New book explores what it means to “live sustainably.”

What can intentional communities seeking to live sustainably teach the world? Can they lead broader communities in ways of simplicity, democracy, and nonviolence?

These are the questions at the center of Dr. Whitney A. Sanford’s new work, Living Sustainably: What Intentional Communities Can Teach Us about Democracy, Simplicity, and Nonviolence.

Dr. Sanford received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Bowdoin College and M.A. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in north Indian devotional traditions. She teaches and researches in two main areas: Religion and Nature and Religions of Asia, and her current work lies at the intersection of religion, food (and agriculture), and social equity.

Her new book is published by University Press of Kentucky, which had this to say about the work:

Living Sustainably is a teachable testament to the idea that new cultures based on justice and sustainability are attainable in many ways and in countless homes and communities. Sanford’s engaging and insightful work demonstrates that citizens can make a conscious effort to subsist in a more balanced, harmonious world.

Sitting down with Dr. Sanford, RELIGION+CULTURE asked her about the why, what, and how of her work and its potential impact in both academic and popular circles:

Why did you want to write this book in the first place?

I wrote the book because I was curious about the process of how values translate into actual practice. I had written Growing Stories: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture, and that book focused on narratives, what stories do we tell about the land and agriculture, for example. I wanted to follow it up by seeing how people and communities translate values, t\often associated with Gandhi,  such as self-sufficiency, sustainability,  nonviolence, and simplicity into their daily lives. I first planned to focus more on Gandhi and India, but after the recession, I wanted to see how these values emerged in our contemporary consumer culture in North America. I was also curious to meet individuals and communities who were experimenting with alternative forms of governance and food production, for example.

What is your hope for this text and the readership who encounters it?

I hope that this book raises questions about sustainability and shows that some alternatives are easy and fun. I visited a bed and breakfast — Milkweed Mercantile, that is part of the Dancing Rabbit Community in Rutledge, Missouri. This b and b seemed luxurious to me, and it was a beautiful strawbale building built to code. It had composting toilets and no AC, and most food they served was local and/or organic. The Merc, as they called it, seemed like a great demonstration that things like composting toilets can be very clean. Living Sustainably shows that aspects of simplicity, for example, can enhance our lives and even lead to stronger relationships with our communities, through sharing, for example.

How might individuals interact with this topic more?

The book has several appendices that point to different resources, including communities and organizations. The Federation of Intentional Communities has a multitude of resources, including wiki pages and “how to” pages. I don’t have any events or talks lined up yet, but I hope that there will be something more in Fall 2017.