Book Review: Bron R. Taylor et al. (ed.): The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Nature
For an encyclopedia devoted to an exploration of the "relationships between human beings, their diverse religions, and the Earth's living systems" (vii), the defining factor can be none other than the very definitions of "religion" and "nature". This foundational importance of definition is well-recognized by Taylor. Since there is no broadly accepted definition of religion, Taylor and his colleagues had to choose one of various possibilities; what they settled on is based on David Chidester's vague definition, who argued in his 1996 Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa that the term "religion has been a contested category[;] a single, incontestable definition of religion cannot simply be established by academic flat" (ix), and who consciously proposed a vague definition: religion is "that dimension of human experience engaged with sacred norms" (ix). Based on this, the editors of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (ERN) adopted a working definition of religion as "that dimension of human experience engaged with sacred norms, which are related to transformative forces and powers and which people consider to be dangerous and/or beneficent and/or meaningful in some ultimate way" (x). In his introduction Taylor further states that "for many, this meaningfulness and the sacred norms associated with it have much to do with nature" (x). He acknowledges that nature itself is a problematic and contested term, but defines it as "that world which includes--but at the same time is perceived to be beyond--our human bodies, and which confronts us daily with its apparent otherness" (x). These "minimalist definitions" (x), when combined into the term "nature religion", become "any religiosity that considers nature to be sacred (extraordinarily powerful in both dangerous and beneficial ways) and worthy of reverent care" (x).