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Tapping Indic Sources

Ann Grodzins Gold

Edited by D.C. Srivastava
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2005, pp. 316, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 9 September 2005

Readings in Environmental Ethics is an original collection addressing some major issues and ongoing debates in environmental thought. Territory covered here includes cosmological vision and practical ethics with several chapters seeking to identify or to forge links between the two. Other contributions treat multiple aspects of environmental degradation in India and various efforts and plans to improve these situations. Perhaps the most persistent question posed in this volume, which its authors answer in a wide variety of ways, is whether or not an environmental ethics for our perilous times would require a viewpoint that radically decenters human beings. That is, must humans abandon anthropocentric thought and attempt to cultivate ecocentric understandings or cosmocentric approaches, as several contributors to this volume prefer to put it? Moreover, are human minds even capable of such a shift? While numerous previous volumes since the nineteen-seventies have addressed similar issues both within and across different cultural traditions including India’s, Srivastava’s particular contribution is to muster Indic sources and perspectives to focus specifically on environmental ethics.1 Many of the authors gathered here delve into India’s rich religious and literary heritage, their chapters ranging through history from the Vedas and epics right into twentieth-century poetry.   Although Srivastava’s edited volume truly does live up to its subtitle in offering diverse disciplinary perspectives, it is nonetheless a work shaped by philosophical approaches. More than half the authors of its 29 chapters, including the editor himself, belong to the fields of philosophy and ethics, while no other discipline is represented by more than two chapters. Nonetheless, the variety of academic perspectives assembled here is impressive, most especially in that contributors come not only from other humanistic disciplines (English and Hindi literature) but from the social sciences (economics, political science, sociology) and the natural sciences (chemistry, physics). Notably, the contributors do not belong to elite institutions in Delhi or Kalkotta; about half are based in Kanpur. Most chapters are quite brief and lucidly written.   Readings in Environmental Ethics is divided into four segments: “Eco-centric Morality” (9 chapters); “Religion, Culture and Environment” (7 chapters); “Environment and Literature” (3 chapters); and “Science, Society and Environment” (10 chapters in which social and natural scientists are grouped together). Most of the authors in the first two segments of Srivastava’s collection find in Hindu and Buddhist sources environmentally benign worldviews. Indeed, one chapter, Shukla’s, is grandly titled, ‘Hindu Dharma as a Panacea for Environmental Crisis’. ...

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