Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Diana Fritz Cates
This dissertation describes a method for constructing a religious environmental ethic modeled on the spiritual practice of lectio divina, or devotional reading. Lectio divina is an explicitly religious way of reading, distinguished from other modes of reading not by what is read--even sacred scriptures can be read for mastery of content, for entertainment, etc.--but by how it is read. In lectio divina, the reader engages the text with a willingness to be transformed by an encounter with the sacred, mediated somehow by the text. This vulnerability is inherent in a religious reading, as is the intimacy implicit in the repeated engagement with the text that is central to the practice of lectio divina. The emphasis on vulnerability and intimacy marks this religious approach to environmental ethics as a form of virtue ethics.
Consistent with the traditional insight conveyed by the two-books metaphor, whereby Christians believed God was revealed both in the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature, I map the classic stages of lectio divina onto a reading not of scripture but of the natural world. Paying attention requires careful observation, the naming and description of relevant details, and awareness and articulation of emotional responses as one repeatedly visits natural settings. Pondering requires a willingness to enter deeply into the religious, scientific, and other sources that help us understand the natural world and our place within it, as well as a willingness to reflect critically upon those sources. Responding calls upon readers of nature to take definite actions that flow out of the previous stages of paying attention and pondering, utilizing knowledge born of familiarity to address environmental challenges while also protecting natural settings in which the unnamable sacred can be encountered. Surrendering involves acknowledging human limits of understanding, will, and action, and nonetheless finding rest and restoration by trusting in some force beyond the merely human. I illustrate this argument with interpretations of literary works by Terry Tempest Williams, thereby asserting the relevance of religiosity to human transformation and to efforts to imaginatively embody human-land relationships that further human and ecological flourishing.
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Copyright 2010 Nancy Lee Menning
Menning, Nancy Lee. "Reading nature religiously: Lectio Divina, environmental ethics, and the literary nonfiction of Terry Tempest Williams." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.