Am I really going? I still can hardly believe it.
Exactly a year ago a friend from Saskatchewan and I started tossing out ideas for a panel for the next conference of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, to take place in Amsterdam July 23–26.
This friend and I met at the previous conference of this same group, in Mexico in early 2008. There we discovered a shared worldview: we both experience nature as alive and intelligent—a less-than-common worldview for Westerners to hold, especially Western academics. In Mexico it took us all of about two minutes to find out that Graham Harvey’s 2005 book, Animism: Respecting the Living World (Columbia Univ. Press) had been pivotal for each of us, bringing us to speech, giving us an intellectual framework for understanding this way of experiencing the world.
We also knew that we shared this worldview with comparatively few others: Pagans, on the one hand, and Indigenous peoples, on the other.
We wondered: Was there a way to get Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars together to talk about experiencing the world as aware and intelligent? Could we talk across the great chasm of colonialism about this worldview that we are convinced provides a viable way forward—perhaps the only way forward—in a time of ecological crisis? For until we heal the Cartesian split between mind and matter, which set the Western and then the whole world on the road of regarding nature as object, we are not likely to begin treating this world, our home, with any greater respect than Western industrialized cultures have been showing it for the past several hundred years. How can we, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, nudge Western thinking toward a more respectful paradigm?
My friend and I began scheming. She started talking with colleagues in Saskatchewan; I started tapping networks in Boulder and the United States. By autumn we had settled on a theme, and by December we had located the right mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous speakers. To our delight, Graham Harvey, scheduled to give a keynote at the conference, agreed to be a respondent to the panel.
In January we submitted our proposal and soon heard it was accepted. Then the wait began—for funding for panel members outside academia, for summer plans for each of us to gel. Could it be that our dream would really happen?
Things looked good until spring. Then, at least for me, obstacles started accumulating—big obstacles, like finances and job loss and having to move during the summer. Amsterdam started looking impossible.
But then, as often happens, over the past few weeks the good news has poured in all at once. Funding arrived for the panel member who needed it; moving won’t have to happen after all (huge relief); and jobs did not disappear but only shifted.
Amsterdam is on! I bought my ticket a week ago and am scheduled to leave on July 21. The panel members are emailing one another, finalizing plans.
Stay tuned for more news. I plan to report on as much of the conference as I can squeeze into blog posts.
Now all I need is a reliable jet lag remedy. Ideas, anyone?