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There is a paucity of research that examines the relationship between spirituality and sustainable development, including in relation to Indigenous or non-Western worldviews. This Comment argues that closer integration of spirituality and sustain- ability will enable more effective and sustainable strategies for future development. Keywords Spirituality · Sustainable development · Climate change adaptation · Indigenous knowledge systems · Non-Western worldviews · Under-recognized interrelationship The benefits of engaging local worldviews which climate change is seen as a science-informed issue, for effective and sustainable development rather than a faith-informed issue” (Luetz and Nunn 2020, p. 293). In turn, many aid programmes and climate change Most development programmes in the Pacific region have adaptation initiatives fail because they do not adequately res- overwhelmingly privileged “outsider” perspectives that onate with the recipients’ spiritual and sustainability world- uncritically foreground scientific and technocratic fixes, views (Atkinson-Nolte et al. 2021; Bertana 2020). These which contrast sharply with the faith-informed worldviews issues also apply elsewhere in the world and involve a range and experiences of local communities. Many development of spiritual traditions and philosophies that may impinge on and climate change adaptation initiatives have consequently sustainability and land ethics (Dawson et al. 2021; De Silva not been sustainable, being contextualised, guided, and 2023; Gupta and Agrawal 2017; Mamani-Bernabé 2015; funded by external agendas (Luetz and Nunn 2020, 2021). Sponsel 2020; Yangka et al. 2018). Although spirituality is foundational to cultural beliefs and The time is ripe to recognise the interplay between local practices in Pacific Island countries (Nunn et al. 2016; Fair spirituality and sustainability so that community develop- 2018), many development and adaptation initiatives rest ment and adaptation responses to climate-driven environ- on “a scientific and technocratic worldview perspective, in mental change in such places may become more effective and enduring (McNamara et al. 2020; Leal Filho et al. 2022). More specifically, congruity between sustainability and spirituality can better overcome the well-known limits of Handled by Jean-Paul Vanderlinden, Universite de Versailles Saint- Quentin-en-Yvelines, France. * Johannes M. Luetz School of Law and Society/Indigenous and Transcultural email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Research Centre/Sustainability Research Centre/Australian email@example.com Centre for Pacific Islands Research, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD 4556, Australia Patrick D. Nunn firstname.lastname@example.org Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3052, Australia Graduate Research School, Alphacrucis University College Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Laucala Bay (AC), Brisbane, QLD 4102, Australia Campus, Suva, Fiji School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales Faculty of Science and Technology, Solomon Islands (UNSW), Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia National University, Kukum Campus, Honiara, School of Law and Society, University of the Sunshine Coast, Solomon Islands Sippy Downs, QLD 4556, Australia Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 Sustainability Science climate change adaptation and/or decrease maladaptation Sustainable development is development that meets the outcomes (Barnett and O’Neill 2010, 2013; Leal Filho and needs of the present without compromising the abil- Nalau 2018). Here, we explore some of the interrelationships ity of future generations to meet their own needs. It between spirituality and sustainability, including in relation contains within it two key concepts: (a) the concept of to ‘denaturing’, non-western worldviews, and matters related ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s to language and justice. poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and (b) the idea of limitations imposed by the state of tech- nology and social organization on the environment’s Making sense of spirituality and sustainable ability to meet present and future needs (WCED 1987, development p. 41). Adding a focus on the “triple bottom line” (social, eco- As a starting point, it is important to recognise that in the nomic, and environmental concerns) (cf. Elkington 1988; literature, the nexus between spirituality and sustainabil- Elkington and Zeitz 2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on ity is not explicitly addressed (Gupta and Agrawal 2017). Climate Change (IPCC) has since adapted this definition There is no consensus on what precisely constitutes human of ‘sustainable development (SD)’ for use in many of its ‘spirituality’ or ‘sustainable development’ since meanings assessment reports as follows: “Development that meets the and dimensions are complex, contested, and vary by context needs of the present without compromising the ability of (Zawawi and Wahab 2019; Rocha and Pinheiro 2020). Here, future generations to meet their own needs (WCED 1987) we review some common meanings of the concepts of ‘spir- and balances social, economic and environmental concerns” ituality’ and ‘sustainable development’. (https://apps. ipcc. c h/g lossar y/). Other overviews of some of The literature generally portrays spirituality (from the the divergent conceptualisations of sustainable development, Latin spiritus, meaning ‘breath of life’) as being closely including key issues and debates, have been provided by associated with what is involved with being human. This Qizilbash (1998) and Enders and Remig (2016). includes dimensions involving the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. In this sense, spirituality inhabits and informs the realm of the non-rational, including the psychological world Spirituality and sustainable development and ‘hidden’ human yearnings, meanings, and aspects of meaning-making (Santos and Michaels 2022; Maslow 1970; have an entangled relationship Frankl 1992; Howard 2002). Scholarly conceptualisations of spirituality often cite Elkins et al. (1988) and address Human ideas involving both spirituality and sustainability are presented in the literature as being shaped by culture, linkages between ‘spirituality’ and ‘ultimate’ concerns: “a way of being and experiencing that comes about through upbringing, socialisation, and formative childhood experi- ences (Bunting and Cousins 1985; Chawla 2002; Kellert awareness of a transcendent dimension and that is character- ized by certain identifiable values in regard to self, others, 2002; MacDonald 2015; Güler Yıldız et al. 2021). Although Wilson’s (1984) “Biophilia Hypothesis” suggests all humans nature, life, and whatever one considers to be the Ultimate” (p. 10). Other definitions similarly link spirituality to the are born with a certain connection to nature, a significant body of research suggests that positive affectivity is not human yearning for meaning and meaning-making in life, including in areas of ultimate concerns; this may touch on silently inherited but must rather be nurtured, encouraged, and cultivated via experiences in nature (Berto et al. 2018; and entail personal, social, physical, professional, environ- mental, behavioural, and end-of-life issues, among others Kahn and Kellert 2002; Wilson 2012; Clayton and Myers 2015). While the biophilia hypothesis has also been criti- (Elkins et al. 1988; Unruh et al. 2002; Tu 2006; Holloway and Moss 2010; Nunn et al. 2016; Scoffham 2019; Holloway cised (e.g. Joye and De Block 2011), there is consensus that proximity to nature tends to be broadly conducive to envi- and Jupp 2020; Rocha and Pinheiro 2020; Luetz and Nunn 2021; Fischer et al. 2022). ronmentally sympathetic behaviours (Horwitz 1996; Nelson and Shilling 2018). In short, “greater experience with the There is little agreement on the definition of ‘sustainable development’ which is often used to connote multiple and natural environment [engenders] more pro-environmental attitudes” (Hinds and Sparks 2008, p. 110). dissimilar concepts and meanings that both overlap and vary according to context (Enders and Remig 2016; Luetz and This innate human connection to nature has gradually become undermined by progressive urbanisation, disen- Walid 2019). The most prominent and widely cited defini- tion can be found in the Brundtland Report, r fi st put forward chantment, and detachment of humans from nature, whereby “more and more people [are] congregating in cities and liv- by the UN World Commission on Environment and Devel- opment in 1987: ing removed from any immediate and direct connection with nature, and therefore, any sense of dependence on (or 1 3 Sustainability Science Fig. 1 Ecocentric and anthro- pocentric paradigms expressed along a left–right continuum (based on analysis in Luetz and Leo 2021; LaDuke 2016; Fernández-Llamazares et al. 2021; Dawson et al. 2021; Wiedmann et al. 2020; Nelson and Shilling 2018; figure by authors) appreciation of!) the Earth for sustenance” (Buxton et al. Indigenous societies is more sustainable than the anthro- 2021, p. 355). With more than half of all humans alive today pocentric and nature-extractive practices that underpin the residing in cities, UN-Habitat (2006) has coined the word modern global economic system (Dawson et al. 2021; Ellis “city-zens” (p. 6) to highlight this unbroken urbanisation et al. 2021; Fernández-Llamazares et al. 2021; Fischer et al. trend. The UN (2019) estimates that by 2050 more than 2022; Salmón 2000; Yunkaporta 2019). Many of the most two-thirds of all humans will be residing in cities and that biodiverse areas of the planet have remained intact because 95% of urban expansion will occur in countries of the devel- of the stewardship of traditional cultures living sustainably oping world. The arising context leaves fewer immediate within them through “time-tested land-care practices of rev- touch points with nature: “the natural world—our traditional erential reciprocity” (Nelson 2020, p. 10). Hence the nature- source of direct insights—is rapidly disappearing. Modern immersive and ecocentric kastom and traditional practices city-dwellers cannot even see the stars at night” (Crichton of Indigenous peoples, whereby nature is appreciated or even 1988, p. x). Relatedly, Buxton et al. (2021) have noted that revered as proximate, sacred, or even ‘en-spirited’, is raised urban living sees modern humans engaging with nature as an auspicious alternative model to the quasi-ubiquitous “almost exclusively via the interface of a screen” (p. 355). In anthropocentric worldview that rationally and dispassion- short, demographic trends are contributing to a progressive ately regards nature as existing predominantly for the sake sense of human detachment from nature, whereby humanity and benefit of humans (Walshe and Nunn 2012; LaDuke is experiencing ‘denaturing’. 2016; Luetz and Leo 2021; Wiedmann et al. 2020; Schlehe There is also an argument that the roots of modern human 2010; Fischer et al. 2022). Worldview, and by extension separation from nature can be traced to the onset of the spirituality, may therefore be associated with notions of scientific revolution and enlightenment era in Europe and sustainability, both philosophically and practically (Hoff- beyond. This period in history brought about a shift in the man and Sandelands 2005; LaDuke 2016; Atkinson-Nolte perception of nature from humans intrinsically ‘belonging et al. 2021). Of course, this state of play does not negate the to it’ (and considering themselves as an integral part of it) possibility of an anthropocentric spirituality. Relatedly, it to humans impartially ‘observing it’ (and somehow view- cannot be ruled out that secular technocratic development ing themselves as being on the outside and separate from approaches may engage with some aspects of traditional it) (Shapin 1996; Luetz et al. 2020). According to Nelson or ecological knowledge while simultaneously being hos- (2020), the perception of “subject/object duality created a tile to a community’s spiritual belief systems (Nunn et al. machine model of the universe where ‘man’ could dissect 2016). Transcending these and other complexities, contrast- and control nature for his own desires” (p. 6). This separa- ing worldview perspectives of ecocentrism and anthropo- tion (or even estrangement) from nature has hastened the centrism may be presented along a left–right continuum, commodification of nature through extraction, expropriation, wherein spirituality plays an important role (Fig. 1). and environmental exploitation, the subject of open lament Research has highlighted the benefits of so-called ‘rever - by Indigenous scholars (Alfred 2009; Banivanua-Mar 2016; sals of learning’ whereby Indigenous communities, which LaDuke 2016; Nelson 2020). are sometimes denigrated simply as being poor, rather There is considerable empirical support for the view that “teach the profligate and so-called ‘developed’ rich about the ecocentric and nature-embedded way of life of many the interwoven nature of frugality, modesty, contentedness, 1 2 As is customary in other Indigenous research (Fischer et al. 2022), Bislama (Vanuatu) adaptation of the English word “custom”, used “the capitalisation of the word Indigenous gives commonality to a to convey notions of precolonial Melanesian knowledge that encap- diverse group of people” (p. 272) that may identify as Indigenous, sulates traditional culture, religion, art and magic, among others Traditional Peoples, or First Nations. (Walshe and Nunn 2012). 1 3 Sustainability Science Fig. 2 Schematic representation of sustainability and spirituality as Albrecht 2015; Buxton et al. 2021; Luetz and Leo 2021; EEA 2023; enmeshed concepts, denoted by mixed watercolours (based on Luetz EESC 2019; concept by authors) and Nunn 2020; O’Neill et al. 2008; O’Connor and Kenter 2019; spirituality and sustainability” (Luetz et al. 2019, p. 132). to further the cause of sustainability (LaDuke 2016; Scoff- Indigenous peoples have lived sustainably for thousands of ham 2019). This is because spirituality is “a motivational years (Dawson et al. 2021; Ellis et al. 2021; Fischer et al. force not mirrored by economics or science” (Fair 2018, 2022; Leal Filho et al. 2021; Walshe and Nunn 2012) so p. 4). it seems appropriate to invite, study, and use their world- Leveraging spirituality and sustainability jointly will also view orientations as foundations for place-based future create synergies for holistic development practice that will coping (Fernández-Llamazares et al. 2021; Granderson produce a combined impact more significant than the sum of 2017; McMillen et al. 2017; Yunkaporta 2019). There is a their separate effects. More specifically, worldview-informed compelling research-informed case to engage more actively approaches may transcend the limitations of so-called copro- with Indigenous local knowledge so that it may more effec- duction (Goodwin 2019) and may also more comprehensively tively inform the global sustainability agenda and support inform the processes and methodologies of the nature-value initiatives such as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable assessment conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Pol- Development (UN 2015; Leal-Filho et al. 2021; Fischer icy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) et al. 2022). (Pascual et al. 2017, 2022). Thankfully, there is growing evi- Exploring spiritual values and narratives promises to dence, both in IPBES assessments and some institutions, of a restore a more harmonious human coexistence with and gradual increase in sensitivity to Indigenous ways of knowing in nature; by extension, this involves cultivating a new (UNESCO 2022) and the significant role spirituality may play sensitivity to the spiritual dimensions of the interrelation- in shaping place-based coping and ethics of land care (IPBES ship between spirituality and sustainability (Chawla 2002; 2022; EEA 2023). In summary, there is a growing empirically- Gupta and Agrawal 2017; Nunn 2017; Stein 2019). Knight based case for spirituality supporting environmental sustain- (2006) has posited that humans “at their deepest level are ability (Fischer et al. 2022; Luetz and Nunn 2020, 2021; Nel- motivated by metaphysical beliefs” (p. 19), and there is son and Shilling 2018). The coalescence of spirituality and support in the literature for the idea that spirituality may sustainable development can be illustrated as fundamentally be leveraged as a “cultural resource” (Hulme 2017, p. 15) enmeshed concepts (Fig. 2). 1 3 Sustainability Science humility, happiness, peace and contentment (e.g. Gupta and Language and lore can be challenges and/ Agrawal 2017; Yangka et al. 2018), the deep ecology move- or opportunities for adaptation ment (e.g. Næss 1973, 1995; cf. Lovelock 2009; Fellows 2019), oriental expressions of place-based spiritual sustain- The interrelationships between language and social jus- ability (e.g. De Silva 2023), and sensory–spiritual practices tice have been amply documented, including in the Pacific such as mindfulness (Wamsler 2018), among others. Even in Islands (Saft 2021). Language can be used to promote the Judeo-Christian culture, Pope Francis’ (2015) encyclical understandings of justice or perpetuate racism, prejudices, Laudato Si’ can be considered an example of how Christi- and social inequalities (Baugh 2018; Rickford and King anity may resonate with sustainability to bridle capitalism 2016). Language is critical to ensure that colonial-era and extractivism (Nelson and Luetz 2019). These examples injustices and inequities are not perpetuated (Saura 2015). indicate that spirituality and sustainability transformation Hilhorst and Jansen (2012) have critiqued the use of lan- may also be encountered outside of Indigenous communi- guage by aid agencies as a means of legitimising their pro- ties and may even be nurtured within urban metropolitan grammes and presence. Referring to the terms ‘rights’ and communities and among “city-zens” (Berejnoi et al. 2019; ‘human rights’, they found that humanitarian aid language Cloutier 2015; UN-Habitat 2006). can “stand for genuine desire to protect, or … mundane Given the entanglements of spirituality and sustainability, organisational politicking on the part of agencies looking we propose that contemporary adaptation and development for a greater piece of the donor-funds pie” (p. 902). Thus, policy and practice should engage them in tandem, both to language informs conceptualisations and explanations that harness their synergistic capacity as well as to enable more may be tactically or strategically employed to engage differ - effective sustainable development and climate change adap- ent stakeholder groups and advance or legitimise develop- tation (Nunn et al. 2016; Fair 2018). Closer integration of ment and adaptation approaches (Hilhorst and Jansen 2010). spirituality and sustainability will create understandings that Conceptualisations and explanatory frames are intertwined are conducive to longer-lasting and more environmentally with language. For example, if a language does not have a sympathetic development (Yunkaporta 2019; Luetz and word for ‘adaptation’, how can people think about adapting Nunn 2020, 2021). to changes in their local communities or environments (even though they may have been doing it for generations)? Or if people believe that a deity causes environmental change, Funding Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and can they wholeheartedly embrace science-based projections, its Member Institutions. problem analyses, or technocratic solutions? Data availability The authors declare that all data supporting this study As this comment has shown, spirituality and sustain- are available within the paper (data sources that conceptually underpin able development are intertwined concepts that cannot Figs. 1 and 2 have been provided in the figure legend). be meaningfully discussed in isolation from each other (Gupta and Agrawal 2017). This is especially true in Declarations Pacific Island countries, which are characterised by both Conflict of interest The authors declare no conflicts of interest. high degrees of vulnerability to climate change and high degrees of religious engagement (Bertana 2020; Nunn Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attri- 2017). The literature on climate change adaptation remains bution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adapta- surprisingly ‘muted’ on the beneficial role that spiritual - tion, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, ity may play as an adaptation-enabling force (Luetz et al. provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes 2023). Against this background, it is timely to re-examine were made. The images or other third party material in this article are and rediscover the sustainability-spirituality relationship included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated from the perspective of Pacific Island communities that otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not have sustainably inhabited their environments for thou- permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will sands of years (Walshe and Nunn 2012; Leal Filho et al. need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a 2020; Ellis et al. 2021; Fischer et al. 2022; Nunn 2007). copy of this licence, visit http://cr eativ ecommons. or g/licen ses/ b y/4.0/ . As noted, the lessons reach well beyond the confines of the Pacific and readily apply in other geographical contexts that may exhibit a diversity of non-Western epistemolo- gies, Indigenous worldviews, and/or spiritual traditions and References philosophies that may impinge on sustainability (Dawson Albrecht G (2015) Exiting the anthropocene and entering the symbio- et al. 2021; Mamani-Bernabé 2015; Sponsel 2020). 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Sustainability Science – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 1, 2023
Keywords: Spirituality; Sustainable development; Climate change adaptation; Indigenous knowledge systems; Non-Western worldviews; Under-recognized interrelationship
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