Book Review: Dialogues With The Living Earth, by James and Roberta Swan

Book Review: Dialogues With The Living Earth, by James and Roberta Swan

 Dialogues With The Living Earth
by James Swan & Roberta Swan
Quest Books, PO Box 270
Wheaton IL 60189, 1996
359 pages, $16.00 paperback

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This collection of essays and interviews is a continuation of work begun in a series of five symposia devoted to “the spirit of place” – the study of the unique qualities of settings and their relationship with our lives.

In this collection, the emphasis is on action and strategies for reintegrating the spirit of place into modern, largely urban and industrial society. “By finding ways to identify the spirit of place and creatively engage its kinship, we will then be using that natural energy and intelligence, and be bringing it into our lives in a way that is sorely missing for many people.”

Several essays reflect an assumption that this sense of place and respect for the cycles of nature are still active in some indigenous societies. Yet the authors do not generally follow up these assumptions with close study of current land practices.

A start to confronting traditional ideals with current practice is found in the essay “The Ganga River and the Spirit of Sustainability in Hinduism,” by Rana P.B. Singh of Benares Hindu University. Singh sets out the ideals as reflected in Hindu philosophy: “Reverence – the deeper vision of the sanctity of life; responsibility – the connecting link between ethics and rationality; frugality – grace without waste; and eco-justice all form the minimal core of intrinsic values for right conservation and preservation of the spirit of sustainability.”

However, he goes on to add “The disappearing presence of Hindu thinking about the man-nature-cosmos relationship is one of the basic causes for the present environmental crisis that is facing India today.”

No society today is “traditional” in the sense of being untouched by an interplay with industrial-commercial society. Moreover, “conflicts about the value of place do arise between traditional and modern cultures.” Thus we need to look carefully at both attitudes and land use in societies in transition.

As the Swans point out, “There is a need to find a common language and conceptual framework to promote mutual understanding about the power of place. It is easy to feed the fires of conflict in such situations. The more difficult task is to build bridges of respect and cooperation.”

Homes, parks, cities, and bioregions can all have a sense of place. The spirit of place must be translated into policies that can guide us to effective actions. The Swans conclude that “creating these public policies that yield such laws will require cross-cultural communication, cooperation, and understanding unprecedented in modern society.”

Reviewed by Rene Wadlow, the editor of Transnational Perspectives, published in Geneva.

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