Accepted paper:

Wonderful light: affect and transformation in engagements with light and water

Authors:

Veronica Strang (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on people’s engagements with light and water, this paper considers the experience of ‘wonder’ as the basis for enlightenment. It suggests that enlightenment itself is an emergent phenomenon, in that it has a transformational effect on ideas and values.

Paper long abstract:

This paper takes up the theme of light as material culture, focusing in particular on light and water. By examining affective responses to, for example, the numinous qualities of water bodies, or to rainbows, it considers the experience of 'wonder' as the basis for enlightenment. It proposes that enlightenment itself is an emergent phenomenon, in that it can have radically transformational effects on ideas and values. To consider this proposition, the paper draws on ethnographic case studies in Australia and in the UK, exploring how ritual and aesthetic engagements with water and light produce not only affect but also effect, generating shifts in people's relationships with their environments. Several key questions arise: is wonder a pan-human phenomenon - and if so, should we consider it in evolutionary and bio-cultural terms? What is the role of wonder in generating concern for the well-being of other species and for the material world? Can wonder be induced (and if so how), with a view to encouraging enlightened changes in human-environmental relationships?

panel P35
Light as material culture, experience and practice