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  • Dr. Renée G. Soule

Dissertation Abstract: Engaging Ecological Crises as an Initiation

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

(Full dissertation is available for download.)

Making of Ourselves a Light:

Engaging Ecological Crises as an Initiation

by Dr. Renée G. Soule

My research framed environmental crises as an initiation, presaging a new level of maturity commensurate with and demanded by the challenges we face. It explored how the ecological Self can be formed, tempered, and sustained via directly addressing ecological dilemmas. Initiatory thresholds, challenges, and insights experienced by seasoned activists were revealed and reflected upon. It was hypothesized that engagement in environmental crises can initiate a mature ecological belonging that embraces and embodies the essential unity of civilization and wild nature.

The review of literature links perennial purposes of initiation as a pressing contemporary need to live in dynamic balance with our more-than-human world. Initiations evoke death, confusion, and rebirth as integral to future-oriented transitions. Proposing that environmental crises require this caliber of transformation highlights the possibility that making necessary changes could be subjectively experienced as an initiation. Little is understood about the initiatory potential of environmental crises and how to make use of this opportunity.

Imaginal Inquiry allowed participants to explore initiatory dimensions of activism by experiencing the archetypal contours of severance, liminality, and incorporation within a distilled version of their lives as activists. Challenges and potentials of each stage were evoked, expressed, and reflected upon.

The cumulative learning refers to the process whereby environmental crises call forth responsive healing capacities of a mature ecological Self. Four learnings illuminate the initiatory terrain of this process. The first reveals that the severance phase can mark a permanent divergence from the values and aspirations of dominant culture. The second states that challenges of taking action can foster strategic and spiritual dimensions of mature ecological identity. The third points to the need for dynamic incorporation strategies that stabilize ecological belonging in the tumult of ongoing societal change. The last learning reveals how responsive attunement to an ecological context can guide and ripen ecological identity.

Environmental crises present us with a crucial inquiry: Who are we invited to become? This research indicates that responding to crises directly and honestly answers this question. As we respond, we come to trust our innate belonging and are transformed into whom and what our world needs.

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