Visiting position: ethics in the Anthropocene

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VU University Amsterdam
VU University Amsterdam is one of the leading institutions for higher education in Europe and aims to be inspiring, innovative, and committed to societal welfare. It comprises twelve faculties and has teaching facilities for 25,000 students.

The novel concept of an ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed to denote the present epoch in planetary history, following up the earlier Holocene: as a new geological era now largely defined by the extent and direction of human activities with a profound global impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Mass extinction of living species, pollution of the oceans, and climate change are only some of the lasting distortions of planetary systems brought about by the human species. Importantly, the concept of an ‘Anthropocene’ now places humankind fully at the centre of planetary evolution, as the main driving force on planet earth – an idea that has at times been described as the ‘second Copernican revolution’.
These conceptual developments, however, raise fundamental normative questions with profound relevance for religion and ethics and for the principles that will guide the governance of the earth system. Such normative and ethical questions include:

• How do religious worldviews about the human-nature relation, as they are expressed in different religions and religious teachings, weigh against the predominant materialism and the increasing human power of reshaping the planet?
• How do religious worldviews view novel (potential) problems of the Anthropocene that are brought about by technological developments, such as ‘geo-engineering’ (that is, ‘managing’ planetary systems by for instance ocean fertilization or solar radiation management), synthetic biology and nanotechnology, or new proposals of managed species migration or the de-extinction of species of which sufficient DNA is available?
• What are the implications of such normative battle for fundamental principles of equity and justice between rich and poor, as well as present and future generations?
• What is the role and impact of religious leadership in crucial environmental questions ranging from population growth (e.g., religious positions around contraception), to questions of biodiversity and water use (e.g., the recent conferences organized by the Orthodox Patriarch), to the use of nuclear power?

To examine these questions in-depth and to position them within the Anthropocene debate, major research efforts are needed at the interface of global environmental politics and religion. Examining the normative battles of conflicting worldviews over the human-nature relationship, their implications for governance principles, and the role of religious leadership in inspiring, guiding and directing humankind will allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the Anthropocene and the ethical approaches that can underpin effective ‘earth system’ governance in the twenty-first century. VU University Amsterdam, with its strong track-record in both studying the teachings of different religions and analysing global environmental policies, is an ideal place to engage in this research programme.

TheFellowship in Ethics of the Anthropocene
To study these important questions, VU University Amsterdam has installed a special programme for visiting researchers, the VU Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene. The Fellowship is designed to attract international highly accomplished scientists from a variety of fields who specialize in the analysis of the ethical dimensions of global environmental change, with a particular, but not exclusive emphasis on the teachings of the major world religions, including indigenous spirituality. In addition to pursuing their research, Fellows are expected to participate in, and further initiate, debates among different academic communities at VU University Amsterdam and beyond. Such debates could include VU researchers for instance from the study of religion and philosophy, law, social sciences, environmental studies, and earth and life sciences. The Fellows are also encouraged to participate in public debates in the city of Amsterdam in this field, and to present their ideas and insights in public lectures on campus.

Structure of the Fellowships
The VU Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in Ethics of the Anthropocene is a grant that allows internationally prominent scientists to visit the VU for a period of three to six months. The Fellowship has been established as a joint initiative by the VU Faculty of Theology and the Institute for Environmental Studies of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, with generous support by the board of VU University Amsterdam.

In order to allow for the engagement with different religious traditions and different schools of thought, fellowships will be granted only for one period and cannot be extended or renewed. The fellowship will be granted as a lump-sum payment. Office space and further office amenities at either the Faculty of Theology or the Institute for Environmental Studies of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences will be made available.

For further information please contact either Professor Ruard Ganzevoort, head of the Department of Beliefs and Practices, VU Faculty of Theology ( or Professor Frank Biermann, head of the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at the Institute for Environmental Studies, VU Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences (

Nominations for the VU Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in Ethics of the Anthropocene may be submitted at any point of time, but can normally be considered for the following year only when they are received before 1 October of the preceding year. Self-nominations are possible and encouraged. Please submit with your submission (a) a cover letter that details your research interests and plans for the Fellowship as well as (b) a complete curriculum vitae, including a list of publications and a letter of consent by your employer, if applicable. We do not expect submission of full publications or books. Nominations and applications can be submitted electronically by e-mail to Ms Marjolijn Staarink at

Please mention “The VU Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Ethics of the Anthropocene” in the Subject title of your e-mail.

Please mention the vacancy number in the e-mail header.

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