Archives For Joel James Shuman


“Living the Incarnation”

A Review of
Wendell Berry and Religion:
Heaven’s Earthly Life

Edited by
Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens.

Reviewed by Ragan Sutterfield.

Wendell Berry and Religion:
Heaven’s Earthly Life
Edited by Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens.

Hardback: University Press of Kentucky,  2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Wendell Berry and ReligionWendell Berry has been in the news a lot these days from his visit to Washington with fellow agrarian agitators to Michael Pollan’s homage to Berry in The Nation’s food issue.  This attention is very good on the one hand, it is certainly a welcome development that more people are reading Berry and heeding his call to eat locally, but there is certainly cause to worry about this new attention.  The worry is that Berry will be painted, as many have already done, as a “father of the local food movement”—a key voice in a big trend.  Berry has written some of the best critiques of the industrial agricultural system and he has certainly advocated eating local food grown by farmers one knows, but Berry, as a thinker and writer, is concerned with problems and ways of living much bigger than any movement (a reduction he himself critiqued in his essay “In Distrust of Movements”).  It would be a tragedy if Berry’s legacy were to be left to the advocates of local food alone.

Thankfully we don’t need to worry too much about such a reduction because Joel Shuman and Roger Owens have put together a varied and deep collection of essays that engage Berry with the full complexity and breadth his work requires.  Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven’s Earthly Life has been a long time in the making and it is a book that is still unfinished.  That’s a good thing, because as Joel Shuman writes in the introduction, this book represents “contributions to an ongoing conversation” with Berry’s work—a conversation “among a particular group of persons, over time and in a particular place.”  Such a conversation can never hope to be finished, only interrupted and picked up again—but here we have a very good beginning.

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