University Sustainability: Ritualizing Green Communion
After 1970, universities around the world embraced the idea of sustainable development. Faculties were established. New departments and schools created. Thousands of courses were developed to explore the logic and implications of the new science of sustainability – across every discipline, from Sociology and Politics to Ecology, Earth Science, Engineering and English. Tens of thousands of universities and colleges have sustainability policies, committees and dedicated officers, student clubs and festivals. The mantra has been strong. Hundreds of thousands of students have been trained. But the effects of all of this activity have been underwhelming at best but in reality, negligible, compared to the scale of the problem. The main reason for this is that the focus has been mainly a scientific understanding of the problem and the development of rational interventions to address it. Both the scientific models and the proposed interventions take as their starting point, the ontology of rational individualism. They focus on ‘knowledge’ and ‘data’ to provide a starting point for civic exhortation to rational citizens at the ballot box and incentive structures directed at rational consumers. What they do not do is attempt to create ideologies or to mobilize collective spiritual or psycho-analytical drivers of group behaviour. Almost no universities consider psychoanalytical, spiritual, religious or ritual themes as central components of sustainability research, curricula or management practice. Most don’t consider them at all. And yet a simple ecumenical act such as holding hands at a set time each day, and every day and perhaps some kind of symbolic enactment of reciprocity and breaking bread, could provide an easy way to ritualize both the cognitive dissonance between the sphere of scientific model-making that provides the dynamic rationale for modern universities, and the relational context for (ecological) conscience formation that echoes the spiritual purpose of monasteries from which universities emerged during the early modern period.