Book Review

Hans-Günter Heimbrock and Jörg Persch (eds), Eco-Theology: Essays in Honor of Sigurd Bergmann. Brill: Paderborn, 2021, pp. 311, ISBN: 978-3-506-76036-4 (hbk). EUR 99.00.

Eco-Theology is a tribute to the writings and teachings of Sigurd Bergmann. Born in Germany, Sigurd completed his doctoral thesis at Lund in 1995, and has spent the most productive years of his academic life at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Trondheim. Working from the Department of Architecture and Religious Studies he contributes adventurously and networks widely—across disciplines, and across the globe. He spans early Church theology; aesthetics; art, architecture and urban design. Ecotheology is one of his core passions.

The global ecological crisis, climate change, pollution and loss of species were firmly on the agenda as authors were recruited to respond to the lifetime endeavours of Sigurd Bergmann. And then COVID-19 intervened. Sigurd became part of the intense public debate that took place across the four Nordic countries. Hans-Günter Heimbrock and Jörg Persch, the editors, and key contributors, reworked their contributions to include this ecological crisis. The volume took on a sharper focus to reflect this new urgency.

The contributions are grouped into five sections: Ecological Crisis; Nature, Spirit, and Politics; and Praxis. The volume is effectively organized, progresses well, and gives a clear overview of the ecotheology which is emerging in this ‘up-over’ portion of the globe. Sigurd Bergmann is affirmed by fourteen well-crafted and substantial contributions.

That said, reading Eco-Theology has been a roller-coaster ride for this ‘down-under’ reviewer. There are chapters which delight me, chapters which test my stamina, and chapters which raise expectations and trigger questions that are not answered. I select three: two delights with a challenge in the middle.

Firstly, chapter 4 on ‘Eco-Theology Beyond Order and Chaos’, written by Antje Jackelén, will resonate with academics from ‘down under’ with interests in ecotheology. Science and religion have, over time, converged and diverged in multiple ways. This chapter gives us a confidence that a new and positive relationship is emerging between science and theology. Ecotheology ‘down-under’ is moving into that same space. In our case, there are new relationships between science and Indigenous world views, and growing respect for the holders of Indigenous knowledge.

Secondly, First Nations, Aboriginal, Māori and Pacifika are an important part of ‘down-under’ identity. And Māori and Aboriginal have introduced us to Sami. When Eco-Theology arrived, we went looking for Sami contributions to ecotheology. Mika Vähäkangas opens up the world of Lars Levi Laestadius, sometime Pastor at Karesuando. Lars Levi’s parents were part Sami and his mother, in particular, identified with Sami culture. In 1843, seventeen years into his ministry, he met a young Sami evangelist (‘Maria’) and had a conversion experience that reshaped his faith.

The preaching of Lars Levi Laestadius has the potential to provide Sami inputs into Christian ecotheology. The larger proportion of his congregation were Sami and he regularly preached in their language. Some fifty-four sermons have been preserved but they have been copied multiple times and redacted to match the expectations of non-Sami. Is it possible to revisit the Karesuando sermons with a Sami lens instead of a hybridity lens, and uncover a Sami ecotheology? The challenge is to Mika Vähäkangas or to the extended family of NUST theologians.

Thirdly, many of the lead chapters in Eco-Theology contain bad news. They deal with threats to the future of our planet: ecological crises, climate change, and pollution. They are not alarmist: they analyse factual information in a measured and scholarly manner. Collectively, these chapters make it clear that we face a stark future. Chapter 12 by Jan-Olav Henriksen is an exuberant counter-point. He writes about Hope Cathedral, ‘a religious symbol for a sustainable practice’. This chapter resonates with Sigurd Bergman’s writing, teaching and preaching: it is art, music, urban design, built environment, practical theology and ecotheology.

Fredrikstad is a medium-sized town in southern Norway. Henriksen describes how Lutheran Diocese and community have built a new cathedral on the shore of an ocean filled with plastic waste. In times of crisis we need a cathedral builder’s attitude. Hope Cathedral is built of plastic waste, collected and crafted by volunteers and professionals; the unemployed and the retired. Traditional crafts and discarded modern materials are combined, grounded in the earth and stretching into the sky. It is a symbol of confession, and a symbol of hope, for humanity, and for the more than human. ‘Waste is ugly, but a cathedral of transformed waste can be a thing of beauty’. We, ‘down under’, are in solidarity with our ‘up over’ colleagues as they affirm what the community of Fredrikstad have done.

We delight in our solidarities, but reading Eco-Theology we recognize that we have taken different turns and travel in contrasting scholarly terrains.

Garth Cant

Te Kura Aronukurangi/School of Earth and Environment

University of Canterbury, New Zealand