Keynote Panel: Ecology and Religion in 19C Literary Studies – Four Case Studies

Gary Handwerk (University of Washington), “Ecologies and Economies of Nature: Malthus and Beyond”
Joshua King (Baylor University), “Christ and Carbon: Earth as Human in Aurora Leigh”
Patrick R. O’Malley (Georgetown University), “New Woman, New Creed: Spiritual Evolution in Sarah Grand’s Heavenly Twins Trilogy”
Emma Mason (University of Warwick), “Divine Pastoral: Wordsworth and the Weak Things of the World”

6 thoughts on “Keynote Panel: Ecology and Religion in 19C Literary Studies – Four Case Studies

  1. Question for Emma but also for Josh from Joe McQueen (at the U of Wash site):
    Does Weak Thought also characterize Wordsworth’s later religious poetry starting with The Excursion? There are, of course, many epitaphic moments in that poem, and those moments arguably try to mediate between the very different, conflicting perspectives of the Excursion’s characters. I ask because it seems like perhaps there is also a somewhat strong ontology at work in The Excursion (and other later poems)—a participatory ontology quite close to the participatory, sacramental vision outlined in Josh’s paper. That participatory vision/ontology seems also to harken back to the church fathers and to Plato and forward to the Oxford Movement, no? Is it possible to reconcile the weak elements of Wordsworth’s vision with this other participatory, sacramental ontology that sees all of nature participating in God?

  2. I have a question for Dr. King and Dr. O’Malley, but I’m not quite sure how to phrase it. I couldn’t help but notice the invocation of Christ’s body in Dr. King’s paper and the parallel, but more troubled, associations of human sacrifice mentioned in Dr. O’Malley’s. Christ, of course, is “the sacrificial lamb,” and any consideration of his body also includes his crucifixion. I suppose my question is more of an invitation: would you both talk more about the tension between these two images and the implications for ecological thinking?

  3. Special Thanks to Heidi Kaufman who asked a great question from the conference site at the University of Washington.

  4. For those who submitted questions here or via Twitter that were not addressed…we apologize we did not get to your question during the session. We had so many questions submitted and we simply ran out of time! Thanks to everyone for contributing to a wonderful conversation that truly mirrored a located conference environment.

  5. Hey Joe, I wrote a longer reply and it got erased, so here’s another attempt to address a question that I know is mainly pointed at Emma. A brief suggestion would be that I think you’re right about the combination of a “strong” ontology with aspects of “weak” thought in Wordsworth’s Excursion, and that a similarly curious fusion is evident perhaps more noticeably even in later religious verse. I’d point to the _Ecclesiastical Sonnets_, where, even as Wordsworth defends a “strong” view of benevolent Anglican hegemony over English national life (and gives a very partial view of church history!), he nonetheless articulates a “weak” view of the subject, open to constant reformation and negotiation with others and with the liturgies and places that cooperatively define communities and congregations. An example might be the “New Church-Yard” sonnet, which portrays the graveyard as a garden for growing “a never-ending ebb and flow” of feeling and thought over time, as one walks over it to weddings, but also to lay to rest loved ones and friends, a reminder of the shared and fragile nature of life. The sonnet remembers the earth “wound[ed]” and altered to create the yard, likening this cultivation to the crucifixion and thereby implicitly affirming the sacred participation of Earth in Christ, even while portraying the resulting yard as a place created in cooperation between human and non-human creatures. The famous “Mutability” sonnet, also in this series, seems important for its reminder of the “weakness” of theological, liturgical, and ecclesiastical forms, affirming that they all give way to the “unimaginable touch of Time,” even as “Truth fails not.” That seems an important concession, for all Wordsworth’s obvious support of Anglican dominance and conservative politics, near the end of a sonnet series about the importance of building churches and sustaining Anglican worship.

  6. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for a really good question. A quick answer, for me, would be that the crucifixion seems to be for EBB the place where God enters into the suffering of creatures in a way that proves redemptive not only for humans but also for all of creation. In Aurora Leigh, where the emphasis tends to fall on incarnation and resurrection, I think this is more implied than overt, but it is suggested in frequent connections between (a) the labor and pain of Aurora as a writer, (b) the “sacrament” of verse she offers to circulate like bread and wine among others (VII.873 ff., etc.), and (c) the explicit likening of Aurora to Christ in Book IX and other places. In other words, the crucifixion, especially in the later EBB, seems to be less confined to one moment and place (Golgotha) than a divine act of self-giving in which humans are variously asked to participate (Aurora as a writer of verse, Marian as a woman who is abused but decides to offer her life to her child and the poor, Romney as one humbled in his “arrogant” plans, blinded, and then finally ready to join in true service to the poor in combination with Aurora’s prophetic poetic ministry). EBB suggests that other creatures take part (if not always consciously) in this cooperative, redemptive, self-giving, through frequent personifications of the landscape in Italy, for example, and through the healing work of the English countryside upon Aurora. She had strikingly suggested this in the (nonetheless highly anthropocentric) _A Drama of Exile_, where Christ prophecies that in his crucifixion he will gather up and lift toward redemption “all of creation,” and where the non-human members of creation join in a chorus at the end saying they will cooperate with this self-giving work, admittedly focusing their attention on human spiritual improvement.

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