The ever-increasing environmental crises require a thorough-going shift in the way in which we see and relate to the world. Much of the current discourse rests upon deeply held dualities, such as those between human beings and other animals, and those between mind and matter. These dualities set the flourishing of people against that of the environment. Further, it is increasingly clear that science, while of critical importance, offers little motivational purchase upon the human heart; nor is it able to capture and articulate the whole of creation’s being and meaning.
A promising avenue for reframing both our manner of seeing and our manner of responding to the environment is via the notion of fittingness. Most of us make myriads of decisions on a daily basis, informed by judgments of fittingness. At the same time, the apparent simplicity of the term can lead one to overlook complexities substantive enough to have merited examination notable thinkers through the ages: Cicero and Aquinas and Bentham, or, more recently, among moral philosophers who have put it to use with regard to, for instance, questions of justice and punishment.
With a few exceptions, the concept has rarely been given more than a passing nod by those with an eye toward environmental ethics; there is much room, then, for further exploration and development of the concept in this particular arena. Both aesthetic and moral meanings are contained within this intuitive term, thereby enabling its employment in highlighting a manner of relating – neighbourliness. Indeed, a whole cluster of relational and moral terms is associated with the idea: decorum, appropriateness, rightness, etc.
The very idea of ‘fitting in’, for instance, a local context, implies the element of self-limit, which enables one to recognize not just “the other,” but the needs of the other as well. ‘Fittingness’ may thus serve as a powerful antidote to the destructive forms of anthropocentrism frequently connected to discussions of human flourishing and environmental ethics. Further, the plasticity of the concept enables a broad span of reach across disciplines, thereby opening the door to productive partnership between, for instance, philosophy, theology, the natural sciences and ethics that should foster an ethic that is both more robust and compelling than one that is informed strictly by scientific data.
The aim of this conference is to explore the possible contributions to be made to environmental ethics through the concept of ‘fittingness’, from multiple perspectives.
A distinctively Christian understanding of flourishing understands that humanity’s very existence, as well as its flourishing, is inextricably bound up with the rest of creation; one cannot flourish without the other. Indeed, the health of humanity’s relationship to God, the human community, and the non-human creation form the core of a good life. Our hope is to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and partnership between fields, toward the common good.
The impetus for this conference has its roots within a particularly Christian theological perspective, involving biblical studies, historical theology, systematic theology and Christian ethics. However, a wider participation is desired from, for instance, the social sciences, economics, and politics, in order to generate robust engagement with and furthering of ‘fittingness’ within the realm of environmental ethics.
Possible questions to address:
• How can the promise of ‘fittingness’ as an approach in environmental ethics be further developed?
• Is biblical and/or ecological flourishing a useful anchor for the notion of fittingness?
• Is ‘fittingness’ descriptive or normative? Or both?
• What is the role of cultural factors in determining environmental fittingness? What about the manner of interplay between cultural meanings and the ‘facts’ offered by the natural sciences? How ought these relate to one another?
• Given the plasticity of the term, how might one determine/anchor/define what is ‘fitting’ in a plural context? Who decides? Fitting for whom?
• The notion of ‘fittingness’ has, in the past, been employed toward ill ends, by, for instance, the Nazis, those interested in eugenic possibilities, etc. How might the weaknesses and even dangers associated with the notion of fittingness be mitigated against?
On May 8-9, 2020, the Institute of Leadership and Social Ethics (ILSE), part of the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven (Belgium) will organize an international academic conference, addressing this theme. The conference encourages presentations from various theological and interdisciplinary perspectives. This exchange will be facilitated by keynote lectures that present distinct perspectives on these questions.
PROF. DR. MICHAEL NORTHCOTT is emeritus Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh and Professor of Religion and Ecology at the Indonesian Consortium of Religious Studies at Universitas Gadjah Mada Graduate School in Yogyakarta (Indonesia). He is also guest professor of Systematic Theology at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven (Belgium). His research, which focuses on environmental ethics, enjoys wide recognition. Among his many publications on the topic are the books The Environment and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1996), A Political Theology of Climate Change (SPCK, 2014) and Place, Ecology and the Sacred: The Moral Geography of Sustainable Communities (Bloomsbury, 2015).
PROF. DR. JOHAN DE TAVERNIER is Professor of Theological Ethics, as well as Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). Furthermore, he is Director of Ethics@Arenberg (Science, Engineering and Technology
Group, Catholic University of Leuven). Environmental ethics is one of his research foci; in particular, he specializes in food ethics and animal ethics. He published on Laudato Si’, the rights of future generations, animal welfare and food ethics and religion.
PROF. DR. EMILY BRADY is Professor of Philosophy at the Texas A&M University (USA). Additionally, she holds the Susanne M. and Melbern G. Glasscock Director’s Chair in the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research. She has done extensive research in environmental philosophy, focusing particular attention on aesthetics and environmental ethics. Among her publications in this area are the books Aesthetics of the Natural Environment (Edinburgh University Press, 2003) and (with Isis Brook and Jonathan Prior) Between Nature and Culture: The Aesthetics of Modified Environments (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018).
Date & Location
The conference will be held on May 8-9, 2020, at the Leuven Center for Christian Studies, part of the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit. The address is: Sint-Jansbergsesteenweg 95, 3001 Leuven, Belgium. Registration information is available on the ILSE website: etf-ilse.org/event/conference-towards-an-environmental-ethic-of-fittingness
Abstracts & Deadline
Scholars are invited to submit an abstract for a paper. Abstracts should be maximum 500 words, and fall within the theme of the conference as described above. Each abstract will be assessed blindly by two experts. Abstracts are to be submitted by email to Ms. Leslie Herrmann, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please attach two separate Word documents to your email:
• Document 1: Your paper proposal, include key bibliographic sources consulted (max. 5). In this document, all references identifying the author should be removed.
• Document 2: Your last name, first name, email address, institutional address, the title of your abstract, the conference topic under which your proposal falls, as well as a short CV (maximum 1 page).
Deadline: January 15, 2020.
You can expect to receive a response by January 31, 2020 at the latest.
From this conference, we will edit a scholarly volume, consisting of peer-reviewed papers.
For your convenience, this Call for Papers is also available as pdf: CfP ILSE Conference ‘Towards an Environmental Ethic of Fittingness’ – 8-9 May 2020
This conference forms part of the research project “Towards an Environmental Ethic of ‘Fittingness’,” which is fully funded by the Issachar Fund, issacharfund.org