Spiritual Agency as Praxis for Community Healing: Hurricane Katrina to the BP Oil Disaster and Beyond

By C. Holly Denning.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Technologically and politically ‘manufactured risks’ (Giddens, 1999) threaten people and nature depending on social and geographic location (Alario and Freudenburg, 2010; Marris, 1996). Paradoxical reactions from fear and trauma to hope and healing arise in response to disasters. Spiritual agency is a praxis based in spiritual reflection and action to transform social crises into opportunities; this dynamic process provides hope and mobilizes individuals and groups. While global crises are on the rise, a holistic paradigm shift—toward ‘co-creating’ more environmentally sustainable, peaceful societies based in social justice—is simultaneously underway. This paper explores the evolution of the concept of spiritual agency and how it can serve as a healing strategy for communities impacted by disasters. The Common Ground Relief collective in New Orleans is viewed as embodying this praxis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

Keywords: Spirituality, Eco-feminism, Sociology of Disasters, Environmental Justice, Multiculturalism, New Orleans, Gulf Coast

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.101-114. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 723.905KB).

C. Holly Denning

Sociology Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, University of Wisconsin--Whitewater, Whitewater, Wisconsin, USA

C. Holly Denning has served as Academic Staff Instructor in Sociology and Ethnic Studies since 2004 at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Doctoral research through Boston College in the program for Social Justice, extended through the 1990s and early 2000s; she is ABD. Multicultural and interdisciplinary research interests characterize her work. She has worked with Restorative and Community Justice models, traditionally used in criminal justice contexts, applying them to environmental disasters. Recent focus has been on the multiple impacts of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster. Water issues are one central focus--she is part of a strategic initiative on campus, the Interdisciplinary Water Expertise Team. She has also created a minor in Peace and Justice Studies at UW-W. Holly serves on the Race and Ethnic Studies Committee, co-coordinates learning communities and teaches in the Green Business is Good Business LC for incoming students.