There are times when serendipitous connections occur within our pages that surprise even the editors; this is one of those times. We set up what we thought were two unrelated interviews or conversations for this issue: one on sustainability with writer-farmer Wendell Berry and environmental activist Wes Jackson, and the other with sociologists Hans Joas and Robert Bellah on the latter’s recent book, Religion in Human Evolution. What we didn’t foresee was the interesting overlap in thinking about time and change that emerges when reading the two conversa- tions side-by-side.
Both share a sense of time that stands in stark contrast to contemporary temporal practices—they think in terms of generations, eras, and eons, not days, minutes, or the time it takes to post a tweet. Berry talks about the kind of knowledge of the land that spans generations, passed down from one to the next; Jackson refers to ecosystems over millennia; and Bellah begins his history of religion in human life with the Big Bang. This expansive sense of time contrasts with the standard time by which we schedule our lives and constrain our days, the creation of which environmental studies scholar Benjamin R. Cohen compares with “Joshua’s stopping of the sun” in his essay in this issue. This time is beyond our control, expanding certainly beyond the horizon of our experiences and vision, but also beyond even the history of humanity. Jackson reminds us that “thinking about sustainability with the quarterly report in mind…is different from contemplating the fact that during all interglacial periods of the Pleistocene, Kansas was a prairie…we must look…at how [natural ecosystems] have worked over millennia.”