I recently watched a video of a thought provoking talk given by Carol Wayne White, Presidential Professor of Religious Studies, Interim Director of the Griot Institute, Affiliated Faculty in Critical Black Studies. She had much to say about the importance of understanding the interdependent nature of our existence.

As I watched the video of Professor Carol Wayne White’s presentation called “Religious Naturalism* and the Turn to Wonder” (Carol’s talk begins at the 8 minute mark of the video.) I was stuck by her use of the word “wonder”. As a religious naturalist myself I am used to hearing religious naturalists use “wonder” and “awe” to refer to the religious responses we have to nature. Carol’s use of the word “wonder” certainly includes this sense of a religious response to nature but it goes deeper to the heart of wonder and awe.

“Wonder is not merely intellectual curiosity or emotional awe at the facts of life out there. Rather, wonder is inhabiting a mode of being in which humans sense and embrace our constitutive relationality and our embeddedness in materiality.”

Constitutive relationality refers to the fact that we exist in interdependent relationships with all life and the environment. As such we are intrinsically embedded in materiality. We are not beings separate from nature. We exist in nature. Carol calls this view common sense. It is something we can observe wherever we look for it. And, because we are not separate from this dynamic interconnectedness, it defines who and what we are.

This kind of wonder leads naturally to a yearning to bring about the kind of world that is possible with an understanding of interdependence. Carol calls this way of being in the world Aspirational Living. If Wonder is a response not only to the beauty found in nature but to the interdependent nature of existence itself then the values arising out of this worldview have the potential to form guiding principles regarding how to live an aspirational life.

Carol presented some key characteristics of living in wonder.

“In this modality, we remember who and what we are and we seek to avoid alienating forms of relationality. Accordingly,

we become aware of and embrace the deeper truth we are essentially our relationships, or that we are constituted by our relationality

we become perceptive to perceived differences among us and celebrate the bio-diversity of our species

we become curious about the possibilities that you and I could create together

we seek to enhance our constitutive relationality rather than diminish it.”

According to Carol, it is important to remember that aspirational living is a way of being that involves addressing “realities and injustices that proliferate around the globe, such as legacies of slavery, unjust wars, climate change, and the ecological crisis (e.g. species extinction, ocean acidification, etc.), international trade and immigration, poverty, and human rights, etc.”

Aspirational living arising from a sense of wonder that, in turn, arises from a grasp of the interdependent nature of existence, is exactly what the world needs right now. Carol Wayne White has given us a blueprint for the future. It is relatively simple to understand and, yet, has the potential power to bring about much needed social, environmental, economic, and political change. Importantly, it is a blueprint we can each follow in our day to day lives to make positive differences personally and collectively.

*For information about the religious naturalist orientation visit religious-naturalist-association.org