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  • Religion and Ecological Sustainability in China by James Miller, Dan Smyer Yu and Peter van der Veer
  • Ambika Aiyadurai
James Miller, Dan Smyer Yu, and Peter van der Veer, Religion and Ecological Sustainability in China. London and New York: Routledge, 2014. xxi, 247 pp. US $160 (hb). ISBN 978-0-415-85515-0 (hb), 978-1-138-07928-1 (pb)

This book provides trans-disciplinary perspectives on world religions and ecology. It comes out at a time of ongoing ecological crisis and imbalance that has caused a sense of urgency regarding the environmental changes and their impact on human and non-human beings. This is an edited volume with two sections dedicated to the themes of "Ecology and the Classics" and "Imagining Nature in Modernity." The book sheds light on how to think about nature in an ecologically sustainable way and asks whether engaging with religious traditions and alternate worldviews holds answers to contemporary China's future. Drawing largely on Tucker and Grimm's exemplary scholarship on religion and ecology, the authors of this volume connect together work on the global consciousness and ecological wisdom found in world religions and in indigenous eco-spiritual traditions.

The first section of the volume ("Ecology and the Classics") investigates Chinese views and practices towards the natural world from a textual perspective. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grimm's chapter, titled "Ecology and the Classics," suggests that Chinese texts might be read as ecological classics because "they offer insight into views of nature and the cosmos in China as well as perspectives on human-earth relations," and "ecological crisis is also a crisis of culture and the human spirit" (p. 19). This is followed by Deborah [End Page 230] Sommer's chapter "Conceptualizations of Earth and Land in Classical Chinese Texts," where she explores the divergent views about earth and land found in pre-Han texts. She tells us that in earlier texts (for example, the Analects 論語 and the Mencius 孟子), earth is not perceived as a particularly important phenomenon, but in later texts (such as the Xunzi 荀子 and the Daodejing 道德經), earth is understood as an important cosmic power.

A close reading of the Yijing 易經 is presented by Joseph Adler in his chapter "The Great Virtue of Heaven and Earth: Deep Ecology in the Yijing," which is based on the premise that "human beings and the natural world share a common nature" and therefore, there is a meaningful connection of human interests and human creativity and natural process of change (p. 48). At the core of Yijing cosmology is the idea that communion of humans and natural world makes possible the "ultimate fulfilment and self-realization of both human beings and the natural world" (p. 66).

Along these lines of interconnectivity between humans and nature, an interesting analysis and rereading of Confucian and Daoist classics as "soft-hearted" and "hardhearted" ecologies is undertaken in Chen Xia and Peng Guoxiang's chapter, "'HardHearted' and 'Soft-Hearted, Ecologies: A Rereading of Daoist and Confucian Classics," to which Miller appends a response. The central position of humans within the cosmos is at the core of the distinction between these two viewpoints. The Confucian one-body ecological vision places human beings at the centre, not as conquerors of nature but of the heart/mind of the cosmos as a living body. Miller observes that Daoists are "mistrustful of the central place afforded to the human heart in the Confucian view of human engagement with the natural world" (p. 82). It is interesting to note that the subsequent chapters on Chinese conceptions of nature, ecology, and religion show that co-existence of such divergent views is possible.

James Miller's chapter "Gods and Nature in Highest Clarity Daoism" shows how the Way of Highest Clarity (Shangqing dao 上清道) that flourished for a thousand years was absorbed into the mainstream Daoist traditions and continues till today in the form of practices. This tradition synthesizes a variety of elements of conceptions of nature and divinity from the medieval Daoists religious movements. The interlinkage of heavens, the earth, and human bodies, which he calls a "transgressive ecospirituality" (p. 93) is a concept that could be...


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