With philosophy and developmental psychology degrees from Columbia University, Alice Andrews teaches psychology and evolutionary studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a founding member/council member of the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society as well as the founder and former editor-in-chief of The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture. She serves on the Executive Board of SUNY New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies program, as well as on the Editorial Boards of Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and EvoS: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium. Alice is also the founder and former editor of Entelechy: Mind & Culture and her novel Trine Erotic (evolutionary fiction) was republished for its 10th-year anniversary in 2012 (Codhill Press).
In addition to her academic pursuits, Alice also has a passion for the rights of nature and served on the Environmental Conservation Commission in the Village of New Paltz for 4 years. She is the founder of the group Mothers & Others United to Shut Down Indian Point as well as the founder of Beyond Pesticides in Ulster County. She currently serves on the Village of New Paltz Board of Ethics and was recently endorsed by the Humanist Society as a Humanist Chaplain. Singing is another passion — she recently formed The Hudson Valley Vocal Improv Collective and sometimes sings with Clear Light Ensemble. She has sung with Gaiatree Sound Project and did backup vocals on Sri Kirtan and Radharani’s latest albums — as well as on Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness.
If you had asked me for my evolutionary perspective eight years ago, you would have gotten a very passionate answer — one that can be found in my editor’s introduction to the inaugural issue of The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture, where I argued that a forum that examined all of life through an evolutionary lens was of critical importance. Darwinizing Mills’s sociological imagination, I wrote: “An ‘evolutionary imagination’ could move us into new worlds, helping us to develop novel environments that make the most of our evolved psychologies. It could, for example, provide us with information crucial to success in setting up smaller, more closely knit, more sustainable communities.” I went on to explain that we needed the insights an evolutionary perspective offered, in order to meet the social, political, and ecological challenges we faced.
Over the past eight years, though, my passion for theory has waned, and I’ve been more engaged with those real world problems and challenges I said we faced. But even when I organized a rally to shut down a NY nuke plant, I used principles from evolutionary theory to orchestrate it. And while I’ve fought to get laws passed to ban pesticides locally and participated in countless rallies and demonstrations for environmental and social justice, still, when my evolutionary imagination gets going, it tries to understand the root of our problems in order to most efficiently help solve them. Where do I put my energy and effort to do the most good? For the past several years, my answer to that question has been Sacred Naturalism.
If you’re not familiar with Sacred Naturalism, it’s something I came up with about five years ago to address the real human need to feel a part of something greater than the self, to participate in ‘the sacred,’ to share this experience with others, and to do it without the supernatural. As the evolutionary moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, explains: “The psychology of sacredness may (or may not) have co-evolved with belief in gods, but it is now a very general aspect of human nature.” (See my essay on the sacred.) Part evolutionary ethics, part spiritual ecology, part secular humanism, and part radical ecopsychology, Sacred Naturalism has various meanings to people who identify as sacred naturalists. Here’s evolutionary philosopher Edward Gibney on what Sacred Naturalism means to him:
“All life, every bit of it, is bound together by a shared evolutionary history that was birthed and nurtured in this knowable universe, which ought to be loved and respected. There is no planet B. The secular, therefore, is sacred. And even though our wild imaginations can fill the unknown — and potentially unknowable — mysteries of the universe with a near infinite canon of myths and hopes . . . they are not the thing. They are mutable, replaceable. And easily done so. Our need to survive here, however, by knowing, sharing, and wisely navigating the natural world . . . is universal.”
The evolutionary and cognitive sciences (including psychology) have pointed to the adaptive and psychosocial benefits of religion. But one need only check Facebook, read the Times, or watch CNN to see how the world’s major religions are also repressive and threatening to life and the planet. So one objective of the Sacred Naturalism project is to give a name to and for all those who are not represented by traditional religions (atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists, religious naturalists, spiritual naturalists, “new ageists,” as well as those who identify as nontraditional religious, and nonreligious spiritual) in order to connect, unify, and organize us. (See this essay of mine that explains why we need to be organized.) Our desire to form coalitions and alliances such as this is likely instinctual, an evolved psychological adaptation that was selected for via group selection, kin selection, or both (multilevel selection). See: this and this. It’s also likely due to some higher-level evolutionary algorithm akin to evolutionary biologist Elisabet Satouris’s view. See Ash Buchanan’s essay: “What is our Evolutionary Role in Uncertainty and Crisis?”
Another goal of the Sacred Naturalism project is to support the cultivation and flourishing of what we’re currently calling sacred sites | sacred spaces. These are sites, spaces, and centers which are the center of community life, where people can come together regularly, as well as other times, for music and words of science; philosophical wisdom, such as evolutionary ethics; poetry; contemplative practices; rituals and art; prosocial work; and ceremonies.
I’m eager to learn more about the science of groups as per David Sloan Wilson and Lin Ostrom’s work on prosociality and core design principles, as I see it could inform the work we do with sacred sites | sacred spaces, as well as the work I hope to do in the near future on college campuses. (Stay tuned!)
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