An ecological sense of self as a necessary development for an ecologically sustainable future : the contributions of three spiritual or wisdom traditions to constructions of self and other in educational contexts

  • Eva Schmid

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    The core premise of the thesis is that our global environmental and social crises are of our own making and can only be transformed by us. Therefore it is imperative that humanity finds ways of protecting and sustaining the natural environment for our collective survival. This necessarily depends on human beings' ability to co-exist in harmony with other humans and species and to feel connected to and protect nature. This thesis examines three spiritual or wisdom traditions - Aboriginal spiritualities, the Goddess movement and Tibetan Buddhism, as they relate to Arne Naess's concept of the 'ecological self.' The ecological self is a psychological construct that suggests that human beings can evolve from a narrow egocentric way of being and relating to others, to one that is more open, inclusive of the 'other' and where one sees all lives as important. One is ultimately able to embrace the whole earth community, so that nothing is excluded as 'other'. This process of increasingly 'wide identification' Naess defined to be the process of the development of the ecological self. There is much written about spirituality and the environment but little relevant research that specifically examines spiritual traditions as they relate to the ecological self. The insights of transpersonal psychology elucidate the maturation from ego consciousness to eco-consciousness - a process of progressively inclusive identification with 'others, including the environment. However, transpersonal psychology does not directly 'converse' with Naess's construct of an ecological self. This thesis examines the nexus between Arne Naess's ecological self, transpersonal psychology and the three spiritual traditions. 'Aboriginal spiritualities' refers to Australian Aboriginal spiritualities, unless other wise stated. The literature review covers relevant background to the ecological self in relation to Western science and thought; this includes constructions of self and 'other' and story. Literature reviews of the three traditions informed in-depth interviews with five research participants who practise or identify with their particular spiritual tradition. I believe this research will enable the reader to gain an overview of the ecological wisdom of these three spiritual traditions, grounded in the lived experience of practitioners who embody these traditions. Each wisdom tradition has a long history of imparting psychological, social and ecological insights and understandings that are profoundly helpful and relevant to the current period of ecological crisis. The interviews are analysed under the broad conceptual themes of ecology, compassion and story. These traditions will be shown to encourage compassion, connectedness, interdependency and impart ecological wisdom - all vital to the realisation of the 'ecological self'. Story, lifelong learning and the ecoeducational model are used as frameworks for examining the educational potential of the spiritual traditions involved. A choice must be made: will we continue to base our knowledges on Western science or will we examine alternate constructions of reality, such as those of the three spiritual traditions examined in this thesis? The three spiritual traditions provide a compassionate and non-violent view of human consciousness with the potential to transform into an ecologically sensitive creative force. This thesis argues that great wisdom is held by these three wisdom traditions in the context of education for sustainability. This thesis examines this context.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBarbara Chevalier (Supervisor)

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