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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Postmodern Religion in the New World Order: An Ethics of Relationality in Contemporary Models of Religious Naturalism

Carol White, Saundra Morris.

In the late twentieth century, various developments in postmodern science and philosophy have questioned the efficacy of the mechanistic worldview, the idea of Enlightenment progress, and the ethics of unrestrained development as a means of dominating nature in all its forms. In this paper, I engage with these postmodern critiques as I consider fuller, alternative constructions of nature within contemporary philosophical and religious contexts. In so doing, I propose a model of postmodern religious naturalism that addresses gender, sexual, and racial biases in modern constructions of nature. This postmodern naturalism asserts that humans are relational processes of nature; in short, we are nature made aware of itself. I believe this truth claim about the relationality of nature compels us to enact certain forms of relationality among ourselves and with all other natural processes. While challenging a tradition of morally disengaged "scientific" discourse on nature, I argue that new constructions of nature resist the dominating tendencies implicit in modern scientific materialism, philosophic dualism, and theological idealism from which our inherited discourses on nature are derived. Insights from process thought, feminist critiques of biological science, and poststructuralist epistemological sensibilities inform my articulation of postmodern religious naturalism

With this particular formulation of postmodern religious naturalism, I seek to balance a theoretical rejection of essentialism, objectivism, and universalism with a moral and political-cultural commitment to non-oppressive, democratic, and pluralistic values. I also raise crucial questions for consideration:

1. What further philosophic and religious developments of
the concept of nature might be possible? How do we make them
productive in humanistic discourses that address the latent texture
of scientific dogma (constructed as objectivity) that still influences
some of our views of nature?

2. What kind of ethical or religious reflections regarding possibilities
of human action would emerge from expanded views of
nature in the present, and in the future?

3. How might we evaluate distinct approaches to the concept of
nature that honor (in a host of ways) the subjectivity of nature?

4. What can religious thought learn from and offer to other anti-metaphysical
discourses in the contemporary West that purport to create new models of
relationality and cultural practices that do not depend on asymmetrical and unjust
power relations?

In attempting to answer these questions, I discuss the character of postmodern religious valuing, its import, and its distinctive role in contemporary humanistic (yet non-anthropocentric) discourse. I also show that postmodern religious valuing contributes to ongoing debates in the shift from modernist to postmodernist cultural sensibilities, and that religious thinking is both credible and important in a "post" age characterized by epistemological uncertainties, moral ambiguities, and cultural pluralism. As an interdisciplinary study, this paper places religious thought at the heart of debates concerning new directions in the humanities, and it offers an expanded model of religious valuing in the West.


Carol White  (United States)
Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion
Religion Department
Bucknell University

Carol Wayne White is associate professor of Philosophy of Religion at Bucknell University.

She has written numerous articles and the book, Poststructuralism, Feminism, and Religion: Triangulating Positions: Prof. White has received national awards and fellowships, including 1999-2001 Oxford Summer Fellowships in Religion and Science, a 1998 Science and Religion Course Award Program Development Grant (The John Templeton Foundation) and a 1997 NEH Fellowship, "Dialectical of Enlightenment: 50 Years Later."Boston University, Boston, MA. She also received a fellowship appointment at the Women Studies Research Center associated with the 5 College Consortium (Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, and UMass/Amherst). She is currently working on a book addressing the philosophical views of a 17th century philosopher, Anne Conway.

Prof. White’s areas of teaching competence include Philosophy of Religion; Contemporary Religious Thought; Contemporary Constructive Theologies (Postmodern, Hermeneutical, Feminist, Process and Liberation); French Poststructuralist Philosophies; Philosophical Hermeneutics; Science and Religion.

Saundra Morris  (United States)
Associate Professor of English
Senior Fellow Social Justice College
Bucknell University

Saundra Morris is Associate Professor of English and Senior Fellow of the Social Justice College at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

She is co-editor (with Joel Porte, Cornell University) of the Norton Critical Edition Emerson’s Prose and Poetry (2001) and The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1999), and has published essays for these and other publications. She has also held an appointment as the Stanley J. Kahrl Visiting Fellow in Literary Manuscripts at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. She is currently working on a book on Emerson’s poetry.

Professor Morris’s areas of teaching specialization include American Romanticism, American poetry, theories of poetics, and social justice (race, class, gender, and sexual orientation).

  • Postmodern Religious Naturalism
  • Relationality of Nature
  • Alternative Constructions of Nature
  • Religious Valuing
  • Feminist Critiques of Science
  • Ethical Reflections on Nature

(30 min Conference Paper, English)