Religions of the World and Ecology home


E. N. Anderson received his B.A. from Harvard College, 1962, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, 1967. He has been teaching at the University of California, Riverside from 1966 to the present. His major works include The Food of China (Yale University Press, 1988); Ecologies of the Heart (Oxford University Press, 1996). His professional focus is on cultural ecology and ethnobiology. His principal areas of field work have been Hong Kong (1965-66 and 1974-75), Malaysia and Singapore (1970-71), British Columbia (1984-85), Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico (1991, 1996).


Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference
Flowering Apricot: Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism

Daoism is closely related to the wider complex of belief that makes up Chinese traditional religion. During field work on cultural ecology in Hong Kong a generation ago, I was able to observe the relationship between practice and belief in environmental management. Pragmatic management of land, water, plant and animal resources was typically represented in spiritual or (broadly) "religious" terms. Feng-shui, sacred trees, guardian spirits of the locality, and village festival cycles were inseparably connected to the ordinary practice of cultivation and resource management. Discourse on landscape often took a religious form, while having an empirical content. Also, sanctions that an outsider might call "supernatural" were typically invoked to convince individuals to act in a conservationist manner--i.e., for a long-term, widely extended benefit as opposed to a short-term, narrow one. The traditional farmers and fishers did not see this as using "religious" sanctions to enforce "materialistic" behavior. They did not see those realms as separate. In fact, they did not have categories equivalent to "religion" or "supernatural." They saw the world as a single process--a play of cosmic forces, in which deities, good and evil influences, dragons, and channels of qi were as real and immanent as winds, storms, trees, and rocks.

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