No Nature, No Culture: Ethnography of Some Chinese Buddhist Contributions to Environmentalism

When and Where

Thursday, March 30, 2023 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm


Mayfair Yang (University of California, Santa Barbara)


This lecture examines some Chinese Buddhist practices in Wenzhou that may contribute to global environmental efforts through the dissolution of the Nature-Culture ontological opposition that launched modernity.  Vegetarianism and providing animal shelters are built on a long Buddhist tradition of empathy and compassion for the suffering of  sentient beings, and tied in with notions of reincarnation into the Six Paths of beings.  One to two millennia before Donna Haraway’s call to recognize that “all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense,” Buddhist reincarnation cosmology had already set up a trans-generational ethics of kinship across the boundaries between humans and animals, and between humans and divinities.  “Releasing Life” (fangsheng) rituals represent another expression of compassion for other beings and species.

Mayfair Yang is a faculty member at UC Santa Barbara in the Department of Religious Studies and the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies, where she is the Department Chair. She is a cultural anthropologist interested in the intertwined processes of religiosity, secularization, and state operations in Chinese modernity.  Her current research focuses on religious environmentalism or religion, ecology, and environmental ethics and ontologies.

How are anthropocentric attitudes driving the climate crisis? What do Buddhist traditions say about these attitudes? What is our responsibility to non-human animals and the natural world? What do Buddhists say about the place of humans in multispecies environments?

This is the second series in this important conversation Buddhism and Posthumanism: Questioning the Place of Humans in Multispecies Environments, featuring researchers, activists, and Buddhist studies scholars focused on reconsidering the place of humans in an interconnected world.

What is posthumanism? Posthumanism acknowledges that humans are an animal like any other and that we are but one equal element in the diverse web of nature. As such, posthumanism also acknowledges that the pursuit of human progress should not presuppose human supremacy, and that non-human animals should have the conditions necessary for their own flourishing as well. In light of humanity’s current course, it recognizes too that destructive environmental practices harm a vast network of beings, humans and non-humans alike, threatening our collective futures.

Many aspects of Buddhist traditions resonate with these ideas, such as Buddhist models of self-cultivation and of generating compassion for all beings. Yet deeply embedded notions of human superiority sit in tension with these same posthumanist ideas. The aim of this series, then, is to explore Buddhist resonances, departures, and contributions to posthumanist attempts to meet the present climate emergency, and to consider paths forward involving individual and collective action.

This series is co-sponsored by the Religion in the Public Sphere initiative of the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. The events are organized by Rory Lindsay, Assistant Professor, and Frances Garrett, Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto.

→ Registration

Mariangela Carpinteri - Oct 27, 2022, 3 pm ET
Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko - Dec 1, 2022, 10 am ET
Alice Millington - Jan 26, 2023, 3 pm ET
Mayfair Yang - Mar 30, 2023, 3 pm ET


Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies at U of T, Religion in the Public Sphere