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From Cosmos to Commodity ... and Back

‘From Cosmos to Commodity … and Back. A critique of Hindu environmental rhetoric in educational programs’,

in Cathrien de Pater and Irene Dankelman (eds.), Religion and Sustainable Development. Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education (LIT Verlag: Münster, 2009), pp. 159-168.


Many of the specifically Hindu elements in India’s environmental lobby, including educational programs, represent continuity with the past. We find that various well-intended but naïve considerations about India’s supposed ecological awareness in ancient scriptures are now being reproduced in order to prove how nature-friendly the ancestors were. Mining the religious heritage with the objective to find inspiration for dealing with contemporary issues invariably results in an uncritical, selective reproduction of a wealth of beautiful imagery.


In this paper I voice three methodological reservations about this fashionable mining of texts and traditions for the sake of environmental education. Any scripture-based religious argument in favour of ecology may well be countered by text passages, customs, and attitudes from the same heritage justifying exactly the opposite. In that sense, there is a conflict, a conflict that appears to be characteristic of religion itself. Religion is not only highly ambivalent, more often than not it is polyvalent, and its tenets appear to be bewilderingly multidirectional.

Belief, Bounty and Beauty Hinduism: Past and Present God as an Alternative? Rituals around the Bodhi-tree The Play of Love and Covert Rebellion Home is Where the Mūrtis Are Disaster Rituals A Strong Current