«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
This intersubjective nature of the concept of sustainable development highlights another reason for exploring worldviews in the context of our global environmental issues: as long as the undergirding worldviews are not explicated, it is not unambiguous what sustainable development means or may mean. The concept thus by definition necessitates a reflection on and explication of worldviews (see also PBL, 2004; Söderbaum, 2007). This reflexivity is also relevant in terms of environmental policy-making in the broadest sense, as notions of development and quality of life will inform which solutions to sustainability-issues are proposed as well as how sustainability-policies and initiatives are shaped, implemented, and communicated (see e.g. De Boer, Wardekker, & Van der Sluijs, 2010; Nisbet, 2009).21 21 For example, if our notion of quality of life (or development) is based on the liberal resource perspective with GNP per capita as main indicator for ‘welfare,’ the demands of
sustainability tend to be perceived as constraints upon the pursuit of (a high) quality of life:
sustainability is then seen as being in conflict with social progress. As Boersema (2002) puts it, “the associations that we have nowadays with the expression “the good life” are everything but green, and the associations that we have with green are everything but good” (p. 16). On the other hand, the relationship between sustainability and quality of life can also be seen as mutually interdependent. A more sustainable society and lifestyle is then perceived as a contribution to, and prerequisite for, a high quality of life (Boersema, 2002; PBL, 2004).
Thus, to what extent one understands the concept of sustainability in terms of limitations or life-enhancement appears to, at least partially, depend on one’s notions of what quality of life is and the worldview one is embedded in. This is likely to impact policy-making and communication processes in both profound and concrete ways. For example, although the perspective of sustainability as life-enhancing appears to be less common in the public debate, not including it into our understanding of sustainability will likely result in excluding—and thereby discouraging—the satisfaction that people may gain from living a sustainable life (and according to psychological research, there are a host of psychological benefits associated with sustainable lifestyles, such as satisfaction, well-being, and happiness;
see e.g. K. W. Brown & Kasser, 2005; Corral Verdugo, 2012; Jacob et al., 2009). As multiple communication studies have demonstrated, this exclusion may be detrimental to public engagement with goals and issues of sustainable development (see e.g. Futerra, 2005, 2009;
Moser, 2007; Moser & Dilling, 2007).
30 In this dissertation, I use the Brundtland definition of sustainable development in a general sense, referring to the aspiration for the socially just, ecologically sustainable, and economically viable world that most likely both proponents and critics would agree on. However, central to my understanding of the concept is the recognition that a further reflection and articulation of the worldviews—notably in terms of views on development and quality of life—is essential to the debate on sustainable development, and that its cultural dimensions thus need to be included.22 Moreover, the assumption in this dissertation is that in our contemporary world a plurality of views on the matter is to be expected and embraced, following the kind of integrative pluralism as argued for by, for example, Sneddon et al., (2006) and Söderbaum (2007).
While sustainable development points in a specific ideological and ethical direction, such an approach honors the multiple dimensions and stakeholders involved in any decision situation, attempting to as much as possible respect, include, and integrate their (sometimes competing or polarized) perspectives and visions of development and quality of life.
1.3.3 Environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles Next to sustainable development, I frequently refer to environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles. In earlier research, environmental attitudes have been defined as “the collection of beliefs, affect, and behavioral intentions a person holds regarding environmentally related activities or issues” (Schultz, Shriver, Tabanico, & Khazian, 2004, p. 31). This definition makes clear that environmental attitudes, in contrast with the more comprehensive concept of worldview, are positions or orientations that pertain specifically to environmental issues or activities rather than to life and reality in general. While environmental attitudes are interior and intangible (e.g. feelings, opinions, ideas, orientations), environmental or sustainable behaviors are exterior and concrete or measurable (e.g. pro-ecological, frugal, altruistic, and equitable actions (Corral 22 Interestingly, indigenous peoples have, through various international forums (such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Convention on Biological Diversity), also argued for integrating the cultural dimension in the notion of sustainable development. In this vision, cultural diversity is, next to the sociopolitical, environmental, and economic (also referred to as people, planet, and profit), the fourth policy area of sustainable development.
31 Verdugo, 2012)). Such behaviors thus involve aspects of individual lifestyles— such as consumer and dietary choices, use of energy and transportation, political priorities, support for policy measures, and contributions to societal change. I have chosen for a general focus on sustainable lifestyles rather than on sustainable behaviors, as the lifestyle concept is more inclusive (referring to a manifestation of more sustainable behaviors across the board), and more likely to capture intentional instead of coincidental behaviors (Stern, 2000), and therefore probably more useful in the context of the attempt to understand how worldviews interface with sustainable development. Moreover, there is empirical evidence showing significant interrelationships among different types of sustainable behaviors (Corral Verdugo, 2012; De Young, 1993; Schultz, 2001), suggesting that there is empirical support for the concept of sustainable lifestyles.
1.3.4 Contemporary spirituality Many authors have observed an increased attention to and affinity with ‘spirituality’ and a diminished cultural presence of traditional religious institutions in contemporary society (e.g. Heelas & Woodhead, 2005; Houtman, Aupers, & Heelas, 2009; Houtman & Mascini, 2002). In social science terminology, spirituality tends to represent the more functional, experiential, intrinsic, and frequently mystical dimensions of religion, whereas religion represents the more substantive, formalized, extrinsic, and frequently institutionalized ones (e.g. Dawson, 1998; Marler & Hadaway, 2002). However, on the basis of survey-research it can be concluded that for most people the relationship between ‘being religious’ and ‘being spiritual’ is not a zero-sum proposition. Rather, people tend to see religiosity and spirituality as distinct but interdependent concepts (Marler & Hadaway, 2002).
Nonetheless, as multiple authors have argued, contemporary spirituality is in many ways to be distinguished from more traditional forms of religion, and is for example associated with a decline of tradition (Heelas & Woodhead, 2005;
Houtman & Aupers, 2007), profoundly informed by processes of secularization and globalization (Campbell, 2007; Hanegraaff, 1996), and frequently characterized by, in the words of Aupers and Houtman (2006), “a basically Romanticist conception of the self that is intrinsically connected to an immanent 32 conception of the sacred” (p. 202)—albeit not necessarily exclusively immanent conception of the sacred (e.g. B. Taylor, 2010). Although contemporary spirituality as discussed in this dissertation is clearly distinct from more traditional religions, there are also ways in which contemporary spirituality converges with, and can potentially form a common ground between, multiple religions—notably in the ways it asserts a larger, frequently transcendental, meaning to life, and recognizes a sacred dimension to existence (see e.g. Berry, 2009; Giner & Tábara, 1999; B. Taylor, 2010; Tucker & Grim, 1994). However, while traditional religious ideas tend to be associated with a more traditional morality, contemporary spirituality appears to be associated with the rise of postmaterial concerns, and in that sense tends to coincide with a more posttraditional (and postconventional) humanistic morality, in which the value, freedom, and self-expression of the individual is central, supporting for example the emancipation of women, minorities, and gays (see also Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; Ray & Anderson, 2000).
In this dissertation, the term contemporary spirituality is used somewhat loosely, generally referring to post-traditional, non-dogmatic, frequently noninstitutionalized, more individualistic forms of religious, inner-growth, or meaning-oriented practices, beliefs, and experiences. In chapter six, the general features of this cultural movement are discussed from a sociological vantage point, for example emphasizing that it is characterized by an epistemological shift of ascribed authority, from ‘without’ to ‘within’ (Heelas, 1996; Heelas & Woodhead, 2005). In chapters five and seven the concept of spirituality is explored as defined, conceptualized, and experienced by individuals themselves, through giving an insiders-perspective into what spirituality is understood and experienced to be by carefully selected groups of ‘nature lovers/ environmentalists’ and ‘spiritual practitioners,’ and ‘integrative environmental leaders.’ These personal and frequently intimate disclosures are intended to give the reader a more palpable sense of such practices, beliefs, and experiences.
Although contemporary spirituality is certainly associated with a constellation of beliefs, ideas, aspirations, values, and practices that potentially can be analyzed as a worldview, in this dissertation I treat the highly eclectic and diverse phenomenon of contemporary spirituality as a cultural movement that is likely to 33 be associated with various worldviews, including more postmodern (e.g.
Campbell, 2007, 2010) and more integrative ones (see e.g. Wilber, 2007).
1.3.5 Multiple uses of the term ‘integrative’ In this dissertation I use the term ‘integrative’ in three distinct, though related, ways. In the first place, I use the term ‘integrative’ in the context of the newly emerging worldview that I explore and describe most explicitly in chapter seven.
I focus on this integrative worldview, because it appears to be characterized by both a particular potential for sustainability, as well as an attempt to integrate spirituality and transcendence with rationality and science, rather than prioritize one over the other (see section 1.2.3). It thereby potentially overcomes some of the pitfalls associated with the New Age culture (e.g. irrationalism and rejection of science and technology, as will be explored in more detail in chapter six and section 8.2.2). This worldview appears to be of particular relevance as it searches “for inclusion of the largest number of possible viewpoints on one and the same issue or question, even if those viewpoints may be conflicting with each other” (Benedikter & Molz, 2011, p. 34). As will be argued in chapter eight, this tendency and attempt to include as many viewpoints as possible is highly relevant in our contemporary, global cultural landscape of polarized perspectives, culture clashes, and paradigm wars. Moreover, also in the context of goals and issues of sustainable development—which demand the integration of a plurality of domains, disciplines, and perspectives—this appears to be of great importance (see e.g. Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010a; Laszlo, 2006; O' Brien, 2010; Van Egmond & De Vries, 2011; Wilber, 1995).
The notion of a newly emerging “integral,” “integrative,” or “integrated” worldview has been observed and described by multiple academics and researchers, and from a variety of different disciplinary angles. For example, where the philosopher Jean Gebser (1985) described the emergence of the “integral age,” the ego-psychologist Jane Loevinger (1977, 1987) described the emergence of an “integrated stage” of ego-development. The meta-theorist and philosopher Ken Wilber (e.g. 1995) developed an “integral theory,” a philosophy seeking a synthesis of the best of pre-modern, modern, and postmodern thought, and aspiring to offer an approach that draws together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that 34 are mutually enriching (Esbjörn-Hargens, 2010b).
Additionally, according to some authors, this emerging worldview, although still far from mainstream or widespread, appears to quickly become more relevant in terms of its salience for understanding the worldview-changes
in the larger publics of (notably postindustrial) societies: