Ecology, or ecological science, is the study of the relationships between organisms and their biophysical environment. A biophysical environment consists of both the biotic and abiotic surrounding of an organism or population. The abiotic environment includes weather, earth, sun, soil, climate and atmosphere. The biotic environment includes organisms of the same kind as well as other types of plants and animals. A biophysical environment’s range can vary in scale from microscopic to global. The number of biophysical environments is infinite, given that each living organism has its own environment; which includes the factors that have an influence in their survival, development, and evolution. 

Ecology is studied at various levels such as organism, population, community, biosphereand ecosystem. It is often defined as the study of ecosystems because ecologists study the interaction of all the organisms in an ecosystem. The study includes complex interactions between thousands of plants and animals to the role of microbes living under the soil to the effects of tropical rainforest on the Earth’s atmosphere. Ecology provides new knowledge of the interdependence between people and nature that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity in a changing climate.

The word “ecology” (“Ökologie”) was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel to describe the “economies” of living forms. Ecological thought is based on established divisions in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Theory in ecology consists of the heuristics or principles applied to construct models. Different from evolutionary theory, ecology has not generally accepted global principles such as Mendel’s rules of genetic inheritance. Contemporary ecology involves a mixture of sub-disciplines including population ecology, community ecology, conservation ecology, ecosystem ecology, metapopulation ecology, metacommunity ecology, spatial ecology, landscape ecology, physiological ecology, evolutionary ecology, functional ecology, and behavioral ecology.

An ecological crisis can strike when the environment of a species or a population evolves in a way harmful to that species’ survival. The crisis may start with a change in the climate (such as increased temperature or decreased rainfall), an extraordinary event (such as an oil spill), increased activity of predators feeding on prey (such as overfishing), or explosive growth in the population of the species that cannot be supported by the ecosystem. In the past, human actions have severely affected many ecosystems by rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species and the pollution of ecosystems. Some environmentalists and conservationists regularly apply ecology and other sciences to support their advocacy standpoints for controversial political or economic reasons. Consequently, some scientific work in ecology directly influences policy and political debate, which in return may direct ecological research and practice that is not always in favor of sustaining and healing our planet.

Our present ecological crisis, including the fast-tracking climate change, species depletion, and the pollution and acidification of the oceans, is the utmost man-made disaster this planet has ever faced. A crucial but hardly addressed component of this crisis is our civilizations’ inattentiveness to the sacred nature of life and creation, and the way this affects our relationship to the environment. There is an uncompromising urgency to acknowledge the spiritual factor of the ecological crises, in order to help bring the world back into equilibrium as an organic unity. The importance in the interconnectivity between the wellbeing of humans, other living things, and entire ecosystems are increasingly more visible. 

Research suggests that humanity’s destruction of biodiversity creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases to arise, such as Covid-19 that emerged in China in December 2019. Reducing the natural barriers between host animals for viruses and ourselves by invading tropical forests and other wild landscapes, we humans are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases. We disrupt ecosystems. We cut trees. We kill animals. We cage them. We eat them. We shake viruses loose from their natural hosts, so that they are in need of a new host. Disease ecologists argue that shrinking natural habitats and changing behavior add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals. It is an increasing and weighty threat to global health, security, and economies that will not be defeatable without the change of human behavior.

What is Spiritual Ecology?

Since the late 1980s, interest in the intersection of spirituality and ecology has grown exponentially. As an umbrella term, spiritual ecology may be defined as a vast, complex, diverse, and dynamic field of intellectual and practice-oriented discipline at the intersection of spirituality, environments, ecologies, and environmentalisms. Spiritual ecology is an exploration of the spiritual dimension of our present ecological crisis that recognizes that there is a spiritual aspect to issues related to conservation, environmentalism, and earth stewardship. Its advocates promote the idea that contemporary conservation work includes spiritual principles and that contemporary spiritual practice involves awareness of and engagement in ecological issues. The field of spiritual ecology, which embraces concepts such as deep ecology, ecofeminism, and nature religion, is largely evolving through the three distinct formal areas of science and academia, religion and spirituality, and ecological sustainability. It does not promote any specific religion; no particular belief system is designated as the solution.  Instead, scientists, scholars, educators, clerics, adherents, politicians, and others are encouraged to deeply examine their own beliefs and values for foundations, attitudes, values, and practices that relate to viable environmental worldviews

Teachings and practices in the field of spiritual ecology tie together spiritual and environmental experience and understanding. Moreover, within the tradition itself dwells a profound notion of a collective human-earth-spirit evolution that is expanding consciousness beyond the dualities of human & earth, heaven & earth, and mind & body. This notion of interconnectedness is a component of 

indigenous cultures and contemporary knowledge that acknowledges the unity of all of things. Many proponents of spiritual ecology agree that indigenous wisdom carries a distinct aspect of experience and lived understanding of the principles, values, and attitudes of spiritual ecology. 

For many indegenous societies, the earth is the central spiritual context. This principle order reflects a stance and way of being in the world that is rooted in land and embedded in place. Spiritual ecology guides us to look to respected preservers of these traditions in order to grasp the source of our current ecological and spiritual crisis, which may lead us to move into a state of healing.

Indigenous peoples have always understood the interconnection between the outer and inner and it’s fundamental aspect to life itself. While the outer signs of our ecological crisis are clearly visible in the pollution of the waters, the dying of species, climate change, and the current spread of diseases, the inner marks of the crisis are less comprehended, particularly in Western culture. For centuries, Western culture has dismissed the inner worlds, asserting that only the material world is “real.” We are less aware of the inner spiritual crisis that underlies the outer crisis. 

The collective pursuit of materialism and the disregard for the sacred within all of life has had a devastating effect. Spiritual ecology proposes we need to recognize that there is a direct relationship between our inner world and the outer, physical, ecological predicament.  Because our culture has ignored the inner for so long, it is difficult for us to perceive what is happening. We have forgotten that the world has a soul, the anima mundi. The world’s soul is no longer part of our collective consciousness, even though for centuries it was understood as the root of everything sacred in creation. 

What the world needs is fundamental transformative change that includes system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values, promoting social and environmental responsibilities within all sectors. At the root  of the ecological imbalance and the resulting crises is a deep disregard for both the environment and for the consequences of our actions. An important element in the work of contemporary spiritual teachers is the call for humanity’s full acceptance of responsibility for what we have done to mother earth – physically and spiritually. Healing and transformation will only be possible by accepting this responsibility.

1. (from Greek: οἶκος, “house”, or “environment”; -λογία, “study of”)
2. Biotic components can be described as any living component that affects another organism or shapes the ecosystem. This includes both animals that consume other organisms within their ecosystem, and the organism that is being consumed. Biotic factors also include human influence, pathogens, and disease outbreaks.
3. Abiotic components are non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms and the functioning of ecosystems. Abiotic components include physical conditions and non-living resources that affect living organisms in terms of growth, maintenance, and reproduction.
4. The regions of the surface, atmosphere, and hydrosphere of the earth (or analogous parts of other planets) occupied by living organisms.
5. An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.
6. Eric Laferrière; Peter J. Stoett (2 September 2003). International Relations Theory and Ecological Thought: Towards a Synthesis. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-134-71068-3
7. Mendelian inheritance is a type of biological inheritance that follows the principles originally proposed by Gregor Mendel in 1865 and 1866. When Mendel’s theories were integrated with the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory of inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1915, they became the core of classical genetics.
8. Sarkar, Sahotra, “Ecology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
9. Quammen, David. 2013. “Opinion | The Next Pandemic: Not If, but When.” The New York Times, May 9, 2013, sec. Opinion.
10. See Vidal, John. 2020. “‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Is Our Destruction of Nature Responsible for Covid-19?” The Guardian, March 18, 2020, sec. Environment.
11. See Leslie E. Sponsel, Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution, ch. III, “Branches”, 69-83 and specifically ch. 12, “Supernovas.
12. Deep ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.
13. Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that understands environmentalism, and the relationship between women and the earth, as foundational to its analysis and practice; it draws on concepts of gender to study the relationships between humans and the natural world.
14. Nature religions include indigenous religions and contemporary belief systems throughout the world that consider the environment to be imbued with spirits and sacred entities and that understand nature and the natural world as an embodiment of divinity, sacredness, and spiritual power.
15. Sponsel, Leslie E. (2012). Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution. Praeger. pp. xiii. ISBN 978-0-313-36409-9.
16. The term “indigenous” here refers to that which is native, original, and resident to a place, more precisely to societies who share and preserve ways of knowing the world in relationship to the land.
17. John Grim, “Recovering Religious Ecology with Indigenous Traditions”, available online at: Indigenous Traditions and Ecology, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.
18. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim (eds.), Worldviews & Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment, p. 11.
19. Tu Wei-Ming, “Beyond Enlightenment Mentality”, published in Worldviews & Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John A. Grim (eds.), p. 27.
20. The world soul (Greek: ψυχὴ κόσμου psuchè kósmou, Latin: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to the world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body.
21. See Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. “Spiritual Ecology”. Spiritual Ecology. Retrieved 2015-08-28.
22. This theme is developed further in the work of Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sandra Ingerman, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim:, Leslie Sponsel:, and others.
23. Also see the video Taking Spiritual Responsibility for the Planet with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, and Engaged Buddhism