We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

The Significance of Things: A Theological Account of Sorrow Over Anthropogenic Loss

MALCOLM, HANNAH,MARGARET (2023) The Significance of Things: A Theological Account of Sorrow Over Anthropogenic Loss. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF - Accepted Version


This thesis proposes that sorrow over anthropogenic loss can bear moral authority in both its experience and expression, and further that this sorrow is most fittingly expressed as prayer. I introduce a metaphysical account of sorrow as a morally charged condition which constitutes a critical correction to contemporary accounts of emotion. I apply this account to anthropogenic loss via a theological anthropology which presents humans as priests of creation. There are two motivations for this thesis: correcting a theological gap in treatments of feeling about anthropogenic loss and offering a constructive moral theological anthropology. These motivations are related. Anthropogenic loss is a particular context which nevertheless reveals fundamental truth about the vocation of the human.

Against the context of psycho-social research into ‘feeling’ prompted by climate change and ecological collapse, I investigate the definitional challenge presented by ‘emotions’ in this literature. I introduce the passion of sorrow via Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, late medieval readings of Christ’s passion, and the Black theological tradition. These distinct traditions share an appreciation of sorrow in Christian moral formation, particularly when expressed as prayer. I then apply this account of sorrow to anthropogenic loss. In dialogue with Bruno Latour, I address the culturally conditioned nature of human feeling about the loss of non-human creatures, proposing that this is not a barrier to its moral role because creation consists of sign-making and sign-receiving agents. Our cultural creaturely identity does, however, require a governing narrative in which to interpret these signs and guide our response; the theological anthropologies of Maximus the Confessor and Jean-Louis Chrétien frame humans as priests of creation. Finally, I look to sign-making and sign-reception beyond the Church. Hannah Arendt’s description of world-making as communicative action guides my claim that prayerful sorrow over anthropogenic loss is politically efficacious, and therefore belongs in public.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Climate change; Ecological grief; Climate grief; Passions; Man of sorrows; Priests of creation; Nature/culture dualism; Prayer; Semiotics; Communicative action
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Nov 2023 15:51

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter