“Green Ayatollahs” for Alain Juppé , “puritanism” for the essayist Ferghane Azihari , or even “ecological fundamentalism” for François Bayrou … The use of religious analogy about political ecology is very often negatively connoted. In a secularized world, it aims to delegitimize a current of thought and a form of activism.
Let's leave this instrumentalization aside to ask ourselves: does the religious analogy allow us to understand the recent changes in ecology? Taking up the precautions of the sociologist Nathalie Heinich on the limits of religious analogy and the need for a point-by-point comparison , our thesis studies "ecological conversion" and the processes of (de)politicization, from a analogy with religious conversion. If it was obvious to mobilize the religious register for communism, is it the same for contemporary ecology? Focus on the notion of “ecological integralism”.
Ecology responds to all aspects of life
The notion of “integralism” must first of all be distinguished from that of “fundamentalism”. A salutary reminder in view of the strangeness that religious culture arouses in modern societies: what Olivier Roy calls the “ deculturation of religion” .
The origin of the term "fundamentalism" has been forgotten. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the midst of a modernist crisis in the Catholic Church , the term “integrists” was used by “modernists” to negatively qualify opponents of an evolution in religious dogma. The “fundamentalist” anathema then became secularized in everyday language ( “Islamic fundamentalism” ). Today, as the political scientist Sylvie Ollitrault has shown, environmental activists can be the subject of a negative a priori by “the accusation of sectarianism or “fundamentalism””.
So what is the difference with integralism? Sociologist Jean-Marie Donegani theorizes "integralism" as:
“Catholicism's aspiration to answer all human questions, its will to sow and inspire all aspects of the life of societies and the existence of individuals. »
Doesn't contemporary ecology have the same “aspiration”? Would it be only by a “politicization of the slightest gesture” in daily ecological practice? A Last Renovation activist tells us, about her political choice to buy in bulk and make her own shampoo, that for her it is:
“to no longer be dependent on capitalism and to recreate the limit between need and desire… It's something we no longer know how to do and I think it could be the project of a lifetime! »
Also, our religious analogy is reinforced by the transposition of the concept of “exemplarity” from the religious sphere to the militant sphere. According to political scientist Gildas Renou :
“it constitutes an acclimatization, within the sociology of activism, of the heritage of the sociology of religions of Max Weber and, more precisely, of his analysis of the “conducts of life” aimed at salvation by the imitation of demanding practices.
A concept to better understand this 360 approach
We therefore propose the concept of “ecological integralism”. It would designate the way in which the ecological referent shapes the relationship of an individual to the world, to others and to himself. Even more, how everyday life is the place of consistency between convictions and ecological practices, even the most banal.
Let us specify, with regard to the semantic proximity, that the sociological concept of “ecological integralism” is not in connection with that theological one of “integral ecology”. Popularized by Pope Francis, “ integral ecology ” is a concept that states that “everything is linked” between the “wounds” of the “natural environment” and those of the “social environment”.
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In an increasingly everyday ecology, ecological integralism confirms the tendency of contemporary ecology to rely less on
an orthodoxy , conformity to dogma , because of its extremely polysemic character, than on an orthopraxy , conformity to practice , in a valuation of coherence, of making "eco-gestures".
This “integral” or even existential character of ecology can sometimes be worrying, even frightening for the militant if he wishes to live an ecological asceticism, tending towards a form of “ecological perfection”. The latter often goes hand in hand with a feeling of guilt that is very present in green activism.
A person interviewed within a university environmental group asks, for example, the question of whether or not to continue to experience the guilty pleasure that she has in consuming chocolate, because of the pollution generated .
In order not to despair in the face of a potentially exponential feeling of guilt, a retired member of the Uprisings of the Earth explains to us that it is a question of:
“Keep the right distance from things, especially because some people have been able to stop campaigning… Because yes, we could always do better, but we are doing a long-distance race! »
The activists interviewed are active, even hyper-active, with, as the flip side of the coin, phenomena of activist burn-out .
Unlike communist activism in the 20th century, green activism does not stop at the doorstep and continues right up to the sorting of waste. There can be a permanent mental load from environmental activism, sometimes leading to mental fatigue. It refers to this existential fear of an uncertain future, increased tenfold by the feeling of living in a world that is not interested in it.
They have the feeling of being ecological believers and practitioners in a world that is not.
Grasping the more "existential" nature of ecology
In short, it is possible to grasp through the concept of “ecological integralism” how ecology can, to a certain extent, constitute a form of “ existential militancy ”.
If it takes up classic practices of militancy, existential militancy leans more on interiority and "attacks the great questions of the meaning of life and human finitude" . “Eco-anxiety” would thus be the symptom of a militancy increasingly experienced from within. Hence the projection of a pessimistic future, by virtue of a present and an environmental reality that do not encourage optimism. From this “negativity” of the present can nevertheless arise utopia. To do this, the more immanent emotion that is hope must be transformed into the more transcendent virtue that is hope.
The action is proportionate to the malaise felt by the activists. There is a form of salvation in this existential militancy, which goes as far as questions of the reproduction of the species, with the “no kids” movements (without children) . If a porosity between the public and private spheres was already glimpsed by the pioneering work in political science on green activism ( Florence Faucher , Sylvie Ollitrault ), activism has since moved from a less everyday and more existential dimension. At the beginning of the 20th century, a part of Catholicism, called “integral Catholicism”, rejected the “liberal separation” of modernity between public and private spheres. A century later, contemporary ecological activism is also questioning this “liberal separation”.
Green activism is practiced with a view to setting an example vis-à-vis oneself , but also vis-à-vis others and the world . It can then sometimes become “proselyte”, another religious term that has become pejoratively connoted… Wrongly? While it has similarities to religion, green activism is based not only on intimate belief but also on well-supported scientific data .