Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience
By Yi-Fu Tuan
Today’s recommendation synthesizes a few of my areas of interest. As the 25th anniversary edition of this publication, it has already proven influential in multiple fields, including theatre, literature, anthropology, psychology, and theology. I heard about this book from Dr. Elaine James--a Christian scholar whose work focuses on the Hebrew Bible, especially its poetry. I’ve studied questions with her revolving around land, ecology, gender and sexuality. She’s a badass, and learning Hebrew was worth it so I can engage with her grapplings.
I’ve studied ecological theology for three years for many reasons, some of which are still a mystery to me! Understanding the histories of interpretation for religious texts (and learning how dominant narratives are constructed and maintained) can transfer into the observation of precedent for environmental law. Developing my inner spiritual compass can help me approach land, a fiercely political topic, with humanity and love. And, of course, a desire to decolonize our minds will brush up against damaging Christian legacies of violent oppression. I’ve learned two tangible languages, Greek and Hebrew, in my graduate studies, but I’ve also gained fluency in our species-wide capacity for ritual and connection to our planet.
In this book, Yi-Fu Tuan explores humans’ “exceptionally refined capacity for symbolization.” He asks, “in what ways do people attach meaning to and organize space and place?”
For me, some of the most fascinating parts of the book connected to the past. He shares, “In antiquity, land and religion were so closely associated that a family could not renounce one without yielding the other. Exile was the worst of fates, since it deprived a man not only of his physical means of support but also of his religion and the protection of laws guaranteed by the local gods.” I’ve spent hours in the library, reading about meaning-making in antiquity, whether through omens and observation of the natural world, or economics, justice systems, and ethics as they’ve changed over time. Why look to the past if not to provide perspective and critical thinking about our here and now?
Are we oriented, as Tuan says, to our surroundings? What does “feeling at home” mean when we are surrounded by collective grief for the impacts of the pandemic? Or ever-increasing numbers of climate refugees, climate-connected illnesses, and deaths?
In a book about experiential perspective, Yi-Fu Tuan offers us the opportunity to integrate the experiences of our ancestors into our consciousness now.
While reading you will be asked to consider case studies, complex questions, and, as our author beautifully articulates, “things that were once out of focus for us come into focus.”
Quote: “Human beings, like other animals, feel at home on earth. We are, most of the time, at ease in our part of the world. Life in its daily round is thoroughly familiar. Skills once learned are as natural to us as breathing. Above all, we are oriented. This is a fundamental source of confidence.”
Dive into our journal pages to expand your knowledge and follow our journey into the backcountry.