Participation in Nature
A Metaphysics of Ecology
Under contract with Cambridge University Press, this book should be completed in mid 2022.
Our continuing environmental crisis has made us ever more aware of how our social and cultural context determines our relationship with nature. Both the sources of our present-day problems, and the solutions to overcoming them lay in the complex story of how the human-nature relationship has been constructed.
This book explores the history of the concept of participation, a fundamental idea in the history of Christianity, and a way of conceptualising the relationship between particular and universal, immanent and transcendent, created and creator. As such, participation has played a fundamental role in shaping the human-nature story. In its broadest sense, participation describes how all things come from God as creator and continue to participate in the divine through God's continuous act of creation. The metaphysics of participation had its origins in antiquity, flourished in the middle ages, and has continued to shape ecological thought up to the present day. It has been present in philosophy, theology, aesthetics, the natural sciences, myriad folk beliefs and combinations of all of these.
At times the concept of participation has shaped the collective conscience of Western civilisation towards nature, and at others it has been a resource for the sharpest critics of our anthropogenic destruction of the planet. In its ascendency, the metaphysics of participation presented a sacramental view of the cosmos, alive with divine presence, an understanding of creation as the unfolding of the divine mind, and a way of understanding the unique position of humans within, but not above, nature. Following its modern eclipse, it has remained a creative resource for those who have sought to resist an increasingly anthropocentric, disenchanted, commodified and instrumentalised view of nature.
By engaging with a series of key figures and developments, this book tells the story of how participation has shaped our understanding of nature and the place of humans within it for two thousand years, and how it may still have its greatest role to play in disrupting our present-day anthropocentric social imaginary.