1st Edition

Radical Mindfulness Why Transforming Fear of Death is Politically Vital

By James K. Rowe Copyright 2024
    200 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    200 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Radical Mindfulness examines the root causes of injustice, asking why inequalities along the lines of race, class, gender, and species continue to exist. Specifically, James K. Rowe examines fear of death as a root cause of systemic inequalities and proposes a more embodied approach to social change as a solution.

    Collecting insights from powerful thinkers across multiple traditions—including Black radicals, Indigenous resurgence theorists, terror management theorists, and Buddhist feminists— Rowe argues for the political importance of seemingly apolitical practices such as meditation and ritual. On their own, these strategies are not enough, but integrated into social movements that are combating structural injustices, mind–body practices can begin transforming the embodied fears that feed endless fuel to supremacist ideologies and yet are not targeted by most political actors.

    Radical Mindfulness is for academics, activists, and individuals who want to overcome supremacy of all kinds but are struggling to understand and develop methods for attacking it at the roots.

    An Opening: A Conversation with Dylan Thomas (Qwul’thilum)

    1. Introduction: Fear of Death as a Driver of Injustice

    2. The Will to Supremacy

    3. White Supremacy: James Baldwin on Death Denial and Whiteness

    4. Class and Colonial Supremacy: John Mohawk on Oppression in the Western World

    5. Human Supremacy: Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory

    6. Male Supremacy: Rita Gross and Hsiao-Lan Hu’s Buddhist Feminism

    7. Practice for a Just, Liveable Future

    Coda: A Contemplation on Basic Goodness

    Appendix: How Activists Are Using Mind– Body Practices


    James K. Rowe is Associate Professor of environmental studies and cultural, social, and political thought at the University of Victoria. His interdisciplinary research program is motivated by a desire to understand and strengthen social movements working toward social and ecological justice. Rowe has published in the journals: The Arrow; BioScience; C-Theory; New Political Science; Socialist Studies; Studies in Political Economy; and Theory & Event. His work has also appeared in public-facing outlets: Corporate Knights, openDemocracy, Truthout, and Waging Nonviolence. His research has been reported on by The Atlantic, the BBC, the CBC, HuffPost, and Jacobin.

    "Radical Mindfulness is an extraordinarily generous intervention in the burgeoning conversation about the role of mindfulness in social transformation. James K. Rowe offers genuinely new approaches to understanding why some humans so consistently choose to perpetuate oppression, crafting a rich conception of the co-production of fear of death and supremacy cultures. You’ll emerge from the book having grappled with your own existential response to the fact that death comes without warning, and that you yourself will one day be a corpse. You’ll be convinced that reckoning with this fact has been a central concern of thinkers from James Baldwin to the Buddha. And you’ll have renewed resources for understanding the resonances among Indigenous, feminist, and Black liberation struggles that have practiced life-affirming ways to meet death. For white settler readers in particular, this book gives resources for learning from these other contexts without appropriating them. As erudite and precise as it is ebullient and provocative, this book offers a generative path for anyone committed to the possibility of collective liberation and a world in which abundance rather than scarcity shapes our lives."
    Alexis Shotwell, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University 

    "How do white supremacism, alpha-masculinity, class politics, and climate denialism fold into the dominant institutions of today? In this remarkable book, James K. Rowe helps us to see and feel the connections. Existential traumas about death and deadly institutional practices, he says, are intertwined, with the traumas and drives feeding into each other. Radical mindfulness, as a set of collective practices, can help to reshape these connections.  Drawing sustenance from Bataille, James Baldwin, Indigenous thinkers, Buddhists, feminists and others, Rowe folds mindfulness into radicalism and radicalism into mindfulness. An astute and timely book, full of insights and inspirational stories."

    William E. Connolly, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor, Johns Hopkins University

    "Can humans collectively stop enslaving, exploiting, segregating and desecrating? Can "metabolizing" our fear of death precipitate awakening to our responsibilities within "the inescapable network of mutuality"? Weaving existential philosophy with acknowledgement of Indigenous wisdom, Buddhism, feminism, and dismantling white supremacy practices and tools, James K. Rowe has crafted a bold proposal of love and hope."

    Mushim Patricia Ikeda, Buddhist teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center, author, and community activist

    "I consistently ruminate over the climate destruction befalling us. I know settler colonialism and white supremacy are deeply woven into the harm befalling Mother Earth. I am often left feeling helpless due to the seeming infallibility of the systems that maintain control. James K. Rowe's book provides me with immense hope as he clarifies the drive for the will to supremacy, which is to say, he allows the reader an opportunity to understand what is happening – the ignorance that the settler colonial regime depends upon is therefore brought into disruption."

    Tricia McGuire-Adams, Anishinaabek Nation, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Ganandawisiwin Sovereignties, University of Ottawa 

    "Original and poignant, Radical Mindfulness is a deep-dive into the social justice implications of death denial.  Rowe argues that at the root of our entangled predicaments of climate change, ongoing colonialism, threats to democracy, and racial and gender injustice, is the inability of those in power to cope with their fear of death. From "white extinction anxiety" to the viral currency of outrage, this incapacity to manage the ultimate terror of mortality manifests in violence large and small. If mindfulness can help us face our fear of death, it can reduce the harms we wittingly or unwittingly commit."

    Sarah Jaquette Ray, Professor of Environmental Studies, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt

    "Radical Mindfulness addresses the need to simultaneously come to terms with death at the personal level while dismantling/reconstructing death-denying structures (religious, political and economic). A magnificent book — timely, important and compelling."

    Sheldon Solomon, Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College

    "In Radical Mindfulness, James K. Rowe compellingly advocates for the inclusion of mind-body practices such as mindfulness as vital components of political transformation. Reflecting the radical inclusivity animating the project, Radical Mindfulness is at once an autoethnography, intellectual genealogy, social critique, existential guide, and healing justice manifesto. In the words of bell hooks, one of the many visionaries inspiring the book, it exemplifies scholarship as the “practice of freedom."

    Ann Gleig, Associate Professor of Religion and Cultural Studies , University of Central Florida 

    "This powerful, deeply reflective book is exactly what the world needs. James K. Rowe, a long-time meditator and social theorist, offers searing insight into how mindfulness can help progressive thinkers and movements root-out the sources of supremacy and work collectively to build a more just, ecological sane, and humane future.  Finally, someone has linked our inner and outer lives in a compelling, politically relevant, critical way.  This book is liberation between two covers."

    Paul Wapner, Professor Emeritus of Global Environmental Politics, American University