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 Speaking Topics - Alastair McIntosh


An Idea of What I Speak on

I often get asked to speak at events but people are not sure what topic to suggest. Here are some ideas. None of them should be thought of as set titles and pieces. Most can be melded or woven to measure. Links to a full CV, photos, book details, etc. are on my website at www.alastairmcintosh.com/personal.htm. Feel free to edit with my agreement if in doubt. Talks, workshops and teaching are the mainstay of my livelihood as I am entirely freelance and not on anybody's payroll. Information on what I suggest by way of charging, travel, etc. is given in the financial accountability section of my website at: www.alastairmcintosh.com/aft.htm. A rough idea of my itinerary and therefore, when I may be available can be seen at www.alastairmcintosh.com/#itinerary . I can be contacted at mail@alastairmcintosh.com .


Alastair McIntosh (b. 1955) is a Scottish writer, broadcaster and activist on social, environmental and spiritual issues, raised on the Isle of Lewis. A Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology and a Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde, he holds a BSc from the University of Aberdeen, an MBA from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD from the University of Ulster. His books include Hell & High Water on the cultural and depth psychological dimensions of climate change, Rekindling Community on the spiritual basis of inter-relationship, and Soil and Soul on land reform and environmental protection described as “world changing” by George Monbiot, “life changing” by the Bishop of Liverpool and “truly mental” by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. For the past 7 years he and his wife Vérène Nicolas have lived in Govan where he is a founding director of the GalGael Trust for the regeneration of people and place. He lectures around the world at institutions including WWF International, the World Council of Churches, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Joint Services Command & Staff College. His driving passion is to explore the deep roots of what it can mean to become fully human, and use such insights to address the pressing problems of our times.


Poacher’s Pilgrimage: a Journey Through Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and Our Times: When Alastair McIntosh set off on a 12-day pilgrimage on foot through the villages, mountains and watercourses of the Isles of Lewis and Harris where he was raised, he took a fishing rod to disguise the true nature of the pilgrimage that he was on. In a unique journey that visited the “temples” of early pagan-Christian worship, holy wells and stone-age “beehive” dwellings on the remote moors, he wandered through such themes as God, war and the faeries – as understood in Scottish Gaelic tradition – and reflected on the meanings of such pilgrimage for our issues today. (Linked to this, Alastair also offers retreats on the theme Pilgrimage of Life, run from Iona Abbey and other centres).

Climate Change and the Pornography of Consumerism: In his book Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, Alastair McIntosh argues that the pressing environmental issues of our time expose an underlying loss of soul that manifests as addictive consumerism. There can be no long-term hope for conserving the natural environment unless we can learn to live more with less material consumption. But how has such addiction been created? Can it be undone? What spiritual journey does it point us towards as we continue to evolve culturally as human beings? How can we face come-what-may in the come-to-pass, possibly without optimism but with the wellsprings of hope intact?

Spiritual Activism: For the past two decades Alastair McIntosh has taught the spiritual basis of deep activism for social and environmental change in courses that have been variously accredited by the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and the Open University. What happens when our activism pushes us beyond the comfort zones of ego? When we are called to forms of leadership as service that press us to consider that our service is towards a deeper grounding of reality than we are normally conscious of? How can we use discernment and other spiritual tools to guide us on such paths, helping us to honour our vocations, our callings, and neither sell out nor burn out?

Rekindling the Spirit of Community: Alastair McIntosh is a leading figure in Scotland’s land reform movement as described in his books Soil and Soul and Rekindling Community. In this sharing he will use case studies from the Isle of Eigg and Govan (a deprived part of the city of Glasgow) to explore why connection to the land matters, why “community of place” is deeper than most forms of “community of interest”, why community is at heart a spiritual issue that relates to the fundamental nature of what it means to be human, and how such understandings can find practical expression in both rural and urban regeneration that seeks to address the emptiness of modern times.

Reconstituting Sacred Natural Sites: Alastair McIntosh is a contributor to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Delos Programme on sacred natural sites (SNSs). In this presentation drawing on Scottish case studies, he explores not just what is meant by recognised SNSs and how they can contribute to nature conservation and human regeneration, but also the need to revitalise and recreate SNSs as, for example, in the work with which he is engaged through the GalGael Trust in Govan in Glasgow. Radical Human Ecology and its Educational Challenge to the Contemporary Academy: Alastair McIntosh is both an editor and contributor to the forthcoming Ashgate collection of scholarly papers: Radical Human Ecology: Intercultural and Indigenous Approaches (2012). In this presentation he explores some of the blind spots of modernity and postmodernity, and calls for these to be re-embedded in a pre-modern essentialist worldview that restores the sacred to the heart of education, drawing especially on insight from indigenous traditions to complement the gifts of modernity and critiques of postmodernity. In particular, he addresses research methodology in human ecology, urging that grounded theory is complemented with what he calls “discernment methodology” in seeking out what gives “meaning”. In 1996 Alastair was displaced from his teaching position at Edinburgh University for insisting on what an editorial in New Scientist at the time defended as “a tradition of fearless inquiry”.

Lectures to the Military: God, War and a Christianity for the 3rd Milennium: For the past decade-and-a-half Alastair McIntosh has been a regular guest-lecturer on advanced command and staff training courses at military training institutions in Britain, Ireland and Geneva. There he lectures on the spirituality of nonviolence. What does he tell them? How does it go down? And how does the challenge of Christian nonviolence open up radical new perspectives on the Christian notion of “atonement” for the 3rd Milennium?

Corporate Responsibility as a Transformative Opportunity?: For 13 years Alastair McIntosh was one of the leaders of a campaign that stopped Lafarge, the biggest cement company in the world, from developing a “superquarry” in the National Scenic Area of the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. His work unusually drew on a religious basis of objection and has since been adapted to help stop other similar developments in the US, Canada and South Africa. In a bizarre twist, however, Lafarge later came back and invited him to serve on their Sustainability Stakeholders’ Panel. He agreed, on a basis of not taking their money, but of accepting responsibility that we all use quarry products. What has this journey entailed and what can it teach about the limitations and opportunities for transformation in today’s corporate world?

A Short Course in Liberation Theology: Working with long-term unemployed people, often homeless and drug addicts in Govan where he lives in Glasgow, Alastair McIntosh has often wrestled with how to introduce a credible, accessible and non-uptight form of the Christian message. To this end he developed a short course in liberation theology: very short, in that it sits on one page of A4 and comprises explorations of what breaks life, what gives life and what life is. He has also used it in Quaker and religious conference settings. It can vary from a session over a couple of hours to a full weekend.

A Sharing on Burning Topical Issues: Alastair McIntosh is involved in a wide range of contemporary social and environmental issues. What unites his work is always to seek the underlying thread of spiritual interconnection. One of his favourite formats for engaging with an audience is to turn up with no preparation and no agenda, and simply throw the floor open by inviting people to share what they see as “burning topical issues” and then attempting to respond.

The Artist as Activist:  Art, Spirituality and the Future: What does it mean to be an “activist” for social, environmental and/or spiritual change? In his work spanning several decades Alastair McIntosh has more and more come to see it in artistic terms: that the activist who seeks to express a spiritual activism uses a campaign not just to address surface objectives, which may or (more often) may not succeed, but to open up the further reaches of human nature and deeper vistas on life. The Russian artist, Kandinsky, said that unless art is centred in the the spiritual it disappears up its own egotism, and the same is true of our activism. How can art serve change in the world? How can artists and activists move beyond narcissism and open to something more meaningful? Alastair has lectured on this topic at the Glasgow School of Art, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and is Curator of the October 2011 international conference: Kandinsky in Govan: Art, Spirituality and the Future.

Faerie Tales: Why they Mattered, and Do They Still?: Alastair McIntosh’s research on pre-modern worldviews is rooted in his experiences of having been raised on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis and having spent four years living amongst the people and working in Papua New Guinea. This has led him to re-examine the psychological and spiritual functions of “faerie” in indigenous societies, drawing especially on the wealth of emerging Scottish and Irish ethnographic scholarship on the matter. However, this session is not primarily an academic session. It is intended as an evening, preferably late evening, sharing of experience, that interweaves the scholarly with the experiential in exploring what is meant by creativity and the imaginal realm that, in Celtic tradition, is the source of poetry, music, song and all the arts.

Love & Revolution: a Sharing of Poetry: In his work for land reform, environmental protection, community regeneration and spirituality for our times Alastair McIntosh draws centrally on Celtic bardic understandings of poetics to communicate more deeply with people. This session will be not so much a “reading” of his poetry as published in Love and Revolution, but a performance of it, to illustrate an exploration of how poetry can provide a powerful means of communication in undertaking spiritual activism.