Thursday, February 21, 2008

From Edward Abbey to Zulu War Rituals

I’ve been having a great time browsing through my new copy of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. This year, I didn’t buy a wall calendar for the first time in 25 years because between my own situation and the state of the economy, I know there’s a good chance I won’t have a wall to hang it on before the year is done. I’ve given some thought to what will go in the backpack if that day comes and a 2 volume, 1900 page, 10 lb, specialized encyclopedia isn’t on the list.

So why did I buy this? Even though I got it at almost 75% off, it was still over $100. I’m way beyond broke, have never for a moment believed in God, and think religion has done much more harm than good. GT, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!

First, let’s acknowledge that yes, it’s completely unpractical. I would have liked to have grown up in a time and place where I learned practical living skills, but I’m a civilized (or syphilized, as Ed would say) product of the late 20th century. And I’m too old a cat to want to learn new tricks.

Second, though not religious, I’ve also never been interested in the mainstream materialistic world of house car things career. I recently saw the first episode of The Office in which Pam says little girls don’t dream of being a receptionist and speaks haltingly of her art. Along with office jobs, few people dream of working in retail, manufacturing, or most of the other jobs in our society. As a teenager, some of the music which mattered most to me came from people like George Harrison and Cat Stevens singing about living in the material world and being on the road to find out.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of the struggle of Good vs. Evil, and from Robin Hood to Carnivale, the Good has never come from the respected members of society in power and control. I’ve never owned a bumper, but have a bumper sticker: “I am a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot.”--Henry D. Thoreau. Though I have a very strong interest in and respect for nature for its own sake, it’s the differences in how I feel, how I am, when in the natural world and the manmade world (and this one is very much a man made world) which interest me even more. The question of where humans should fit in the big picture intrigues me. So yes, this encyclopedia is far more important to me than anything that happens on Wall Street.

The encyclopedia has about 1000 entries, most of which include a related reading list. This is not just a standard what does a religion think of the world kind of book, but a very wide-ranging look at related topics, people, and places. To give you an idea of the focus of the encyclopedia, following the Introduction, the Reader’s Guide suggests reading five entries first: Environmental Ethics, Religious Studies and Environmental Concern, Ecology and Religion, Ecological Anthropology, and Social Science on Religion and Nature. You can also read a couple dozen sample entries here. Among those available are: Animism, Bioregionalism, Conservation Biology, Deep Ecology, Primate Spirituality, and Yoga and Ecology. Very important related current issues which seem to be missing on my first glances are biotechnology and energy, but perhaps they’re discussed within other entries.

Continuing my annoying habit of adding an unrelated paragraph to the end of these entries, there’s an unfortunate story of thousands of bats in New York and western Massachusetts dying from an unknown disease which, because many of them grow a fungus, is being referred to as “white nose syndrome”. I don’t at all wish to make light of the deaths of my furry flying friends, but can’t stop myself from observing that I knew many humans suffering from a similar problem in eastern Massachusetts in the 1980s.


Lisa J. said...

DOn't apologize for an "unrelated" final paragraph to your entry. Our backyard (back in the Berkshires of MA) was filled in the summer with swooping bats. This makes me a little sad - I hope "my" bats aren't suffering. I felt like my summer evenings spent sitting under them made us all friends in some weird way.

And, um, we all need things that don't seem practical, don't we? I remember encyclopedias... back in the dark ages of doing research in the library for college papers, before the internet. Aaah... talk about be in touch with the facts!

greentangle said...

I hadn't really thought of the fact that encyclopedias are probably extinct or close to it. There are probably young people who don't know what they are, just like I don't know what all those gizmos they keep pushing buttons on are. :)

Lisa J. said...

I had a student a couple years ago ask me "how did you do research without the internet?"

Ummmm.... libraries, I told him. He was beside himself imagining how I could have accomplished this!

Just to add insult to injury, he then asked me if I remember computers w/green letters. Yup. That, too. And the punch card things (thanks to my dad being in college while I was a kid!).

Stephanie said...

I've made a couple of these seemingly impractical book purchases myself, but I can see the draw here. Sounds fascinating.

Encyclopedias better not go extinct! I've copyedited a bunch of them and plan to copyedit plenty more (though not the general encyclopedias Lis may be referring to--encyclopedias on specific topics such as this one).

Lisa J. said...

though not the general encyclopedias Lis may be referring to--encyclopedias on specific topics such as this one

We used to use (almost exclusively) the New Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians - which was essentially an encyclopedia, though. There were several editions of this multi-volume set which it took up an entire wall in the music library!

Now... I have to admit, though, that reading encyclopedias always gave me a raging stomach ache! When writing my papers, I'd have to make several trips to the bathroom (probably more info than you wanted!). In fact, I know a few people who have this same problem - for some it happens at bookstores as well. So does anyone know if there's something in the ink that could be causing this?