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Identity and Otherness—Part 2


Falk promotes two ways of taking suffering seriously in cross-cultural discourse, concentrating respectively on the what and the who—that is, first, positioning the issue of intolerable suffering (what it means) at the heart of the dialogue, but, even more critically, empowering suffering peoples (those who claim to be oppressed) to participate directly in that dialogue and entrusting them “with a critical role as agents of their own liberation.”31 In the final analysis, Falk seems to argue, to pursue the full logic of An-Na’im’s dialogic project compels us to push toward the extending and deepening of the principle of democracy, a democracy that is eminently respectful of difference and dissent. That, I would conjecture, is the import of Falk’s affirmation that “We must make full use of our ingenuity and democratic opportunities to discuss what is intolerable, trusting in freedom of communication to be itself clarifying and hence liberating. As such, human rights, cultural renewal, and participatory democracy are implicated, for better or worse, in a common destiny.”32

A similar logic, I mean to suggest, underlies the strategy of the Earth Charter Movement. The global dialogue that it has engendered may be seen, from a more churlish angle, as but a means to garner votes for its cause. But, I would prefer to think that the dialogic method of proceeding has been adopted as itself instantiating, at least in an elemental way, the kinds of principles it intends to promulgate. A dialogue, in this more generous interpretation, is a form of interaction through which participants enter deeply into the lives of each other as a result of which, even during moments of vigorous dissent and encounter, the lives of each and all are enriched. Moreover, the very possibility of dialogue in this sense rests on an assumption that, whatever our differences and however much we may stand in opposition to each other, we are already and have always been members of each other and find our fulfillment only in and through forms of creative intercommunication.

In the process of creative intercommunication, relativity and universality are not antithetical postures. The doctrine of relativity means that each concrete circumstance has its own unique character and contains its own unique kind of goodness. But the doctrine of universality implies our interrelatedness and would have us reckon how our own goodness might be conjoined with and contribute to others in the ongoing adventure of life in which we are all participants. That is the point, if I understand aright, of the principles, the procedure, and the purpose of the Earth Charter Movement. Given the current state of affairs throughout the world—a state of affairs rampant with structures of alienation and annihilation—it is a point in desperate need of vigorous affirmation in both theory and practice. The Earth Charter Movement, in sum, is calling us back to ourselves and that, I am bold to declare, is the theological significance of this movement.

Endnotes

* On June 4, 1999, Steven Rockefeller was given an honorary doctorate by Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago, acknowledging his extensive work over the past several years on the drafting of the Earth Charter. In connection with that event, the Meadville/Lombard Theologicaal School and the University of Chicago Divinity School together sponsored a day long conference, “Theology and World Ethics: A Symposium on the Theology of the Earth Charter.” The lecture, “Identity and Alterity: Summons to a New Axial Age,” by Douglas Sturm, constituted the centerpiece of that symposium.
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1 Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1953), originally published in German 1949.
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2 Ewert Cousins, “Three Symbols for the Second Axial Period,” in Local Knowledge, Ancient Wisdom: Challenges in Contemporary Spirituality, ed. Steven Friesen (Honolulu, Hawaii: East-West Center, 1991) 23.
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3 Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?,” in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 17 (emphasis in original).
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4 Ibid., 20.
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5 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1969). Original copyright, German edition, 1944.
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6 Cornel West, Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (New York: Routledge, 1993) 132–33.
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7 Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990) 44–45.
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8 Carol Gould, Rethinking Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 105.
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9 Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation: A New Paradigm, trans. John Cumming (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1995) 126–27.
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10 Peter Miller, “Value as Richness: Toward a Value Theory for an Expanded Naturalism in Environmental Ethics,” Environmental Ethics 4 (Summer 1982): 101–114.
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11 David Griffith, “Whitehead’s Deeply Ecological Worldview,” in Worldviews and Ecology, eds. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1994) 198.
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12 The ecojustice movement has been instantiated in diverse forms, theoretical and practical, over the course of the past thirty years. Peter W. Bakken, Joan Gibb Engel, and J. Ronald Engel trace its manifestations in the Christian community in a highly informative and systematic format in “Critical Survey: The Struggle to Integrate Ecology, Justice, and Christian Faith” in their text, Ecology, Justice, and Christian Faith: A Critical Guide to the Literature (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995) 3–38. Robert Gottlieb, contrasting the principles and strategies of mainstream environmental associations (e.g., the so-called Big Ten) with “alternative movements,” argues that the concept of eco-justice is more characteristic of the latter than the former in Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1993). Jim Schwab, in Deeper Shades of Green: The Rise of Blue-Collar and Minority Environmentalism in America (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Books, 1994), demonstrates, through a series of eight case studies, how local grassroots environmental groups and coalitions have tended to represent a more radical principle of eco-justice than mainline environmentalism. He calls particular attention to the “Principles of Environmental Justice” adopted in October 1991 by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in Washington D.C. (see esp. 441–43). I am indebted to Dieter Hessel and J. Ronald Engel for insisting that the Earth Charter Movement must be interpreted as, in some sense, an outgrowth of this long-standing eco-justice tradition.
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13 Proponents of each of these movements have expressed strong reservations of the other. Articles illustrating the critique of Social Ecology from the perspective of Deep Ecology include the following: Robyn Eckersley, “Divining Evolution: The Ecological Ethics of Murray Bookchin,” Environmental Ethics, 11 (Summer 1989): 99–116; Warwick Fox, “The Deep Ecology-Ecofeminism Debate and its Parallels,” Environmental Ethics, 11 (Spring 1989): 5–25. Articles expressing the critique of Deep Ecology from the angle of Social Ecology include the following: Murray Bookchin, “Social Ecology versus ‘Deep Ecology,’” Green Perspectives nos. 4, 5 (Summer 1987): 1–23; Murray Bookchin, “Will Ecology Become ‘the Dismal Science?’” The Progressive (December 1991): 18–21.
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14 Arne Naess, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement,” Inquiry 16 (1973): 95.
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15 Quoted in George Sessions, “Deep Ecology as Worldview” in Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment eds. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 1994) 212.
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16 Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, 2d Rev. Ed. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987) 49.
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17 See David Harvey, Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996) 397–402.
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18 W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Initially delivered as lectures in 1958, the first two editions of this text were published in 1960 and 1971. An earlier version of the same thesis was published by Rostow in 1952, The Process of Economic Growth (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1952).
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19 Compare as well the opening paragraph of Agenda 21: “Humanity stands at a defining moment in its history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can—in global partnership for sustainable development.” Quoted by Nicolas Robinson, “Evolving Principles for Sustainable Development,” in Principles of Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development: Summary and Survey, Steven C. Rockefeller prepared for the Earth Charter Project (rev. ed.; April 1996).
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20 Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community Earth Ethics (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996) 15.
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21 Ibid., 137. See also Larry Rasmussen, “Next Journey: Sustainability for Six Billion and More,” in Ethics for A Small Planet, eds. Daniel C. Maguire and Larry L. Rasmussen (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998) 67–140.
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22 Betty Reardon, Women and Peace: Feminist Visions of Global Security (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993), especially chapters 2 and 3. Betty Reardon’s use of this terminology, it must be noted, varies from that of Martin Luther King, Jr. See James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1986) 50–51, 295. To King, negative peace signifies an imposed tranquillity, where positive peace means the presence of justice. For a more intricate and systematically developed scheme of these categories closer to Reardon than King, see Birgit Brock-Utne, Feminist Perspectives on Peace and Peace Education (New York: Pergamon Press, 1989) 39–68.
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23 See Bernard Eugene Meland, The Realities of Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962) 231–47.
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24 Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1961) 279. Compare the following themes from Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992): “The adventure of the universe depends upon our capacity to listen” (p. 15) and “The basic obligation of any historical moment is to continue the integrity of that creative process whence the universe derives, sustains itself, and continues its sequence of transformations” (p. 251).
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25 In this connection, see John Haught’s distinction among three ways in which Christian theologians have responded to the ecological crisis: (i) the apologetic approach; (ii) the sacramental approach; and (iii) the eschatological approach. This grid might be employed, mutatis mutandi, to other religious communities as well. The apologetic approach engages in a revisitation of traditional symbols and stories, stressing those whose meanings might be interpreted as having an ecological significance. This is, incidentally, the approach adopted by Larry Rasmussen, whose work is cited above. The sacramental approach concentrates less on inherited traditions than on the presumed sacral significance of the cosmos itself. Matthew Fox’s writings constitute an example. Haught favors the eschatological approach which stresses less the symbolic character of the cosmos as given than it does the proleptic character of the cosmos, its “promise” for the future. This last approach is both more existential and prophetic than the first two. See The Promise of Nature: Ecology and Cosmic Purpose (New York: Paulist Press, 1993) 88–112.
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26 David Little, “Rethinking Human Rights: A Review Essay on Religion, Relativism, and Other Matters,” Journal of Religious Ethics 27 (Spring 1999) 156, italics removed.
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27 Ibid., 170.
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28 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, ed., Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992) 2.
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29 According to Virginia A. Leary, Uprenda Baxi of India, alluding to a well-known text by Ronald Dworkin, coined the phrase, “taking suffering seriously” as a way of indicating what it means to “take rights seriously.” See Leary, “Postliberal Strands in Western Human Rights Theory,” in An-Na’im, ed., op. cit. at n. 27, pp. 108, 130. In his article, Falk does not acknowledge this source.
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30 Richard Falk, “Cultural Foundations for the International Protectionof Human Rights,” in An-Na’im, ed., op. cit. at n. 27, p. 50.
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31 Ibid., 52.
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32 Ibid., 59, italics removed.
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This article was prepared for the Symposium on the Earth Charter and World Ethics sponsored by Meadville/Lombard and the University of Chicago Divinity School on June 4, 1999.

This article was originally published in The Journal of Liberal Religion.

Copyright © 1999 Douglas Sturm.
Reprinted with permission.