The Avalon Project

deep activism

Deep motivations for activism are the guarantee of unwavering commitment and an untamable fighting spirit

Following the thought of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in his formulation of Deep Ecology, Deep Activism would be that activism which has its roots and motivations in deep experiences of the individual. It would be, therefore, an activism not only based on the rational and ethical aspects of social, political or environmental action, but also on the affective, aesthetic and consciousness aspects.

Arne Naess bases his approach on a progressive identification of the self with larger groups or totalities within the natural world. This culminates with a profound identification with the whole life in nature. This means, according to Naess, a growing process of realisation of the Self, understood as “‘the universal self’, ‘the absolute’, ‘the atman’, etc.” (Naess, 1989, p.85).

We would be talking, therefore, about an activism based on consciousness, a transpersonal activism; if you will, even a “spiritual” or “sacred” activism (Sheridan, 2012). It is, therefore, an activism which emerges from a deep empathy, from a deep compassion for all beings; not only humans, but all beings belonging to what the Earth Charter calls the Community of Life.

Arne Naess (1912-2009)

In fact, some authors suggest that this type of activism avoids the phenomena of “burnout” or polarization which take place in many non-deep activists, often resulting in a profound existential disappointment with themselves and with their organisations (Sheridan , 2012; Tagesson, 2006).

The profound motivations of Deep Activism

“The deep ecology movement, as many earlier movements before it, takes a step further and asks for the development of a deep identification of individuals with all life forms.”

“Through countless ages, they [the ‘rights of nature’] have been expressed religiously and mystically. Plants and animals also have a right to unfolding and self-realisation. They have the right to live.”

ARNE NAESS (1989, pp. 85 and 165)


Naess, A. (1989). Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sheridan, M. J. (2012). Spiritual activism: Grounding ourselves in the spirit. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 31(1-2), pp. 193-208.

Tagesson, H. (2006). A yearning of the heart: Spirituality and politics. Asian Journal of Social Science, 34(1), pp. 47-66.



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  • Header picture: People’s Climate March in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Ming Wei Low, who gave us permission to use it.
  • Photo of Arne Naess, by Ole Kristian Losvik.
  • “Manifestation anti G8 au Havre”, by Guillaume Paumier, under license CC BY, in Wikipedia.
  • “Apiary at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center”, by Chesapeake Bay Program, under license CC BY-NC, in Flickr.
  • “People’s Climate March_169”, by Michael O’Brien, under license CC BY-NC in Flickr.