Prof. Christopher J. Preston first VU Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene

Professor Christopher J. Preston has been appointed as first VU Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene: Religion, Ethics, and Global Environmental Change for the academic year 2016-2017.

04/19/2016 | 10:45 AM

The fellowship is a collaboration between the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) and the Faculty of Theology. From October 2016 to January 2017, Christopher J. Preston (University of Montana) will engage with the question of whether the Anthropocene (the current geological era, ‘the human era’) denotes a post-natural epoch. In recent work, he has been distinguishing between the idea of the Anthropocene as a retrospective look at impacts and the idea of the Anthropocene as a prospective embrace of certain technologies.

During the fellowship, he plans to consider what this prospective version of the Anthropocene does for certain key ideas that have anchored environmental thought. In particular Preston will consider what use this prospective Anthropocene has for the ideas of “nature” and of “the wild”. Contrary to what many Anthropocene thinkers are today saying, there seems to be good reason to doubt that the Anthropocene is the era of the “post-natural” and the “post-wild.” The project will endeavor to show the continued importance of these concepts in the epoch of the Anthropocene.

Preston is a Full Professor in the Department of Philosophy and a Research Fellow at the Program on Ethics and Public Affairs at the University of Montana. He works in environmental philosophy, climate ethics, the ethics of emerging technologies, and feminist philosophy. His research has recently focused on the major ethical and conceptual issues raised by climate engineering, synthetic biology, genetic modification, and nanotechnology.

About the Fellowship
The novel concept of an ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed to denote the present epoch in planetary history, following up the earlier Holocene: as a new geological era now largely defined by the extent and direction of human activities with a profound global impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Importantly, the concept of an ‘Anthropocene’ now places humankind fully at the centre of planetary evolution, as the main driving force on planet earth. These conceptual developments, however, raise fundamental normative questions with profound relevance for religion and ethics and for the principles that will guide the governance of the earth system.

To study these important questions, VU Amsterdam has installed a special programme for visiting researchers, the VU Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene. The Fellowship is designed to attract international highly accomplished scientists from a variety of fields who specialise in the analysis of the ethical dimensions of global environmental change, with a particular, but not exclusive emphasis on the teachings of the major world religions, including indigenous spirituality. In addition to pursuing their research, Fellows are expected to participate in, and further initiate, debates among different academic communities at the VU and beyond.