Environment and Emotions

Human-Environment Relations between Colonial Scholarship and South Asian Buddhist Reformers in Colonial South Asia

Frederik Schröer

Understanding how historical actors related to natural environments and the nonhuman is vital to comprehending the Age of High Imperialism as a crucial ecological and historical watershed: the beginning of the Anthropocene, when human action altered biophysical environments on a planetary scale. This project inquires into the role of emotions therein. What emotions did environments and their changes and crises elicit? What emotional grammars, both vernacular and colonial, did the actors draw on to make sense of these changes? And finally, how did nonhuman actors participate in these ecologies of emotion?

In order to answer these and more questions, the project focuses on a specific group of actors: Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism in colonial South Asia. Due to their centrality in the colonial interface between science and religion, an inquiry into how these actors conceived of the human relation to natural environments and nonhuman actors is particularly revealing. The project uncovers a variety of voices across the coloniser-colonised spectrum, drawing on published monographs, periodicals, visual materials, and archival documents, thus furthering the decolonization of the history of the concept of environment. The regional focus on South Asia, grounded in multiple South Asian languages, is contextualized through a transregional perspective by integrating intellectual networks connecting to both Europe and East Asia. Besides its historiographic work intervening in colonial and environmental history, the project furthermore makes an innovative theoretical contribution to the study of emotions. By drawing on Buddhist epistemologies in conjunction with posthumanism, feminist new materialism, and new insights in (environmental) neuroscience, it rethinks emotions as critical aspects of a non-Eurocentric model of worlded cognition that connects humans and their environments in both affective and culturally learned ways.

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