From esotericism to embodied ritual: Care for Country as religious experience

Care for Country as religious experienceIn an academic paper, it is shared that Aboriginal spiritual psychology begins from an appreciation of intentional and practical connection with the living systems of Country and kin. They draw on cases from Dadirri and other stories to describe Aboriginal contemplative practices as being conscious of our mutual vulnerability with the living cosmos.


Dr Cullan Joyce, Insight Fellow at the Contemplative Studies Centre, and Professor Yin Paradies write for the journal Religions discussing some ways Aboriginal cultures practise contemplative learning on Country. Many early Eurocentric interpretations of Aboriginal religion did not appreciate how Country actively participates in spiritual spaces and practices. To contrast these perspectives, they discuss how sacred connection with Country emerges from the participation in living systems; this interconnection permeates all aspects of life and is not restricted to special ‘religious’ spaces.

They argue that Aboriginal spiritual psychology begins from an appreciation of intentional and practical connection with the living systems of Country and kin. Finally, they draw on cases from Dadirri and other stories to describe Aboriginal contemplative practices as being conscious of our mutual vulnerability with the living cosmos.

From the Introduction

Eurocentric capitalist cultures are experiencing their own death, both literally and virtually. People within the cultural West (Europe, North America, Australasia) are experiencing the late-stage impacts of their own colonialism, economic extraction, and gratuitous violence toward the Earth and kin. The last few decades have entailed the long, slow collapse of the extractivism and ecocide that defined late (16th–21st Century) Eurocentric cultures. Since these societies are so dependent on extractive ways of being, the death of these ways has brought with it an incredible fear and terror over what will happen next. By contrast, for over 60,000 years, Aboriginal peoples have been growing cultures that recognise the mutual vulnerability of kin and Country. For Aboriginal peoples, Country encompasses and consists of land, water, sky, animals, plants, stories, songs, intuitions, feelings, etc., as they exist in flowing, mixing, merging waves of resonating place–time. For this reason, Aboriginal cultures are clear evidence that humans do not have to live a life founded on the violent extraction of resources from Country and the exploitation of life. Accordingly, the living cultures of Aboriginal peoples can speak with a voice based not on the presumption of our imminent demise, but from a space of vibrant and evolving being and becoming.

Aboriginal cultures provide an (in)coherent expression of spiritual life that implicitly critiques many of the categories of religion that developed in Eurocentric scholarship following the Enlightenment. Although not every non-indigenous religion fuses its tenets and conceptual habits with the violence of colonial power (Harisson 1972), in the eyes of these authors, the conceptual habits formed by colonial perspectives persist today, shaping how Aboriginal beliefs and practices are read. This paper weaves its way through contemporary examples of the subtle and not-so-subtle tendencies of Eurocentric thought that consistently misrepresent Aboriginal expressions of religion and spiritual life. Aboriginal expressions of ritual, religion, and spirituality are far more grounded in the sacredness of everyday life — eating, drinking, travelling, tool making (Mountford 1941), and their connection with Country (Sahlins 2022, pp. 21–22) — than in esoteric practices, fetishised by Eurocentric onlookers. We argue that Aboriginal spirituality is characterised by an ontology of interdependence and mutual vulnerability, and for this reason, it is a mistake to privilege certain functions of ‘sacred life’ or vocations within Aboriginal cultures (for instance, by singling out the medicine man or some other exotica as the centre of religious practice and experience). Furthermore, we call for an approach to religion that is grounded in the experience of Aboriginal people, who can speak for themselves (as the Wakaya first author of this paper does) and do not need their experience to fit into Eurocentric categories in order to be considered valid.

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Care for Country as religious experience
Care for Country understood as religious experience

 


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