Spirits and Nature
The Intertwining of Sacred Cosmologies and Environmental Conservation in Bhutan
Keywords:Himalayas, Bhutan, Vajrayana Buddhism, Animism, local deities, spiritual ecology, traditional ecological knowledge, environmental perceptions
While religious belief and environmental practice can be at odds with each other in a reductionist paradigm, both are aligned in service of environmental conservation in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. Government documents assert that the nation’s unique sacred cosmology, a blend of Animism, Bön, and Vajrayana Buddhism, has protected Bhutan’s natural environment, allowing about two-thirds of the nation to remain under forest cover. The widespread belief in spirits and deities who inhabit the land shapes the ways that resource-dependent communities conceptualize and interact with the land. Local beliefs reveal a deep aflnity for and care of the landscape. In this way, local beliefs support the modernist goals of environmental conservation, while arising from a decidedly different ontology. The Bhutanese case highlights the potentials for both convergence and conmict inherent in the precarious intersections of traditional ecological knowledge and scientilc epistemologies of the environment
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