Freya Mathews, Peter Reason, Andreas Weber, Stephan Harding, and Sandra Wooltorton will offer videos and weekly seminars. Inquiry groups will be facilitated by Stephan, Sandra, Ezekiel Fugate, and Jacqueline Kurio
An eight-week online course with sessions each week for seminars and enquiry groups – see below for further detail
About this course
This online course is your chance to be part of an international co-operative inquiry community invoking the presence of Rivers round the world.
A panpsychic view starts from the understanding that all things, including the Earth itself, are integral to the fabric of the living cosmos, all of the same sentient cloth. Mind is a fundamental aspect of matter just as matter is a fundamental aspect of mind: we are part of a world that has depth as well as structure, meaning as well as form. In Thomas Berry’s words, this is a community of subjects, not a collection of objects.
During this 8 week online course, we will explore this perspective through a co-operative inquiry with Rivers in the vicinity of participants: if we invoke their living presence, address them as subjective persons, what manner of response might we receive? Rivers may include everything from mountain torrents through mature watercourse to tidal reaches; underground flows, wild streams or industrialized waterways.
We live at a time of ecological catastrophe. But what underpins the destructiveness of modern humans—those socialized into the industrial growth society—is the worldview through which we experience ourselves as separate from the world around us. We may allow the ‘higher animals’ some sentience, but beyond that the world of natural objects is seen as composed of inert matter, operating according to causal laws, with no subjectivity or intelligence, no intrinsic purpose or meaning. In this view humans, and humans alone, possess mind and subjectivity. The natural conclusion is that it is human destiny to control, manipulate and benefit from the material resources of the planet; increasingly powerful technologies amplify the effects of this perspective.
We believe that as well as all the activities seeking to make practical changes to our civilization, we also need a radical alteration of our lived experience, to feel ourselves directly as participants in the process of life on earth. This requires a different way of looking at the world; and new ways to integrate this into everyday living. Such an alternative is offered by living cosmos panpsychism, as outlined by ecophilosopher, Freya Mathews; the biology of wonder or “biopoetics”, as explained by biologist, Andreas Weber; the animate Gaian perspective of ecologist Stephan Harding; and biocultural stewardship articulated by Sandra Wooltorton.
From a panpsychic perspective, the cosmos is One, a coherent field of mind/matter, that in its evolution differentiates into Many, self-realizing and self-reflexive beings. These beings, the community of subjects, reach out to each other in mutual contact and communication, co-creating a ‘poetic ecology’: the fundamental erotics of being touched by the world and touching it in return. For example, it is now widely accepted that trees in a forest are not just a collection of individuals but are in continual communication with each other and with the fungi that interpenetrate their roots.
In this relational ecological reality, a communicative order, an order of meaning, unfolds alongside the causal, material order. Of course, this doesn’t take place in human language: it is necessarily a poetic order, conveying meaning in image and metaphor, taking place not in words or concepts, but through material form in a language of things. Modern humans are alienated from this poetic order: if we conceive the world as brute object it will only reveal itself as such. But if we invoke a living presence then we may receive a meaningful response—if we are open to it.
We have chosen to focus our inquiry on Rivers, recognizing their significance within ecosystems and their integration with the land and creatures around them; as well as the extent that they have been influenced for better and worse by human activities.
This course will take the form of co-operative inquiry, a form of inquiry pioneered by Peter Reason, in which all participants work together as both co-inquirers and as co-subjects. In this panpsychic inquiry, participants are both human and non-human. All are engaged in the design and management of the inquiry; all are involved in the experience and action that is being explored; all are involved in making sense and drawing conclusions. Participants work together through cycles of action and reflection, developing their understanding and practice by engaging in what Peter has called an ‘extended epistemology’ of experiential, presentational, propositional and practical ways of knowing.
In addition, there will be video inputs on the panpsychic perspective, co-operative inquiry, biopoetics, animate Earth and biocultural stewardship from the faculty which will provide frameworks for the inquiry process
After an initial seminar for orientation and getting to know each other, there will be six cycles of action and reflection. In each action phase, participants will explore their relationship with their local River, invoking their living presence, and attending to the response (if any). Our invocation can be through loving presence and attunement, through song, prayer, pilgrimage, ceremony and festival; through the languages of myth, archetype and art; for some, through the language of traditional religion. Following this, in a reflection phase, participants will share their experience, seek to make sense together, and design the next cycle of engagement. Finally, there will be time for reflections, recapitulation and composing final conclusions.
In addition to the inquiry groups there will be weekly seminars for all participants. Faculty members will each expand on their particular perspective and engage in discussion with participants. There will also be two seminars in which participants will work in the whole community to identify and draw out shared themes. To further facilitate exchange across inquiry groups, participants will be partnered with one or two of their fellows from another group.
Detailed arrangements for online collaboration will be sent to participants if the course is confirmed. The minimal commitment to the course is: one encounter with the River each week; composing and posting an account of the encounter; reading and commenting on one fellow participant’s account; participating in a Zoom reflection meeting facilitated by a lecturer; contributing to community discussions
Participants must be prepared to spend significant time outside, possibly in inclement weather. They must make sure they have appropriate clothes, waterproofs, walking boots, flask and whatever else will help make them comfortable in their local climate. Participants are responsible for undertaking their own individual risk assessment to ensure their health and safety.
We are planning to follow up the series of Living Waters inquiries with a residential inquiry workshop at Schumacher College for those who have participated in one of the earlier workshops. This will be an opportunity to work face to face and go deeper into the experience of a sentient world. Details and dates will be available nearer the time.
Weekly seminars (1½ hours) on Tuesdays at 12.00 noon UK time.
Weekly inquiry groups with one faculty facilitator on Thursdays*
*Inquiry groups will meet at a near local time (eg Europe, Americas, Australia) and the lecturers will make arrangements with participants accordingly.
In addition, there will be pre-recorded videos, online responses, and further video inputs made in response to the unfolding inquiry.
Participants interested in this course
This co-operative inquiry is for all those—including writers, artists, activists, teachers, ecologists, scientists—who understand that the present ecological crisis has its roots in the alienation of the business-as-usual lifeway from Earth of which we are a part. It is for those of us who wish to play their part in developing and articulating perspectives and practices rooted in openness to the living presence of the more-than-human. Our aspiration is to attract an international participation, and through this invoke the presence of Rivers round the world, establishing an active mode of communication with our Earth. This inquiry workshop is part of planetary-wide stream of inquiry activities engaging with bodies of water.
This presentation from Nulungu Research Week at the University of Notre Dame Western Australia provides ‘tasters’ of the ‘Living Waters Inquiry’. We sample panpsychism as a philosophical approach to living places; overview Cooperative Inquiry, meet Gaia thinking and practice; and offer examples of co-researchers hearing places.
Ezekiel co-founded and directed Springhouse Community School, a soul-centric intergenerational learning community that includes a day school for students in grades 7-12 and a variety of adult programs.
Stephan was one of the founding members of Schumacher College, and led and lectured on the college’s MSc Holistic Science for nearly two decades - teaching on the core models of the programme, as well as on several short courses at the College.
At Schumacher College, Stephan worked closely with James Lovelock, with whom he maintained a long-lasting friendship and scientific collaboration. As a result of this, they were jointly appointed as founding chair holders of the Arne Naess Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo.
Stephan has taught alongside many of the world’s leading ecological thinkers and activists, including Rupert Sheldrake. Arne Naess, Fritjof Capra, Brian Goodwin, Vandana Shiva, David Abram, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. He is now Deep Ecology Research Fellow at Schumacher College, where his interests are the intersects between scientific ecology (especially Gaia theory) and the world of psyche and soul.
Stephan is author of Animate Earth as well as Gaia Alchemy and Poems of Lorca: Courting the Dawn, translated with Martin Shaw.
Since experiencing the Tohoku earthquake in Japan in 2011, Jacqueline has been engaging the living world in rituals of healing and connection through drawing and walking labyrinths.
Jacqueline has participated in several river inquiries in the last two years and co-authored the paper ‘Voicing Rivers through Ontopoetics: A Co-operative Inquiry’ with fellow river inquiry facilitator Peter Reason. A doctoral candidate with the California Institute of Integral Studies, Jacqueline currently lives in north Northumberland, UK.
Freya Mathews is Adjunct Professor of Environmental Philosophy at Latrobe University, Australia. Her books include The Ecological Self (1991), Ecology and Democracy (editor) (1996), For Love of Matter: a Contemporary Panpsychism (2003), Journey to the Source of the Merri (2003), Reinhabiting Reality: towards a Recovery of Culture (2005), Without Animals Life is not Worth Living (2016) and Ardea: a philosophical novella (2016). She is the author of over eighty articles in the area of ecological philosophy. Her current special interests are in ecological civilization; indigenous (Australian and Chinese) perspectives on (so-called) sustainability and how these perspectives may be adapted to the context of contemporary global society; panpsychism and critique of the metaphysics of modernity; ecology and religion; and conservation ethics and rewilding in the context of the Anthropocene. In addition to her research activities she co-manages a private conservation estate in northern Victoria. She is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
As Director of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice at the University of Bath, Peter Reason was an international leader in the development of participative approaches to action research. In these forms of experiential inquiry all are co-researchers, contributing both to the thinking that forms the research and to the action that is its subject. Since retiring from full time academic work, Peter has focused on writing books and articles that link the tradition of nature writing with the ecological crisis of our times, drawing on scientific, ecological, philosophical and spiritual sources. His books include Spindrift: A wilderness pilgrimage at sea, In Search of Grace: An ecological pilgrimage, and most recently (with artist Sarah Gillespie) On Presence: Essays | Drawings.
Peter has facilitated two co-operative inquiries exploring the panpsychic experience during 2020.
Andreas Weber is a Berlin-based philosopher, biologist, and writer. He holds degrees in marine biology and cultural studies, and has collaborated with brain researcher and philosopher Francisco Varela. His books in English include: Enlivenment: Towards a Fundamental Shift in the Concepts of Nature, Culture and Politics (2013); The Biology of Wonder: Aliveness, Feeling, and the Metamorphosis of Science (2016); and Biopoetics: Towards an Existential Ecology (2016). Weber regularly contributes to major newspapers and magazines, such as National Geographic, GEO, and Die Zeit, and has won a number of awards for his writing. He teaches philosophy at Leuphana University, Lüneburg and at the University of Fine Arts, Berlin. Weber has two children, fifteen and seventeen. He lives in Berlin and Italy.
Sandra is from Noongar Boodjar, also known as southwest Western Australia, and she works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Nulungu Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame Australia, in Yawuru Country around Broome in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. She acknowledges Noongar traditional owners, and Aboriginal custodians in Australia and elsewhere. She is a geographer, educator and transdisciplinary researcher with a deep interest in ecological philosophy.
Samples of her recent collaborative articles are Feeling and Hearing Country (2019); Hearing, Voicing and Healing: Rivers as Culturally Located and Connected (2021); The Land Still Speaks: Ni, Katitj (2017) and River Relationships: For the Love of Rivers (2021).
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