Environmental Humanities

Environmental Humanities at Global Asia Initiative


At Duke University’s Global Asia Initiative, a hub for the SSRC’s Inter-Asia program in Environmental Humanities, we seek to develop Environmental Humanities in Asia as a way of raising consciousness and provoke new ways of thinking about the human-nature relationship in Asian societies and its impact and connections with the rest of the world. 

While early in 20thC, Rabindranath Tagore[i], Aldo Leopold, Fei Xiaotong,  Arne Naess et al developed holistic approaches to the relations between humans and the environment, now geo-engineering technology and market-based solutions dominate. We need to develop alliances and collaboration with relevant sciences and economics which offer technical diagnostics and formal policy solutions; but we also have to recognize that last mile delivery of technical and market solutions often depends upon social, political, cultural, religious and media responses and interventions, especially with increasing uncertainty and conflict in the world.

Because the environmental crisis involves questions of value, such as , Aldo Leopold’s concept of the ‘land ethic’ or  Tagore’s ‘festival of the earth’[i]  and the ideas from alternative cultural traditions about sustainable livelihood, the relationship of different beings and sentient life, the question of biodiversity and the implications for understanding the impact of measurable interventions on non-measurable ecosystems.


Our workshops and conferences seek to develop areas of research and significance organized under topic of sustainable citizenship. How does citizenship – as the most empowering set of rights in the modern world—affect and how is it affected by the environment?  How should animals and the food eaten by citizens be viewed in the Anthropocene? How are the capacities (in Amartya Sen’s terms) of marginal citizens shaped by it? How can and do citizens view and respond to environmental devastation through media, imaginative and experiential means? How can we understand the re-imagination of historic and sacred traditions in the present age? 

The themes of sustainable citizenship and environmental justice offer a wide agenda of research in the environmental humanities of Asia.  The rights of citizens to be able to achieve their goals of livelihood, education and freedoms is matched by the research on what it means to have a sustainable planet. The preservation of biodiversity; the value of animal life; the protection of our home and work place versus degrading other environments; the problems of governance and vested interests; the means – whether by governmental, activist or aesthetic—to enable and promote sustainable justice; the exploration of alternative modes, historical and contemporary, of human-nature relations; the inquiry into the optimal means of conserving and sharing scarce resources whether by spiritual or secular means, are some of the topics undertaken by the participants in this forum.


[i] Tagore first became concerned about man's impact on the environment after seeing an oil spill at sea on his way to Japan in 1916, decades before an environmental movement emerged in the West. Topobon, Aranyadevata,…..Red Oleanders.

Environmental Humanities Events

Rivers in the Anthropocene: Global Challenges and Local Responses
July 6, 2019 

Denatured Planet, Deranged Worlds: Imagining the Anthropocene
November 5, 2018 

Trans-species Listening and Rights of Nature: Legal Persons beyond the Human
October 5, 2018 

Air quality and Ecology: Science and Policy in the Last Few Thousand Years
September 26, 2018 

By Hook or by Crook: Understanding China's Shifting Environmental Policy Landscape
September 12, 2018 

Six Rivers in Historical Time: Nature-Human Interactions on Himalayan Rivers
February 16, 2018 

Ecological Cosmologies: Epic Stories and Great Work
January 18, 2018 - 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Scalar Effects: The Management of Water Power in Post-war East Asia
December 4, 2017 - 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Nature-human Interactions on four circum-Himalayan Rivers- Global Asia Initiative Workshop
Feb. 16, 2017