Event: Day Conference: John Muir: Spirituality, Politics and Psychology.

Venue: Sanctuary, Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL.
Date: Saturday 17 November 2018.
Time: Registration: 9.30am-10am. Event: 10am-4.30pm.
Event Description: John Muir was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books describing his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada, have been read by millions. His activism has helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and many other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization. The 211-mile John Muir Trail, a hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada, was named in his honor. Other such places include Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, John Muir College, Mount Muir, Camp Muir, Muir Grove, and Muir Glacier. In Scotland, the John Muir Way, a 130-mile-long route, was named in honor of him.

In his later life, Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of the Western forests. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890, establishing Yosemite National Park. The spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings has inspired readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. Today Muir is referred to as the "Father of the National Parks" and the National Park Service has produced a short documentary about his life.

John Muir has been considered "an inspiration to both Scots and Americans". Muir's biographer, Steven J. Holmes, believes that Muir has become "one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity," both political and recreational. As a result, his writings are commonly discussed in books and journals, and he is often quoted by nature photographers such as Ansel Adams. "Muir has profoundly shaped the very categories through which Americans understand and envision their relationships with the natural world," writes Holmes. Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesman, and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for countless individuals, making his name "almost ubiquitous" in the modern environmental consciousness. According to author William Anderson, Muir exemplified "the archetype of our oneness with the earth", while biographer Donald Worster says he believed his mission was "...saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism." On April 21, 2013, the first ever John Muir Day was celebrated in Scotland, which marked the 175th anniversary of his birth, paying homage to the conservationist.

Day Conference:
John Muir: Spirituality, Politics and Psychology.

Venue: Sanctuary, Augustine United Church,
41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL
Date: Saturday 17 November 2018.
Time: Registration: 9.30am-10am. Event: 10am-4.30pm.

Organised by Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace, EICSP,
Scottish Charity, SC038996, www.eicsp.org

10am-10.10am: Welcome, Introductions and Opening Remarks by the Chair: Dr Ian Wight.

Into Our Wilds: Going Inside ~ Getting Outside
With John Muir as Our Guide.


Inspiration: The Contemplative John Muir (Stephen K. Hatch, 2012) – a source, a re-source for better engaging with ‘ourselves’ – especially the getting outside (of our small selves) and the going inside (into our larger Selves), and the implications for our spiritual activism.

Wondering: Is this a journey ‘into our wilds’, into the wilds of our soul@work? What might we make today of John Muir’s guidance into ‘the territory beyond’ our normal ‘ken’? What kind of spirituality was at work in John Muir over the course of his life-journey, that we might learn from today?

BIO: Ian Wight PhD FCIP GTB is a retired Canadian city-region planner/professor now re-firing in his native land, with a particular interest in the meshing of the personal, the professional and the spiritual in the context of professional-self design. Currently seeking to ‘tap the spirit’ of folks like John Muir and Patrick Geddes, especially in terms of implications for today’s built environment professionals.


10.10am-10.40am: Plenary address: Professor Cairns Craig.

John Muir and the Landscapes of God.


An exploration of the relationship between Muir's religious views and his environmental campaigning, asking why it should have been a Scot who was in the forefront of wilderness preservation in the United States.

In this context I will look to trace how Calvinist religious traditions provided a way of reading nature that influenced generations of Scots to take stewardship of the natural world as a religious obligation, and led to Scots being in the forefront of many environmental initiatives, from the founding of botanic gardens to the development of new forms of botanic art and garden design.

Muir's environmentalism, I will suggest, was part of a long tradition of Scottish engagement with issues such as deforestation, drought and sustainable agriculture, and which manifests itself in such different contexts as the Scottish domination of the nursery businesses of London in the eighteenth century to the work of Patrick Geddes in the design of new kinds of cities in the twentieth. Many, like Muir, wanted to challenge those Christian interpretations that saw nature as necessarily corrupted by the Fall and to find in the natural world, instead, the signature of God's continuous creative engagement with his creation.

BIO Cairns Craig is Glucksman Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen. His most recent book is The Wealth of the Nation: Culture, Scotland and Independence (EUP, 2018). Among previous books are The Modern Scottish Novel (1999) and Intending Scotland: Explorations in Scottish Culture since the Enlightenment (2010). He was an editor of Cencrastus magazine in the 1980s, general editor of the four-volume History of Scottish Literature (1987-8) and one of the editors of the Canongate Classics series. He has just completed a book on Muriel Spark, Existentialism and the Art of Death.


10.40am-10.55am: Discussion.

11am-11.20am: Plenary address: Duncan Macniven.

A Presbyterian View of John Muir.


John Muir was born into a staunch and evangelical Presbyterian household in Dunbar. What influence did that have on his life, philosophy and political influence?

BIO: Duncan Macniven is a Trustee of the John Muir Trust, which (inspired by Muir’s work) seeks to defend wild land, enhance habitats and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with wild places. An historian by training, Duncan is an elder in the Church of Scotland, brought up (like Muir) a Presbyterian.


11.20am-11.30am: Discussion.

11.30am-11.40am: Tea/coffee break.

11.40am-12noon: Plenary address: Lilian Helen Brzoska.
In the Footsteps of John Muir: An Activist Soul.


Reflecting my sense of the spirit of the John Muir Trust*, and of John Muir the man, I will root my presentation in the writings of environmentalist Alastair McIntosh, as he has influenced the conservation of Scotland in the present day, in the manner of John Muir in his days and his places - walking, talking and writing of “Soil and Soul” as being dynamically interlinked, considering both – Alastair and John – as spiritual brothers and activist souls.

*The John Muir Trust is a charity that was founded in 1983 based on the work of John Muir. They work with communities and believe wild places are essential for the well-being of people and wildlife. There is also a John Muir Award distributed by the Trust. Their mission is “ to conserve and protect wild places with their indigenous animals, plants and soils for the benefit of present and future generations. The Trust envisions a world where wild places are protected, enhanced and valued by and for everyone.”

BIO Lilian Brzoska, BA DCE L.R.A.M. is acknowledged as one of Scotland's 'Wise Women' bringing the Ancient Ways of Our Native Standing Stone Culture into modern life through her knowledge of history, inner journeying and esoteric teachings. She listens to mountains, talks to trees, to Nature Spirits and Elementals, appreciates Water as an awesome communicator between species, as well as The Source of Life, and values Celtic Connections world-wide. Callander-born Lilian has been an active teacher and student of Spirituality, philosophy, rune lore, inner listening, drama, International Co-Counselling, spiritual development, and related disciplines for thirty years.


12noon-12.10pm: Discussion.

12.10pm-12.30pm: Plenary address: Ken Cockburn.

Journeying Forth.


Ken will read a selection of his poems exploring Scottish landscapes and coastlines, from the Scottish Borders to the Hebrides and Orkney, written from his experiences and research drawing on literary and historical sources, and place-name evidence. Featured will be a reading of ‘Forth’, a northern ‘catalogue of ships’ inspired by John Muir’s reflections on his formative firth.

BIO: Ken Cockburn is an Edinburgh-based poet and translator. Recent publications include Floating the Woods (Luath, 2018), a new collection of poems; Gleann Badraig (Distanz, 2018), with photographer Charles March, about the west coast of Jura; and The Road North: a journey around Scotland guided by Basho’s oku–no–hosomichi (Shearsman, 2014), written together with Alec Finlay. Ken also runs Edinburgh Poetry Tours - walks with poems in the city’s Old Town.


12.30pm-12.40pm: Discussion.

12.40pm-1.45pm: Lunch.

1.45pm-2.05pm: Plenary address: Rev Dr Richard Frazer.

The Spirituality of Walking: Sauntering with John Muir.


“I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them” (John Muir).

That might it mean to view the encounter with landscape – walking (not hiking), in the great outdoors - as a source of spiritual growth? As Muir came to see it, the landscape through which he walked became like the Bible had been in his childhood - a means by which he discovered more about the Divine. The presentation will explore the idea of such journeying (or sauntering) as spiritual practice, in terms of both personal and professional formation.

BIO: Rev Dr Richard Frazer is the Parish Minister of Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, and Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland. He has been working on a book about the spirituality of walking, drawing in part on inspiration from John Muir. For a taste see: https://greyfriarskirk.com/2018/08/a-word-from-richard/


2.05pm-2.15pm: Discussion.

2.15pm-2.35pm: Plenary address: Duncan Smeed.

Inspired by Muir.


An overview of the numerous ways that John Muir has inspired people to “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad”. The first half of the presentation will consider the life and legacy of Muir in terms of the organisations and individuals that he influenced during his lifetime. The second half of the presentation will concentrate on how Muir has been an inspiration to the current generation of Muir enthusiasts and activists and how his life and work may inspire future generations.

BIO: Duncan Smeed is a retired university lecturer and a resident of Dunbar – the birthplace of John Muir. In July 1994 he became a founding member of Dunbar’s John Muir Association – now also known as the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace – and currently serves as Convener of its Council. Duncan also recently became the Chairman of the John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust. This Trust was established in 1998 to campaign and fund raise for the purchase of the property where Muir was born. The Trust has secured the future of John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar and has developed it as an interpretative centre focused on Muir’s work. This project was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.


2.35pm-2.45pm: Discussion.

2.45pm-3pm: Tea/coffee break.

3pm-4.10pm: Film: The Unruly Mystic: John Muir.

A feature documentary, directed by Michael M. Conti (USA), the film explores the remarkable life and influential works of ‘the patron saint of environmental activism’. Conti, through his own personal journey, entices people to appreciate nature’s beauty, and connect to its abundance on a deep intrinsic level. A short trailer of the film may be accessed here: https://theunrulymystic.com/johnmuir-movie/


4.10pm-4.30pm: Discussion of the Film.


NB: There will be no refund if you cancel your booking.

John Muir

Cost: £10/£8 (Concessions)/£3 (Students). For a Registration Form:
Contact: Neill Walker, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 0131 331 4469.

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