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Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy and the Environment.

Not so many years ago, while browsing publishers' book exhibits at a Catholic gathering, "geologian" Thomas Berry -- a Passionist priest whose ecological counsel is sought by both presidents and prelates -- bemoaned the paucity of books from Catholic houses dealing with environmental degradation. Though such a lack of serious and sustained Catholic publications continues, these four edited collections suggest that this situation is beginning to change.

With its "Ecology and Justice" series, Orbis Books has made a welcome commitment to eradicating such gaps by exploring the religious and social aspects of environmental concerns. Series editors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim, a husband-and-wife team teaching at Bucknell University, have brought together a bright constellation of key religious and philosophical authors in the area of the environment in Worldviews and Ecology (originally published as an issue of the Bucknell Review).

Leading spokespersons for various ecological perspectives rub shoulders, as it were, in this eclectic volume, which includes contributions from George Sessions (deep ecology), J. Barid Callicott and Larry L. Rassmussen (ethics) and Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme (new cosmology).

The operating principle of the volume is that no single religious or philosophical perspective holds the panacea to our ecological ills. Just as we need biodiversity to sustain the life systems of the planet, so, too, the premise argues, do we need religious and "worldview" diversity.

Hence, Native American perspectives are added to those of various world religions, including Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Baha'i, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. The result is a provocative smorgasbord, underscoring the major cultural and philosophical shifts that must occur if we are to bequeath sustainability to future generations.

The so-called ecological "crisis," however, calls for more than a change in worldviews. It demands serious economic and political change as well, changes that crisscross the fault lines of global economic disparity.

Editor David Hallman, a United Church of Canada program officer for energy and environment, offers a wonderful introduction, situating the state of the ecology/social justice debate, and the church's approach to the discourse. Indeed, the call to integrate social, political, economic, religious, cultural and ecological concerns is the recurring theme of the volume.

While many of these articles appear elsewhere, and several are too abbreviated or disjointed to be truly enlivening, contributions such as those by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff on social ecology and K.C. Abraham of India on the "growth" economic model give a forceful and distinctive edge to this volume, challenging those interested in saving the planet to pay equal heed to systems of institutionalized poverty.

Revealing much less concern for the social dimensions of our environmental situation, Embracing Earth strives to articulate a distinctively Catholic approach to these concerns. Editors Albert LaChance and John Carroll of the University of New Hampshire have cast a drift net across the Catholic tradition, catching some useful treasures.

Richard Rohr's piece on St. Francis, Terence Kardong's reflections on St. Benedict, and William Wood's musings on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are written through a green lens, as it were, helping us discern ecologically sensitive and sustaining visions within the Catholic spiritual heritage.

Reflections on current issues, such as Albert Firtsch's article on appropriate technology based on his environmental work in Appalachia and David Toolan's forthright look at overpopulation, are refreshing additions to this volume, which leave one yearning for a solid, comprehensive Catholic reader on the environment.

In The Ecological Challenge, a more scholarly Catholic focus on the environment is presented. Yet, like Embracing Earth, this, too, is in part a project of retrieval within the tradition. Thomas Nairn supplies a limpid elucidation of Catholic social teaching and its anthropocentrism, highlighting its limitations and promise for ecological guidance. John Pawlikowski draws a penetrating portrait of human agency in light of our ecological dilemmas. The lively and unique contribution of this volume, however, is its liturgical section, which calls for an ecological consciousness in prayer and critiques the radical decontextualization of the host from its social and agricultural origins.

Coeditor Richard Fragomeni, for example, assistant professor of liturgy and homiletics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, notes how in May 1984, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy published its first original eucharistic prayer text. Incorporating evolutionary understandings of creation and accenting the human role of stewardship, the text was rejected by the U.S. bishops' conference in 1987, for, to some, it raised questions of doctrinal fidelity.

Today, it lies dormant, a faded memory. For the editors of this volume, it is such texts that have to be revivified within our liturgy if our ecological practice is ever going to be nurtured by our communal prayer.

These volumes help establish a presence in Catholic publishers' booths today, and we await their "green" but seasoned reinforcements.
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Author:Scharper, Stephen B.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 25, 1995
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