Planetary Thinking, Agency, and Relationality: Religious Naturalism's Plea

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Earthly Things: Immanence, New Materialisms and Planetary Thinking

Publication Date



Karen Bray, Heather Eaton, and Whitney Bauman


Fordham University Press


New York, New York




Religious Studies

Publisher Statement

Globalization and climate weirding are two of the leading phenomena that challenge and change the way we need to think and act within the planetary community. Modern Western understand­ings of human beings, animals, and the rest of the natural world and the subsequent technologies built on those understandings have thrown us into an array of social and ecological crises with planetary implications. Earthly Things: Immanence, New Materialisms, and Planetary Thinking, argues that more immanent or planetary ways of thinking and acting have great potential for re-thinking human-technology-animal-Earth relationships and for addressing problems of global climate weirding and other forms of ecological degradation. Older and often-marginalized forms of thought from animisms, shamanisms, and other religious traditions are joined by more recent forms of thinking with immanence such as the universe story, process thought, emergence theory, the new materialisms (NM’s), object-oriented ontologies (OOO’s), affect theory, and queer theory. This book maps out some of the connections and differences between immanent frameworks to provide some eco-intellectual commons for thinking within the planetary community, with a particular emphasis on making connections between more recent theories and older ideas of immanence found in many of the world’s religious traditions. The authors in this volume met and worked together over five years, so the resulting volume reveals sustained and multifaceted perspectives on “thinking and acting with the planet.” -- publisher


This chapter features religious naturalism as one critical materialist orientation offering insights into the ethical dimensions of planetary thinking. I introduce religious naturalism as a capacious, ecological worldview that re-assesses who we humans think we are in the grand scheme of things, shifting humans’ attention back to ourselves as relational, material processes inextricably connected to other life forms and material processes. With this conception of humanity, I contend that religious naturalism affirms inseparable ethical connections between humanity’s relationality with other natural processes on the planet and humans’ activities with each other. A key component of the chapter is a discussion of how contemporaries in the West might conceptualize agency, understand human-nature relations, and attempt to provide plausible responses to the challenges of climate change while embracing this specific view of humanity. Specifically, using the concept of metaphysical perspectivism, I advance religious naturalism’s affirmation that humans’ perspectives are included with, and influenced by, the perspectives of other existents in the universe. In suggesting that humans reside within an appreciable universe, religious naturalism posits human valuing as part of a vital sphere of agential activity throughout the biosphere. In the final section, I briefly discuss the ethical import and vision of hope offered by religious naturalism.