Religions of the World and Ecology home

Diane Bell holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the Australian National University. In 1981 she worked for the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority in Darwin and in 1982 launched into private practice as a consulting anthropologist. From 1983 to 1986, as a Research Fellow at the ANU, she worked on interdisciplinary projects. She spent two and a half years as the Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University before moving to the United States in 1989 to take up her current position as the Henry R. Luce Professor of Religion, Economic Development, and Social Justice at the College of Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass. Her books include Law: The Old and the New with Pam Ditton; Generations: Grandmother, Mothers, and Daughters; and Daughters of the Dreaming. In the 1990s she has been active in legal cases involving Ngarrindjeri sacred sites.


Abstract of paper given at Indigenous Traditions and Ecology conference:
Environmental Dreamings: Of Religion, Romance, Reconciliation and Resource

In the religious philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, the land was given form and meaning through the activities of the ancestral heroes in the creative era known as "The Dreamtime." Through story, song, dance, and painting, knowledge of the law established by the ancestors is passed from generation to generation. It is the responsibility of the living to re-enact the travels of the Dreamings in ceremonial contexts and to honor their heritage in daily practice. Relations of kin and country, person and place structure belief and practice. The environmental movement has looked to this integrated world view for inspiration and stood with Aborigines when then sacred sites were endangered. Resource developers have accused Aborigines of standing in the way of progress and their supporters of romancing a traditional life that was no environmental dream. Since the 1970s Australian parliaments have legislated to recognize aspects of Aboriginal relationships to land as fundamental and to protect sacred sites as part of the heritage of the nation. In the late 1990s much of this path breaking legislation is being reviewed. What constitutes tradition and its value in the modern world had been hotly contested. The "Reconciliation Council" has sought to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. What is to be learned from Indigenous Australians' relations with land? How realistic is talk of recognizing traditional relations to land? What sort of resource is Aboriginal religion in a resource rich country?

Back to:

Indigenous Traditions and Ecology conference participants