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Hope and meaning for a sustainable life

People in the street in sunshine
As margins shrink, climate anxiety increases as we recover from a pandemic - how do we deal with ourselves and each other in a sustainable way? Photo: iStockphoto

Life can feel a little overwhelming in the times we live where society is less homogenous, and individualism prevails although many of our challenges require cooperation between different interests, ideologies, and countries. Human beings need to feel meaning, hope and motivation to overcome difficulties and to find new solutions. Therefore, we need to understand more about existential sustainability.

In 2022, Lund University will explore the concept of existential sustainability and develop research issues related to it. Anyone with thoughts and ideas is invited to attend a series of lectures, workshops and a major conference in November.

Together with Erik Sidenvall and Kristina Myrvold, Lovisa Nyman, postdoc in systematic theology at Lund University, leads a working group of researchers who have received funding from the LMK Foundation to create interdisciplinary contacts that can lead to major research grant applications in the spring of 2023. Their intention is to remain open to the different perspectives of the participating researchers, however, the project is now structured around three broad themes: technology, health and death.

What is existential sustainability?

Most people have not heard about existential sustainability, and it is not an established term in academia.  Researchers in the fields of Arts and Cultural studies as well as Theology and Religious studies have delved into the theme for a while; it was recently used in a speech by Archbishop Antje Jackelen , and in a book from 2019, cultural anthropologist Mikael Kurkiala discusses the need for existential language that provides people with a sense of belonging in the world of today:

“Our material wellbeing does not go hand in hand with existential sustainability. Human beings are surrounded by an abundance of objects and a clamouring array of entertainment and distractions. All while conversations are falling silent, our social fabric is fraying, and ecosystems are at risk of collapse.”

Existential sustainability relates to the 2030 Agenda and the global sustainable development  goals although the question is whether it  is a fourth dimension or if it is an overarching aspect of the other three dimensions that focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability.  

Our material wellbeing does not go hand in hand with existential sustainability.

“In my studies I am particularly interested in how Christian thinking today can combine an idea of human beings as both capable of action and dependent on other people and nature”, explains Lovisa Nyman. Meaning has an important role in the ecological, social, and spiritual crisis that our society finds itself in – an absence of meaning is not existentially sustainable.  

Open and multidisciplinary network

The process to create a broad multidisciplinary network at Lund University and with external stakeholders is well underway and has a very open objective. At the beginning of the year, a workshop brought together scholars in Art HistorY, Religious studies, , Philosophy, Religious History and discussions flowed around many different questions:

How do you define existence? Could it be that the term sustainability has been exhausted, hollowed out and is both too broad and too meaningless? What is our relationship to time, to so called ‘deep time’, to future generations and to other species?

Before the end of the year, many thoughts and ideas will be presented, and many new contacts will be made. Either a common framework will develop, or several specialisations may emerge under a joint umbrella. In the meantime, the theme for the conference in November 2022 has been decided on: ‘At the Margins of Life: Exploring Existential Sustainability – Technology, Health and Death’.

“It is a significant challenge to remain very open and to find new constellations for us researchers who are trained to narrow down and be very specific in how we define research issues. The Collaboration Office at Lund University has contributed with many contacts and new actors to the project, which is exciting”, says Lovisa Nyman.

Themes focusing on technology, health and death

At the conference, the three parts focusing on technology, health and death will be presented by international speakers specialising in the three fields. .  They have predominantly chosen to talk about marginalisation, about life on the margins, where life is particularly fragile and vulnerable.  

“We can learn a lot from ethical, philosophical, sociological and theological knowledge perspectives, for example, how new technology can be developed so that it becomes existentially sustainable”, says Lovisa Nyman, and continues: “Or how religious communities and practices can contribute to an understanding of equal and existentially sustainable healthcare and of end-of-life care and wellbeing".

Marginality typically concerns issues relating to the individual; however, it can also refer to a whole ethnic group or every person on the planet and how we should care for it in a sustainable way when the margins shrink, and climate anxiety takes hold. In addition to this, we now have fresh experiences of a global pandemic and of an inexcusable war of aggression on a democratic European state resulting in widespread humanitarian suffering.

What gives you meaning and hope? Some find answers in religion or other spiritual experiences, others through art and culture and, for some, it is nature that is the source of belonging and renewed energy.

If you´re interested in culture, innovation and science - read more about the event:

The Buzz of Europe - a Day in the Spirit of Art, Culture, Science and Innovation

About the conference: At the Margins of Life, 23-25 November

Link to information and registration: Conference | Projects

Researchers from all disciplines with an interest in the existential dimensions of these themes are invited to submit abstracts for 20-minute conference presentations. They can be related to ongoing research or explore theoretical or empirical fields for future research.  

Non-presenting participants are also invited to register.

Seminars | Projects

Contact | Projects

About the project:
About | Projects