Book Chapter

The Politics of Uncertainty: Challenges of Transformation: Chapter 12

Unsettling the Apocalypse: Uncertainty in Spirituality and Religion

Published on 1 January 2020

Current crises that link nature with human agency are increasingly described as ‘apocalyptic’, and people faced with uncertain futures continue to express their doubts, fears and hopes in spiritual terms.

Religious language and practice provide ways to deal with strong emotions about uncertainty, provide supportive structures and link personal struggles to wider narratives. Considering the wide variety of ideas and action in religion can also productively unsettle dominant assumptions about progress and development, revealing new possibilities.

However, religious fundamentalism can be seen as a way of dealing with uncertainty by denying it, constraining thought and possibilities. By contrast, an insight that is present in many religious and spiritual traditions is the search to experience or relate to a truth that is unknowable. Knowledge in religions, in contrast to science, is conceived as a relational process, meaning that encounters are vital to knowledge itself. Based on these insights, this chapter highlights approaches within religious traditions that value humility, sanctuary and care, as appropriate responses to the challenges brought about by environmental and social crisis. These responses are not automatically produced from doctrine, but must be cultivated through contestation.

The chapter concludes by arguing that hope for the future, far from being abstract or utopian, is based on ideas of mutual support and prefiguration of better relations. Stories have a central role in how religions treat hope, everyday practice and fears about the future, but to survive and be helpful, religious stories and communities must meet the challenge of responding to accelerating change and new sources of uncertainty.

Cite this publication

Oxley, N. (2020) ‘Unsettling the apocalypse: Uncertainty in spirituality and religion’, in I. Scoones and A. Stirling (eds) (2020) The Politics of Uncertainty: Challenges of Transformation pp 164-173 (1st ed.) Routledge


Nathan Oxley

Impact Communications and Engagement Officer


Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Andy Stirling

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published by
Oxley, Nathan


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