International conference at IU Bloomington to explore 'Wonder and the Natural World'

  • May 3, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society at Indiana University will wrap up its two-year examination of the theme “Wonder and the Natural World” with a June 2016 international conference featuring scholars, artists, scientists and others.

Cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram, an accomplished storyteller and sleight-of-hand magician who has lived and traded magic with indigenous sorcerers in Indonesia, Nepal and the Americas, will be the keynote presenter.

The “Wonder and the Natural World” conference will take place June 20 to 23 at the Indiana Memorial Union on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. It is open to the public with paid registration, which is available online.

“The conference is a fitting culmination of the consortium’s two-year theme and its mission to foster interdisciplinary work on timely issues at the intersection of religion, ethics and society,” said Lisa Sideris, director of the consortium and associate professor of religious studies at IU Bloomington.

“At a time when nature is headline news -- often in ways that seem unprecedented or alarming -- wonder remains vital because it is a uniquely complex response, drawing on cognitive, sensory, emotional, spiritual, ethical and aesthetic dimensions of our relationship to nature. All these dimensions are critically important for reflecting on what it means to be human and how we ought to live on this planet.”

Abram, the keynote presenter for the June 2016 conference, is the author of “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology” and “The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World.” He lectures and teaches widely on several continents, and his essays on the cultural causes and consequences of ecological disarray have appeared in such journals as Orion, Parabola, Environmental Ethics and Tikkun.

Additional speakers include:

  • Whitney Bauman, associate professor of religious studies at Florida International University. His teaching and research interests fall within the broad field of religion and ecology.
  • Brendon Larson, a scholar who explores how conservation-minded people are adapting to ecological changes. He is the author of “Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability: Redefining Our Relationship With Nature” and over 60 journal articles and book chapters.
  • Judy Natal, a Chicago-based artist and professor whose photographs explore the visual narratives of landscapes and their alterations. She is the author of “EarthWords” and “Neon Boneyard.”
  • Michael Northcott, professor in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. His teaching and research are in Christian ethics, ecology and religious ethics, and ethics and the economy.
  • Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor and chair of religion at Wesleyan University. She is the author of “Strange Wonder: The Closing of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe” and “Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.”
  • Sarah Pike, professor of religious studies at California State University, Chico. Her research focuses on ritual studies and new religious movements, and she has written about such topics as the New Age movement and the Burning Man festival.
  • Scott Russell Sanders, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University Bloomington and the author of 20 books of fiction and nonfiction. His writing examines the human place in nature, the pursuit of social justice, the relationship between culture and geography, and the search for a spiritual path.
  • Bronislaw Szerszynski, a reader in sociology at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom and its Centre for the Study of Environmental Change. His research concerns developing new understandings of the changing relations between humans, environment and technology.
  • Gretel Van Wieren, an assistant professor of religious studies at Michigan State University whose courses focus on religion, ethics and the environment. She is the author of “Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics and Ecological Restoration.”

The Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society is an interdisciplinary association of scholars, academic programs and research centers from the eight Indiana University campuses. Drawing on the university’s extensive strengths in religious studies and ethics, it seeks to develop research to better understand religion, ethics, values and spirituality in society.

The consortium launched in 2013 and, the following year, it began a two-year thematic initiative focused on “Wonder and the Natural World.” The project has produced two rounds of faculty research grants and a May 2015 symposium at which grantees and invited guests presented works-in-progress.

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Steve Hinnefeld