Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"Recreate, Replace, Restore: Exploring the Intersections between Meanings and Environments," Ohio Northern University, April 17-19, 2009.

The natural world has been “humanized”—even areas thought to be wilderness bear the marks of human impact. Given the long reach of human influence, environmental thought in the humanities and the sciences have sought to understand how we can limit, change, or reverse the more disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment. Preservation is not the sole or primary strategy; restoration, sustainable design, and other creative responses to place have become part of the debate. Further, both the sciences and the humanities have increasingly realized the interconnection between human accounts of meaning and the more-than-human world. Thus, reflections on the proper approaches to natural and built environments increasingly include investigations into contested religious, philosophical, and ethical meanings of the environments that surround us. The aim of this conference is to further the ongoing dialogue on religion, ethics, and the environment by exploring three interrelated concepts: to recreate, to replace, and to restore. The interdisciplinary dialogue hosted by the conference is meant to illuminate certain unique dimensions at the crossroads between finding value and reflecting on one’s place in the world. Each of these terms has diverse religious, ethical, and scientific connotations. Each converges on the ways in which humans both think about and act upon their surroundings. And each radically questions the damaging conceptual divisions between nature and culture, human and environment, and scientific explanation and religious/ethical understanding. Papers, discussions and keynotes will reflect on how one or more of these terms illuminates the intersection between questions of meaning and the environments in which we find ourselves. Recreate “Re-creation” is multivalent and complex. At the heart of this word is a term with important theological meanings—“creation.” In turn, creation leads to a host of other associations: the concept of a divine creator, the power of creativity, homo faber, and the cosmic creation myths. In an ecological context, to recreate can suggest innovative, novel approaches to scientific phenomena, both in theoretical and applied ecology. These, in turn, allow us to better understand the diversity of ecological processes and the role humans play within. But recreation in these cases also quickly leads to religious narratives of destruction and annihilation. A creator must “wipe the slate clean” in order to recreate. Scientists must challenge and question existing technologies, models and paradigms to innovate. Replace Regarding the term "replace", this might refer to adding new knowledge into our pedagogies and practices. In the sciences, the more we understand, the more important it is for biologists to incorporate this knowledge into practice. But the term also highlights the spatial dimensions of nature as seen by its etymological rootedness in “place.” The OED tells us that “to replace” returns us to an earlier place, or take the place of something else. For philosophical and religious thought on nature, this might mean to return to earlier settings and places, or to overcome the ways in which we dwell in place. Further, to replace evokes issues of sustainability and consumption in light of current economic debates and practices. Restore At the intersection of the humanities and the sciences, the concept of “restoration” holds a diversity of meanings. For example, for ecology and policy studies, “to restore” evokes our need to implement scientific knowledge in restoring areas to self-sustainable, diverse landscapes, communities, and ecosystems. To restore a place or landscape includes a desire to minimize our "footprint" upon the Earth. But restoration also means that we must understand the history and temporality of nature, for it conjures up thoughts of returning to a primeval or primitive state. Paralleling such philosophical and scientific questions, some of the connotations of restoration highlight cosmic meaning and anthropology. The ideal of many religions is to restore nature and the human to some ideal state, such as a union with God, an original perfection, or a pre-existent cosmic order. Conference website:

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