Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Call for Papers: The Environmental History of the Pacific World

Conference – Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China

24 May – 26 May 2018

Location: Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China

Sponsors: The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich; Department of History and The Center for Oceania Studies, Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou; The Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China, Beijing.

pacific world

The Pacific Ocean is the ancient outcome of plate tectonic movement, creating one of the largest eco-regions on earth. Although navigators explored those waters early on, and peoples spread to all the ocean’s shores and penetrated as far into the center as the Hawaiian archipelago, it was not until the 16th century that the great body of water was discovered as a whole and mapped at a global scale. Since then, the Pacific has become a place of increasing human-nature interaction—through international trade, warfare, cultural interchange, and extraction of resources. Our conference aims to bring this ocean more fully into the discourse of environmental historians.

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Worldview: Iran Hosts Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion (Part 1)

International Efforts to Mobilize Religions in the Cause of Conservation

Part 1. Tehran

“Religion is a powerful social force and for decades diverse actors who understand this have been engaged in earnest efforts to motivate and mobilize religious individuals and groups to construct environmentally sustainable societies. Although broad evidence suggests that these efforts have had limited success promoting the greening of religion so far, attempts are continuing. Given the often slow and multifarious ways that religions can change in time and place, it would be premature to predict the outcomes of such endeavors.” — Bron Taylor

In this two-part series, Bron Taylor reflects on such possibilities from the context of a trip to Iran in April 2016. In Part 1, he introduces us to Tehran and his experiences of contemporary culture and the troubled interface of religion, young culture, and the environment. Part 2 reports on the Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion (Tehran, 2016), which was sponsored by UNEP, UNESCO, and the Department of the Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This series has been adapted from a conference report originally published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.


In late April, 2016, I was among those who took the first direct flight (after a trial run) from Paris to Tehran after the sanctions were lifted that had been imposed on Iran to discourage it from pursuing nuclear weaponry. I sat next to an attorney who, in 1970, fled Iran with her family to Paris when the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown during the Iranian revolution. She now has offices in Paris and Tehran, and is taking advantage of the emerging post-sanction opportunities.

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Making Tracks: Sigurd Bergmann

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Religion as a Creative Skill in Environmental Change—Exploring the Entanglement of Images of God, Nature, and the Sacred”

by Sigurd Bergmann

The thread of my research is the understanding of how images of nature and those of God and/or the sacred interact and emerge in specific contexts, and how they impact  ethics, worldviews, and practices in these contexts. Much like the ecological turn from “nature” to “environment” in the 1970s, my research has explored the deep religious dimension of this turn from the beginning in a process where new fields, themes, methods, and theories have been experimentally explored. Continue reading


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CfP: Religion in the Anthropocene: Challenges, Idolatries, Transformations

Fifth International Conference of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and Environment, 14–17 May 2015.

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society is collaborating with the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE) to bring you a conference on “Religion in the Anthropocene.”

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Photo of the Week: Sigurd Bergmann

Holy well and holy tree, Mazar “Manjyly Ata,” at the southern beach of the Yssyk-Kol (holy) lake in Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Sigurd Bergmann, June 2009.

Holy places and sites are called “mazar” in the popular Islam of Kyrgyzstan (a synthesis of traditional “immigrated” Islam and older shamanic folk religion). The Mazar Manjyly Ata is one of the largest in the country; it is about half size of Munich’s English Garden. Holy trees, wells, and chapels have been (and are still) regularly visited by believers of all kinds who travel to the site in order to talk and pray to and with the trees, to offer gifts to God, the spirits, and the Spirit, and to experience healing and spiritual comfort.

In spite of (or perhaps thanks to) condemnation from Soviet and Islamic leaders of such rituals, which mostly had to be conducted late at night, the belief practices in and with nature have been strengthened in such a way that local spiritual guardians of theses holy sites and local leaders have significant influence on political processes in the country – a country that remains badly affected by its Soviet legacy (and is, in addition, stuck between powers such as China in the South and Russia in the North).

One can only speculate with fear and dread what would have happened to the beautiful countryside along the famous silk road – and to its associated culture – without such close entanglement of religion, place, culture, and the environment.

(Please click the picture for a larger image.)