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Reviewed by:
  • Conceiving an Alternative: Philosophical Resources for an Ecological Civilization ed. by Demian Wheeler and David E. Conner
  • Mary L. Keller
Conceiving an Alternative: Philosophical Resources for an Ecological Civilization. Demian Wheeler and David E. Conner, editors. Anoka, MN: Process Century Press, 2019. 328 pp. $18.00 paperback.

It is with sincere appreciation that I commend this edited collection to readers of the AJTP. The collection meets the task of promoting lively discussion that addresses the interface between theology and philosophy, especially as shaped by empiricist, naturalist, process, and pragmatist traditions. As the most recent volume in the series Toward Ecological Civilization, it delivers papers from the Tenth International Whitehead Conference and Ninth International Forum on Ecological Civilization, held in Claremont, California, June 2015, thereby delivering on a second focus for the AJTP: the development of liberal religious thought in America.

The authors gathered in this collection take seriously the earnest and applied call written in the series preface by John B. Cobb: "We live in the ending of an age…. The amazing achievements of modernity make it possible, even likely, that its end will also be the end of civilization, of many species, or even of the human species. At the same time, we are living in an age of new beginnings that give promise of an ecological civilization" (n.p.). This is serious business, and all the authors deliver their evaluation of the strengths and limitations of Whitehead's work as a potential foundation upon which an ecological civilization might develop with thought, friendships, joys, aesthetics, and work appropriate to the radical transformations required of human societies at scale. The book was published before the pandemic, and it was at times excruciating to read the integrity of argument found in the chapters regarding the value of understanding how deeply interconnected are the matters and energies of the earth. We are living through a crisis in which a microbe, of all actual events at play in globalization, has given many of the earth's biospheres a pause in which air has been cleaner, water has run clearer, and wildlife has been noticed in quieted soundscapes.

The collection offers an introduction and is divided into four parts: part 1, "Alfred North Whitehead and the Western Philosophical Tradition"; part 2, "Varieties of Process Thought"; part 3, "Emergence, Panpsychism, and Deep Ecology"; and part 4, "Whiteheadianism, Naturalism, and the Wisdom of an Ecological Civilization." The quality of writing is very high, and if I taught a course on Whitehead or process thought, this volume would be my penultimate reading selection so that my students might find themselves in the middle of a rigorous and compelling discussion, and sometimes argument, regarding such [End Page 196] major issues as whether or not Whitehead proposed a kind of panpsychism. While students might be expected to have mastered the key concepts of Process and Reality, for example, in an introduction to Whitehead, by the time they were done with this collection, their agility to consider Whitehead against historical antecedents would have been tested regarding Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, and Lucretius, as well as Bergson, key writers of the empirical and pragmatic traditions, and twentieth-century deep ecology scholarship. I was genuinely moved to consider almost every angle of philosophy of religion, including semiotics, mathematical logic, pantheism and panentheism, causality, agency, the meaning of pattern for a theory of emergence, and the ethical ramifications of reorienting humans toward divine immanence in the natural world.

It is beyond the scope of this review to highlight the strengths of individual chapters, but of particular relevance are arguments regarding teleology and novelty that raise the most pressing kinds of questions in our day when radical orthodoxy and intelligent design compete to make sense of the patterns and complexity of this dynamic planet. Upper-level undergraduates and graduate students who work at the interface of philosophy and theology, addressing issues of climate change as a force accelerator in their world (witnessed so recently in the pandemic), would be well served to read this collection. So also would a person be well served and quite satisfied who wanted to refresh themselves on the arguments, strengths, and problems of Whiteheadian foundations of religious...


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