Human Beings as a Part of the 'Flesh of the World': Philosophico-Theological Foundations for a Dialogue between Progressive Protestantism and Animism

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The present essay is a reflection on philosophical and theological foundations for, and interpretation of, a neglected intercultural dialogue between Protestant Christianity and Animism/Shamanism. David Abram in his book The Spell of the Sensous (1997) develops an ecologically-minded defense of animism on the basis of Heidegger's and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology. In his ecological critique of Christianity, Abram makes a case that Christianity has robbed nature of her sacredness and spiritual relevancy, and confined spirituality within the social space of the Church and a narrowly defined orthodox doctrine. Such spirituality entails a flight from our mortal, bodily nature which is intextricable from the rest of nature, claims Abram, and argues that Western destructivity towards the environment and non-human animals is a consequence of the Christian fixation on the written word of its founding text, anthropocentric view of spirituality, and Platonist reification of ideas set in a vertical opposition to the less valued, material/sensual world. While conceding that contemporary Christianity can not but acknowledge the validity of some of the central points of this ecophenomenological critique, there are powerful resources in Christian tradition that can rise to the challenge. One such is Friedrich Schleiermacher's philosophy of 'religious feelings', which I interpret in conversation with Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. Schleiermacher argues that the common feature of religious feelings is a fact that in them, human beings can experience a communion with the universe, or with 'all' – either through/with their social or natural environment. A healthy faith in God is related, for Schleiermacher, to such deep, phenomenologically non-intentional aspects of being-in-the-world. Despite great theological and cultural differences between Christianity and animism, a progressive-Protestant understanding of Christian spirituality shares with animism at least one important wisdom: it is ethically and religiously/spiritually significant that we humans are related to our environment on a depth-phenomenological level.
Translated title of the contributionHuman Beings as a Part of the 'Flesh of the World': Philosophico-Theological Foundations for a Dialogue between Progressive Protestantism and Animism
Original languageOther
Title of host publicationSožitje med kulturami
Subtitle of host publicationpoti do medkulturnega dialoga : zbornik prispevkov iz [sic] Simpozija Sožitje med kulturami - poti do medkulturnega dialoga, Maribor, 20. maj 2010
EditorsMaja Lamberger Khatib
Place of PublicationMaribor
ISBN (Print)9789616817462
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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