Are You a Religious Naturalist Without Knowing It?; Ursula Goodenough, PhD

Each religious tradition has its core narrative. The life of the Buddha or Christ, the sagas of the peoples of Israel or the Greek gods, the adventures of the Hindu deities – these accounts “define” a tradition. Interpretations and moral/ethical edicts are built into the fabric of each narrative and elaborated by clerics, and spiritual responses are supported by art and ceremony. In these traditions, nature is usually framed with respect to the human, often as a human resource.

Scientific inquiry has provisioned us with a mindblowing core narrative – the story of the cosmos and our place within it – where its coherence is a very recent achievement. Humans don’t show up until the very last moment, albeit our evolution is anticipated in all of its biological chapters and was made possible by the nucleosynthetic marvels called stars.

A naturalist can be said to take nature seriously, to adopt this account as a core narrative. This then raises a question: what would it mean to be a religious naturalist? Are there ways to work with the narrative religiously? What is its interpretive, spiritual, and moral potential?

Dr. Goodenough will explore these questions, concluding that the religious naturalist takes nature seriously and takes nature to heart. Taking something to heart means that your heart can be broken: you experience moral outrage when that which is revered is desecrated.

Dr. Ursula Goodenough is Professor of Biology at Washington University and author of The Sacred Depths of Nature.