchantment’ (Entzauberung)
of the natural world associated with modernization, and what
Zygmunt Bauman regards as the ‘re-enchantment’ of the cosmos under
postmodernizing conditions. Explicit re-sacralization of Nature as Gaia
and Goddess in ecological spiritualities is an extreme manifestation of the
latter tendency. In the contemporary recomposition of the religious field,
the sublime has migrated from its traditional and eroded strongholds of
trancendence and now occupies a wide and confusing range of interstitial
footholds. Yet, without a powerful, comprehensive and widely shared
ethical and religious reconfiguration of the claims of Nature, postmodern
spiritual bricolage may remain open to the charge that it is an elite indulgence
fraught with contradiction and grounded upon problematic assumptions.
Large-scale and fundamental religious and theological revisionism is
required within mainline religion (initially, above all in the Abrahamic
faiths), that is if we are to re-learn realistic modes of encounter with nature
within a human ecology that takes seriously into account the philosophical,
theological and sociological construals of ‘nature’ and the migration of
the sublime in the ‘postmodern condition’.

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DOI: 10.1558/ecotheology.v9i3.315


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