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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Selective Appropriations in Environmental Scholarship: Problems and Possibilities

Selva J. Raj, Bindu Madhok.

In the late 1960s Lynn White issued a call to reject the anthropocentric vision of Judeo-Christian traditions and embrace the biocentric worldview of Asian and indigenous traditions in order to develop a global environmental ethic. Since then many Western scholars have made sustained and concerted efforts to discover and integrate into environmental discourse the ecological insights, values, and practices of Eastern philosophical and religious traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Such initiatives, they believe, would help construct a global ecological worldview and an eco-friendly environmental ethic. Though laudable, these initiatives have their attendant problems and possibilities. The selective appropriation of the Vedantic philosophy into deep ecology, for example, or the development of categories like “eco-karma” and “ecological vow of Bodhisattva” currently gaining currency in Western academic literature reveals the selective-appropriations approach employed in contemporary Western environmental discourse. Such discourse, we submit, simultaneously exalts and subordinates Eastern philosophical-religious worldviews and traditions. Taking the religious beliefs, values, and practices of the Santal tribal tradition in India as a case-study, our paper explores the theoretical issues and methodological problems and possibilities intrinsic to such an approach.


Selva J. Raj  (United States)
Chair & Stanley S. Kresge Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Department of Religious Studies
Albion College

Selva J. Raj, who received his Ph.D. in History of Religions from the University of Chicago in 1994, is chair and Stanley S. Kresge Associate professor of Religious Studies at Albion College, Michigan, USA. His research interests are popular Catholicism, ritual exchange between Hindus and Catholics, and Indian Christian diaspora. His is a co-editor of 'Popular Christianity in India: Riting Between the Lines' and author of several articles on Indian popular Christianity. Currently he is co-editing a volume on religious vows in South Asian religious traditions.

Bindu Madhok  (United States)
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
Albion College

Bindu Madhok is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Albion College, Albion, Michigan, USA. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Brown University in 1991. Her teaching and research areas are in meta-ethics, normative ethics, and the applications of ethical theory to medicine, neuroscience, the environment, and public policy, as well as in comparative eastern and western philosophies. She has recently published articles in journals such as the Journal of Philosophical Research and the International Journal of Applied Philosophy.

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Santal tribal tradition.
  • Deep ecology
  • Bhagavad Gita

(30 min Conference Paper, English)