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Products for grant AQ-228796-15

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Definitions of the Natural
Kimberly Reiter, Stetson University

Grant details:

Defining the Natural State: Introducing students to the complexities of sustainability and fundamentalism (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Defining the Natural State: Introducing students to the complexities of sustainability and fundamentalism
Author: Kimberly Reiter
Abstract: The course “Defining the Natural State” was the product of a 2015 NEH Enduring Questions Grant. The course examines historic controversies and cultural interpretations surrounding the evolving meaning of ‘natural state’, paying special attention to the beginnings of the cosmos, life and humanity. Approaches from cosmology, molecular biology, environmental science, anthropology and religion are considered, ending with a discussion of fundamentalism and sustainability as they pertain to defining “the natural state” in the twenty-first century. Sustainability is a difficult word to define, but most assume it involves some stewardship of nature. However, whose “nature” do we mean, especially in an environment so changed by man that some geologists now label it the Anthropocene? Can we ever return to a natural state? Would we want to, given the very real social and biological stressors involved? Finally, given a fundamentalist inclination to return things to “the way they were” in politics, religion, and society, what will be our definition of a natural human state? Who will decide? Today the question “What is the Natural State” continues to bring in new permutations. Can we return to a natural state, or are we now so inextricably creatures of technology that such a return would doom millions? Why is fundamentalism so powerful in the twenty-first century? Do many want to revert to “the way it used to be” because the future terrifies them? Are people “naturally” competitors or sharers? How do we reconcile the biocentric and anthropocentric visions of the natural state? Has humanity changed the “natural state” too much for any return? This course was not designed to answer these questions, but it has stimulated conversation and has challenged students to think about their own views of what is ‘natural’ in century that will force hard choices about sustainablilty and fundamental stands on what is ‘naturally correct’.
Date: 06/28/2016
Conference Name: International Interdisciplinary Conference for the Environment, Austin, Texas