In search of a Christian-Muslim common path from desacralization to desacralization of nature: Sallie McFague and Seyyed Hossein Nasr on the ecological crisis
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This dissertation explores the prospects for Christian-Muslim dialogue regarding the ecological crisis. It compares the views of Sallie McFague and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, leaders in ecological theology and ethics. In 1990, at the Spirit and Nature symposium at Middlebury College, they dialogued unsuccessfully. They could not understand each other across the ideological gulf of McFague's postmodernism and Nasr's traditionalism. However, beneath an outer shell of significant differences, McFague and Nasr share profound common ground. They both understand the ecological crisis as a result of the desacralization of nature in human perception. They believe that Western Christianity's failure to cultivate a spiritual vision of nature set the stage for the development of a thoroughly mechanistic and desacralized worldview in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. They both articulate visions for the resacralization of nature. While unique, these visions both image the world as a body animated by the Spirit of God rather than as a lifeless machine. Furthermore, both authors find insights to support human harmony with the natural world in the mystical wisdom of their traditions. The dissertation models a process of dialogue that unveils McFague's and Nasr's common ground. The first two chapters explore their stories and contexts, modeling the importance of getting to know one's interlocutor. In chapters three and four, their overall ecological theologies are outlined. Only in chapter five, in a dialogical setting in which both authors' ideas are viewed empathetically, are their differences engaged. Chapter six looks at their common ground, tracing how it grows out of their mutual ecological concerns. Finally, chapter seven creatively synthesizes their ideas, especially their proposals for the reintegration of nature into cities and their descriptions of the mystical understanding of the God-world and human-world relationships. The dissertation explores how the mystical consciousness of the unity of the human body with the body of the world needs to be cultivated more widely, and extended into the practice of interfaith dialogue. Christians, Muslims, and all others concerned about the ecological crisis need to become more aware of our unity and see through the illusion that we are separate.