Works of Doubt and Leaps of Faith

An Augustinian Challenge to Planetary Resilience


  • Jacob von Heland Stockholm University
  • Sverker Sörlin Stockholm University



resilience, traditional ecological knowledge, planetary Boundaries, anthropocene, environmental philosophy, Avatar


This article discusses recent developments among strands of earth systems science as providers of knowledge and advice in emerging global environmental politics from the vantage point of the screenplay Avatar. The field ‘resilience thinking’, emerging as part of systems ecology in the 1970s, pioneered propositions about the critical role of local, traditional, and indigenous knowledge to understand and manage human–nature relations. In more recent years there have been attempts to address sustainability beyond the local in ‘extended resilience enterprise’ including ideas of ‘social ecological systems’ and ‘planetary boundaries’. However, the leap to argue the case of resilience at larger, even planetary scales ran the risk of rendering the diversity of local cultures and knowledge traditions invisible by devising an epistemic space that privileged conventional Western knowledge. Using insights from the scientist Dr. Augustine in the screenplay Avatar, it is possible to discuss historical and current authority claims in local and planetary science policy. While there are good reasons to apply resilience beyond the ‘local’, this could be done in many ways. We contend that the potential virtues of involving resilience thinking with global environmental policies would be better realized if this also meant developing a careful understanding of its moral and epistemological aspects. This understanding need not only cohere with current ecological understandings of the world as living and complex, but also with humanistic recognition of the human stature as many-fold and situated.

Author Biographies

Jacob von Heland, Stockholm University

PhD in Natural Resources Management from Stockholm University in 2011. Research fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre since December 2011.

Sverker Sörlin, Stockholm University

Sverker Sörlin is professor of Environmental History in the Division of History of Science and Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where he is also senior researcher.


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How to Cite

von Heland, J., & Sörlin, S. (2012). Works of Doubt and Leaps of Faith: An Augustinian Challenge to Planetary Resilience. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 6(2), 151–175.