Ecological, Spirituality, Culture And Development: Approaches and Methodologies In Doing Dialogic Research



The environmental crises we experience today, ironically, came side by side with the grand technological and industrial advancement, amidst the market-driven global trade which purportedly could bring unlimited economic growth and development. This world-wide liberalized trade in the capitalist market defined the present trend in the so-called economic globalization.

It is expected that with this process of global integration within the framework of liberalized and unrestricted flows of investment among the economies of nations, globalization will inevitably lead to agricultural modernization, industrialization, hyper-consumerism resulting to increase in per capita domestic product (GDP). However, such kind of development also brought unprecedented impact, positively and negatively, accompanied more and more by increasing social inequities and environmental destruction throughout the world. The development paradigm espoused by neo-classical economists of globalization is deemed to be unsustainable for it tends to result to a kind of economic growth which is ruthless, voiceless, rootless and meaningless (Philippine Council for Sustainable Development 1999).

To promote a balanced ecology, we need to consider the complex nature of our ethical relationship with the whole environment and to critically assess our way of thinking about our connectedness to the Earth. And this goes beyond mere economic and political arena, for it challenges us to look into the realm of the human spirit. It is no less than former United States Vice President Al Gore (1992, 12) who expresses the pressing need for this approach:

The more deeply I search for the roots of the global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of better word, spiritual. As a politician, I know full well the special hazards of using “spiritual” to describe a problem like this one . . . But what other word describes the collection of values and assumptions that determine our basic understanding of how we fit into the universe?

For Gore, underlying the problems ecological crisis and distorted development paradigm is an inner spiritual crisis.  This spiritual dimension determines the way we look and relate at the world and the way we frame our values and our relationship with the cosmos. It follows that if our basic values and ethical principles governing our relationship with the earth are flawed or distorted, then we cannot effect a creative and life-sustaining transformation. As the Harvard researcher also rightly asserts: “the felt need to focus our attention on ethics, values, and religion as ways of caring for the planet and reducing its rate of impoverishment is urgent” (Wei-ming 1994, 20).

Thus, to remedy the growing malady of earth imbalances, we need to situate the issues and challenges of global environmental threats vis-à-vis our understanding of people’s respective ecological spirituality or the evident lack of it in the way we formulate our respective positions, economic or political, at the local or global level.

Establishing the undeniable relationship between ecological issues and spirituality of different world religions is being spearheaded by the on-going Harvard University Project on Religion and Spirituality. The project was inspired by the document, World Scientists Warning to Humanity, appealing for spiritual and religious leaders to participate in addressing environmental concerns. The document, signed by a number of concerned scientists, acknowledged that religion and spirituality are at the core of the people’s motivation and actions and they are important keys to humanity’s appreciation of its essential responsibility to nature. This Harvard Project brings together leaders of different religious affiliations, policy-makers, scholars, environmental activists, government and non-governmental organizations for an interfaith dialogue through fora, conferences, websites, and publications, focusing on the issue of spirituality and the environment.[1]

This research project follows the above-mentioned initiatives to articulate a form of ecological spirituality by appreciating the contribution not only of the world religions but also of the indigenous spiritual tradition in formulating an alternative framework of relating with the earth and in promoting a life-sustaining direction for the development processes.


My dissertation entitled Articulating Mangyan-Alangans’ Indigenous Ecological Spirituality as Paradigm for Sustainable Development and Well-Being is an attempt to understand and to harness the creative spiritual energy inherent to the indigenous communities of Mangyan-Alangans in Mindoro.


By appreciating the wisdom of the Mangyan-Alangans’ culture and their indigenous spiritual tradition in relating with the earth and in pursuing sustainable practices, we hope to be able to articulate a framework of respectful inter-connectedness that will ensure the well-being, not only of the human community but of the earth community as a whole. This scenario of collective harmony and peaceful co-existence defines the experience of ecological spirituality among the indigenous peoples.


The indigenous peoples, the Mangyans as among them, have been spared from what Thomas Berry termed as “contemporary alienation” due to pervasive autism in relation to nature. For the Mangyans, the whole creation is deeply imbued with spiritual reality and they live their lives always in reverence to the unseen powers enveloping the earth. We need to write a story of the unfolding universe in order for us to rectify the destructive cultural tendencies that spell violence in our prevailing tendency to subjugate the earth.   We need to highlight a kind of spirituality that articulates an alternative mythic consciousness underlining our profound connectedness to the earth.


For the Mangyan Alangans, as well as for other indigenous peoples, a privileged locus of meanings and interpretation of the world is their distinct and highly integrative cosmology and spirituality. Cosmos refers to the original concept of wholeness of one interrelated web of life embracing all domains of existence not only the human community but the entire earth community.


We need to learn from the indigenous peoples how to revive our innate but vanishing hunger for mystical connectedness to the sacred realities that are all around us. As one former missionary to the Philippines asserts: “the salvation of our civilization and Christian religious tradition may well depend on our ability to draw insights from the tribal religious experience which will help us recover the presence of God in creation and live lightly on the earth” (McDonagh 1990, 201).


Even the Declaration of the Sacred Earth Gathering in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit in 1992 noted the importance of the indigenous traditions in pursuing the alternative ecological framework. Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), emphasized “that the changes in behavior and direction called for here must be rooted in our deepest spiritual, moral and ethical values. We must reinstate in our lives the ethic of love and respect for the earth, which traditional peoples have retained as central to their value systems” (cited in George 1995, 45).

My research project is a step forward along this endeavor to revive our ecological consciousness by learning from the cultural expressions and profound spiritual experiences of the Alangan-Mangyans in Mindoro. My dissertation is an invitation to make a long journey of reflection and solidarity with our indigenous sisters and brothers in defining genuine development in the context of life-sustaining ecological spirituality.






Researchers and social scientists coming from the ranks of indigenous peoples themselves have come to note the deeply problematic concept of research for the indigenous peoples (IPs), as they experience humiliation, anger, pain, outrage and anxiety as they were made subjects and respondents of the research conducted by people from outside their culture. Foremost among these indigenous social researchers is Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999), who wrote the classic treatise on IP research, “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.”

Smith critically noted that the long history of researching conducted among the indigenous peoples reflected the same history of oppressive relationship so characterized by the period of colonialism and imperialism by the conquering culture against the subjugated indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples have been treated as the object of research, with little regard and sensitivity for the sacred nature of their culture and their distinct identity as a people. This practice made the word “research” as probably the “dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary,” conveying deep cynicism and suspicion.

Given the many instances of exploitative practices in cultural studies, research among the indigenous peoples was seen as the continuation of cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism is described by Robert Young (1990) as a form of oppression by a dominant society and has the result of assimilating or securing the subordinated status of cultures and is usually characterized by economic profitability. In this way, research lent itself to the appropriation of indigenous knowledge for purposes of personal gain, power and the ensuing exploitation, and domination of the outside party (see also, Henderson, J.Y. 1996; Whitt 1995).


Also, part of the seeming disrespect for the indigenous peoples in the process of research is the tendency of the outsiders to insist on applying their pre-conceived concepts and paradigms as the determining reference point in viewing realities. The imposed western perspectives, for example, included the discourse on knowledge and objectivity, particular set of values and conceptualizations of time, space, and gender relations, among others. Smith (1999) argued that the dominant western claim for the “regime of truth” is in itself situated within a particular socio-cultural system of the dominant colonial system that needs to be “decolonized.” To “decolonize” does not mean refusing to accept all foreign conceptual borrowings, theories or frameworks. But rather, it is about centering our concerns and worldviews and then coming to know and understand theory and research from the perspectives and for the purposes of the indigenous peoples.

Admittedly, research was a borrowed paradigm based on western philosophies and values. What made the matter worse was that researches among the indigenous peoples were conducted mostly by non-indigenous researchers who assume self-given right to interpret the culture of the indigenous peoples though their own set of cultural and social lenses.

More often than not, this resulted to false representation of the researchers who make themselves authoritative sources for policy and programs and academic discourse for indigenous peoples with whom they did their research. Thus, understandably, research was sometimes looked down negatively and researchers have been viewed as intruders and predators (Trimble 1977; Maynard 1974) inaccurately representing indigenous culture and their way of life. Peacock (1996) pointed out that a large portion of indigenous culture and history consists of information (or even misinformation) recounted by researchers and anthropologists that is predominantly comprised of outsiders’ perceptions of how they see and interpret indigenous culture.

This problem was aggravated by the fact that indigenous people, tired of being studied, passively resisted researchers with untruths and deliberately fictitious information (Peacock 1996; Swisher 1993; Stoller & Olkes 1987; Trimble 1977). The resistance of indigenous community to research procedures by fabricating false information to be absorbed by the researcher was very much exemplified by the account of how Margaret Mead, in the classic research that she conducted among the Samoans, was hoaxed by her respondents, making the most influential anthropological studies in the 20th century as based on mischievous joking of the researcher’s informants (Freeman, 1999).

Researches among the indigenous peoples should have specific purpose and bias, not just to accumulate cultural information or to create an extensive data profile that characterized a distinct cultural group, but to serve the need of the community in which the research is to be conducted. Research should not be done just for research’s sake, but to make a positive contribution to the community (Hermes 1997).

Research must have an empowering element and must create opportunities and gains for the community and not just for the researcher. Indigenous research is described as “liberatory practice within postcolonial contexts [that] seeks to create knowledge relevant to the communities is purports to serve” (Chatterji 2001, 1). In the postcolonial context, research engages forces to address colonial problematics and confront existing relations of power. The concept of the ethical space provides a venue within which to articulate the possibilities and challenges of bringing together different ways of coming to knowledge and applying this theory to the practice of research. The whole research process can become a liberating partnership whereby the indigenous community can "confront continuing forms of social and cultural domination and imposition" (Williams and Stewart, 1992) 

In conducting research, more so among the Mangyan indigenous peoples, researchers are challenged to address or take into consideration the situation of oppression and injustices continually being experienced by the community. In the face of these experiences one cannot always assume a neutral attitude or cold objectivity of a social scientist. Even textbook in cultural anthropology admits the seeming impossibility of taking a value-free stance in a situation of conflict between a relatively powerless community vis-à-vis the invading culture. This situation leads a researcher to conclude that: “anthropologist must participate to some extent in redressing these injustices” (Nanda 1994, 40).


In a research among the lumads, a researcher articulated this craving for alternative methodology: “I dream of fieldwork practice, though not without opportunistic pretensions, recognizes persons and generates energies…I want to learn how to undertake an anthropological analysis that does not flatten out the brute fact of hardship and hide it under the cover of statistics . . . ” (Alejo 2000, 266 & 17).


Researches among the Mangyans, and indigenous peoples in general, should not merely engage in theoretical documentation or in mere statistical data analysis. It must not fail to consider the long history of the indigenous peoples’ plight and the many facets of their socio-economic, cultural and political existence that had made many of them subservient and resigned. Research should be an instrument of empowerment and not just another form of incursion for which the IPs had long been subjected to.


Generally, the Mangyans are responding to the lowland pressure with voluntary withdrawal or passive acceptance of the imposed structures of oppression.  They feel powerless in the face of intruding outside forces, which in most cases, are tainted with forms of exploitation, deceit and lack of respect (Gariguez 1992). And researches made on the Mangyans and the process employed in conducting them could not claim exemption from this pattern.


The Mangyans when they submit themselves to apathy and indifference, they come to develop what Paulo Freire termed as the “culture of silence.”  In the situation of poverty and oppression, Freire came to realize that ignorance and lethargy of the dispossessed “were the direct product of the whole situation of economic, social and political domination-and paternalism-of which they were victims”  (Freire 1984, 10-11).


This situation of injustice and oppressive relationship has to be addressed by the research process more than the exigency of collecting data and cultural information that only the academic community will gain much of the benefits.


It is an accepted theory that “all models of development are essentially cultural.” However, we fail to harness our own cultural power to set the course for appropriate development. Our model of development had been one of always following the dictate of the affluent Western culture, “whose underlying values . . . prevented its successful transplantation to the very different socio-cultural structures of most developing societies.” (de Leon 2005).


Thus, to redefine and explore the concept of development, it is important that we learn from and adopt our local culture and perspectives. In the case of the indigenous peoples, we have to empower them to articulate their own existing development paradigm and to set their own agenda based from what they consider as their priority, and in accordance with their own cultural values and framework.


However, what always happened is that development framework, more often than not, is packaged and implemented by professionals, politicians, and institutions which have their own perspectives, apart from and sometimes in total contradiction to, the consciousness of the people on the ground. To remedy this tension, a World Bank study on poverty reduction explicitly recommended that: “any policy on poverty should be based on the experiences, reflections, aspirations and priorities of the poor themselves” (Narayan 2000b, 3). Thus, this research is an attempt observe this basic prerequisite  - to study, explore and analyze development framework from the perspective of Mangyan indigenous culture.






Quantitative measurements of growth are normally blind to the hidden cost of the so-called “development” which aggravates the wanton disregard for the environment leading to further deterioration of the quality of life of the most vulnerable sectors. But the invisible figures and factors in economic equation frequently involve the accelerating destruction of the environment.

Thus, in calculating the gross national product (GNP) as the indicator of development, natural resources are not depreciated or factored in as they are used up. So, economists may consider logging or mining of our forest watershed as a form of development for it directly increases the GNP of the country. But nowhere in the calculation will it reflect the negative value of resource depletion, and the corresponding greater but non-quantifiable values attached to forest preservation.

More than the framework and calculations of market capitalist economics, which ignore values other than what people can sell and buy, we need to provide a broader perspective to include in our policy framework and equation the concern for the limited and fast depleting natural capital. Since our consumerist policy for short term gains is defined by our distorted sense of dominance over the earth, it should then be tempered with a sense of responsibility and ethical consideration. It is of utmost importance that we present “our current version of economic theory that need to be changed in order to eliminate the serious distortions in the way free markets calculate the value of the environment” (Gore 1992, 338).


The policy makers and development advocates have much to learn from the innate wisdom of the indigenous peoples. They are generally more attuned and appreciative of the mysteries of nature, thus appreciating their perspectives and beliefs “might enable modern people to alter their dualistic-anthropocentric attitudes, restore contact with the divine forces of nature, and begin to behave in ways that promote ecological health, social harmony, and personal well-being.” (Barnhill and Gottlieb 2001, 243-269).


The discipline of social science in its attempt to subscribe to the scientistic objectivity that has characterized the contemporary worldview had been very much influenced by the scientific method to the point that “no other approach to reality is considered valid except in scientific way.” (Demetrio 1981, 89)


The conventional scientific standard looks at the world as exclusively “objective,” through the eye of the senses, in its material manifestation. And nothing exists which does not have physical or tangible components that can be observed or quantified. In this sense, realities are explained in terms of laws based on the observed accumulation of quantifiable data.


This detached objectivity, however, has an inherent limitation in its potential to measure the non-physical phenomena, leading researchers to admit that scientific method, “although necessary, is not sufficient to provide all the questions about nature and humanity” (see Knudston and Suzuki 1992, Cruikshank 1990, and Colorado 1989).


The obsession to reduce scientific inquiry only to the visible phenomena that could be measured and quantified goes back to the time of Galileo and continued until now, exacting a heavy price. By restricting ourselves to what is quantifiable, we fail to see and consider “the esthetic and ethical sensibility, values, quality, soul, consciousness, spirit. Experience as such is cast out of the realm of scientific discourse” (Capra 1988).


This tendency of reducing the truth to empirical fact is a dangerous premise, and warning had been raised by various researchers: “Many scientists and non-scientists alike realize that they take profound risks if they rely exclusively upon the verifiable “truths” of scientific knowledge when they define human relationships to the natural world” (Knudtson and Suzuki 1992, 64). To underline this danger, Houston Smith (1992, 119, 151, 200, 84-86) warns us that the Western mindset, in its obsession for control and for empirical observation, has automatically excluded transcendent possibilities and realities and other intrinsic values and qualitative aspects of human experience.


The need for a more qualitative approach to research is slowly being recognized primarily because of the emerging consciousness even in the field of quantum physics that the strict compartmentalization of subjective as totally separated from objective reality is no longer tenable. David Bohm (1992, ix), a professor of Theoretical Physics, “rejects the notion that our thinking process neutrally report on what is ‘out there’ in an objective world. He explores the manner in which thought actively participates in forming our perceptions, our sense of meaning and our daily actions. Similarly, Fritjop Capra (1983, 77), another world-renowned physicist, maintains that “in atomic physics the sharp Cartesian division between mind and matter, between the observer and the observed, can no longer be maintained.


Moreover, in terms of conducting research with and among the indigenous peoples, and especially if one is to tackle the cultural pattern of specific ecological consciousness, we must accept the inability of scientistic objectivity to articulate non-empirical but equally important data and experiences. In line with this premise, it is asserted that: “research with Indigenous peoples is predominantly within the qualitative genre because qualitative research frameworks provide congruence and cultural safety for the tenets of Indigenous worldview” (Denzin and Lincoln 2000, 14).


In its attempt to be objective, factual and scientific, anthropological research should not be afraid to accept the inadequacy and limitation of its method, for it is part of “the fumbling paths of the ethnographer in her own gradual process of misunderstanding and misrecognition, occasionally illuminated be small beacons of recognition and clarification” (Schepher-Hughes 1992, 24).








Dialogue is not only an interpersonal communication in the strict sense of the word, but it takes on a deeper meaning as an existential necessity, a creative process that empowers human persons to create social reality. It is in this sense that Freire defines dialogue as “the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world” (Freire 1984, 76). This process of naming the world constitutes the basic right of every person and forms part of our very existence.


Among the many important pre-requisites for real dialogue to take place are respect and humility. Dialogue must be carried out in an atmosphere of fairness and equality, it must not be an act of arrogance and “it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one man by another” (Freire 1984, 77). The “dialoguers” must have a sincere commitment to the truth and must not attempt to impose their respective truths to the other party. One cannot dialogue if one places oneself above another as the sole owner of the truth.


The principles of dialogic theory articulated by Freire can have a very special significance in the field of research, particularly among the Mangyan indigenous communities.


The Mangyans of Mindoro, in the long period of history had been marginalized by the dominant sectors of lowland society. Lowland forms of incursion were varied but they were persistently carried out not only in cultural but even in political and economic sphere. As one researcher aptly observed:


In truth, there exists no Mangyan group today that has not been exposed to nor encroached upon by people coming from the lowlands – missionaries, land-grabbers, anthropologist, social workers, lumberjacks have long penetrated and disrupted the continuity of traditional way of life. (Lopez 1976, 127)


The continuing encounter between the lowland pressure and the upland Mangyan culture constitutes a form of dialogue, albeit more in a negative sense as denounced by Freire. In many instances, the pattern of subjugation and oppressive inter-relation characterizes the existing status quo. The exploitative terms of relationship between the Mangyans and the lowlanders cannot be rectified unless a radical re-orientation in terms of observing the basic framework of respect and sincere acceptance is established.  The pattern of prejudice must end and the vision of equality must be pursued (Gariguez 1992, 60).


Conventional research tool on the indigenous peoples, which includes fieldwork study and the corresponding research output, is technically referred to as ethnography (Nanda 1994, 467). Ethnographic researches among the Mangyans are many, and in fact, a compilation of the list of researches on the Mangyans had already been published in a book. Such bulk of academic researches tried to understand Mangyan realities through the framework of scientific methodologies of the social sciences. In this approach, “Mangyans were viewed in different periods through the analysis of various ethnographic data stemming form ‘naturalistic’ type of studies down to the more scientific ones of the present anthropological approaches to the study of traditional societies” (Lopez 1976, xiv).


Conventional ethnography and other kinds of research on indigenous peoples are often conducted with a sense of scientific detachment and objectivity. The researchers come to the community fully equip to extract all the needed information from the interviewees, to collect data as personally observed or as reported in the interviews. Other tools of research include survey questionnaires and the conduct of focused group discussion. Data gathered from indigenous communities often include description of cultural practices, structure of social organization, belief systems, and the like.


This conventional approach to research, though normative, is often lacking in actual personal engagement and does not reflect the principles of dialogue as earlier described by Freire. The relationship in the context of the conventional research does not go beyond the usual regard of the indigenous peoples as objects of study. The researcher, as the central reference of the entire process, analyzes the objective facts in a manner that a physician dissects a cadaver to study the muscles! No wonder that a noted anthropologist, E. E. Evans-Pritchard criticizes the conventional research process thus:


But is it really necessary to just make a book out of human beings? I find the usual account of field-research so boring as often to be unreadable – kinship systems, political systems, ritual systems, every sort of system, structure and function, but little flesh and blood. One seldom gets the impression that the anthropologist felt at one with the people about whom he writes. If this is romanticism and sentimentality I accept those terms (cited in Alejo 2000, 1).


In that above-given statement, the author articulated Freire’s framework of dialogue by underlining the importance of “being one with the people” about whom he writes. The conduct of research among the indigenous peoples and among the Mangyans in particular necessarily entails this degree of respectful encounter carried out in the spirit of solidarity.


In conducting research on the Mangyans, it is imperative to bring out the maximum participation and involvement of the researcher to the subject of study by becoming an insider rather than detached observer. Bruce Albert, another noted anthropologist, entertains the premise that the social engagement of a researcher is an explicit and constituent element of the research project, the condition and framework of his field study (Albert 1997, 57-58). In this sense, fieldwork researchers do not only become participant-observers in the process, but they engaged in more entangled “partisan participation” (Alejo 2000, 256).


Entering this process of dialogue with a corresponding personal engagement necessarily demands a committed involvement for people and the community. Hence, research activity should not proceed without the researcher being able to establish a meaningful relationship with the community. The research process must not only seek to accomplish the data gathering output but must try to understand the “flesh and blood” realities of the indigenous peoples as they share their stories, expressed their deepest longings and articulate their own view of the world.


There is no short cut to this dialogue process. It entails that researchers must be willing to undergo serious immersion process and to live with the community for a longer period. Considering this framework of engagement and solidarity, mere data-extraction-approach of some researchers should be discouraged. In the past, there were instances when researchers only distribute questionnaires to Mangyan leaders on certain research topic. After collecting their answers and analyzing them, the researchers honorably obtained their masteral or doctoral degrees in social sciences, even with their very limited experience of sharing the deepest cultural consciousness of the indigenous peoples for which they shamelessly claim expertise!


Such practice reinforces the oppressive nature of dialogue carried out by the dominant party while taking advantage of the vulnerability of another group, in this case, the Mangyan communities. In this anti-dialogical process, “the actors superimpose themselves on the people, who are assigned the role of spectators, or objects” (Freire 1984, 182). There is no genuine dialogue that is taking place. On the contrary, the Mangyans seem to have been “used” as objects of study to fulfill the requirement of academic research and to contribute to the fossilized materials of the social sciences.


“Being one with the people” in the dialogic approach of Freire, entails that respect be accorded to the partners in dialogue so that full participation of the people can be realized in the research process. The voices of the voiceless must be articulated while the dominant sector must refrain from all forms of imposition or any manner of cultural invasion that perpetuates the unequal relationship where “the invaders are the authors of, and actors in, the process; those they invade are the objects” (Freire 1984, 150). One cannot enter into dialogue if one takes this posture of arrogance and disrespect.


In Freire’s framework, we cannot accept a situation wherein research is conducted with one party owning all the truth while the rest of the community is regarded as wallowing in ignorance. Freire (1984, 49) warns of dismal experience in which the people in the community “call themselves ignorant and say the ‘professor’ is the one who has knowledge and to whom they should listen.” This assumption of researchers’ superiority had been the prevailing description of most of the Mangyan researches. This paternalistic attitude to doing research should be unmasked for in a real sense, this constitutes a form of domination in disguise. For Freire (1984, 150), “all domination involves invasion – at times physical and overt, at times camouflaged, with the invader assuming the role of a helping friend.”


Therefore there is a need to make the research truly participatory. Reiterating the principle of Freire (1984, 169), it is necessary that “the leaders (or researchers for this matter) must believe in the potentialities of the people whom they cannot treat as mere objects of their own action . . . ”  Researches among the Mangyans to be truly dialogic must empower the people to take an active part and to have a central role in the research process if we are to stop the pattern of cultural invasion that characterized many of the research methodologies.


Entering into research as a dialogue process, as noted above, requires being one with the people or being in solidarity with the people. For Freire, solidarity means a strong commitment to the community guided by decisive involvement to their cause. Solidarity is experienced when one “stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice . . . ” (Freire 1984, 34-35).


One who is in constant dialogue with the community can attain a degree of identification with the people as opposed to the status of an “outsider” trying hard to fit or to understand the complex situation from afar, using theoretical hypothesis. In a way, I have what Uma Narayan called “the epistemic privilege” of doing the research from within. This gives a certain authority that comes from “living and breathing” the oppression as experienced by the people, and to a certain extent, by the researcher-participant (Narayan, U. 1988, 31-47)




  1.  towards Transformative praxis


Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Banking, in his address delivered before he received his Nobel Peace Prize Award related his life story of how as a student of social science, he felt so uncomfortable with his studies because:


 . . . when it came to applying this knowledge in solving real problems, it appeared toothless. I continued to get a feeling that the knowledge that we present in the discipline of social science is replete with pretensions and make-believe stories . . . Social scientists enjoy being up above in the sky and having a panoramic bird's-eye view over a wide horizon. The view from the sky without the supportive close-up view from the ground merely encourages you to take recourse to daydreaming (cited in Doyo 2006).


Contrary to Yunus’ frustration, this research tried to give emphasis on the application of knowledge and research to the concrete social realities that the researcher face as catalyst of development or as agents of change. In Asian Social Institute, the most important aspect of the course program is the very application of the learning process to the concrete arena of transformative praxis – in the students’ respective participation and involvement in promoting a culture of justice, peace, and integrity of creation. This approach is clearly recommended by Theodore Roszak (1981, 46) in his insistence that “the primary purpose of human existence is not to devise ways of piling up ever greater heaps of knowledge, but to discover ways to live from day to day that integrate the whole of nature by way of yielding nobility of conduct, honest fellowship and joy.”


During the World Civil Society Forum held on July 17, 2002, the representative of the World Bank himself, Dr. Sfeir-Younis, stated that it is necessary to bring in spirituality into the issue of sustainable development as a form of public policy. He believes that policy-makers must make investment on “spiritual capital,” to empower the community and change the course of continuing ecological degradation. Other speakers stressed that “an emphasis on spirituality is a key factor in providing common solutions to the societal ills of the modern world, such as human rights violations, lack of distributive justice, inner and outer poverty and the destruction of the planet . . .” (cited in World Civil Society Forum 2002).


The attempt to articulate the IPs cosmology is but a necessary step to construct a culture-based paradigm for sustainable development that reflects their true aspirations, that respects their indigenous identity and affirms their sacred bonding with the earth and the human community. This is a dynamic cosmology that aims at articulating the story of the universe so that humans can enter fruitfully into the web of relationships within the universe.


The challenge in pursuing transformative research process is how to come into a dialogue of consciousness with the community and to tap their potentials for critical reflection so that the product of research may also include this dynamic aspect of consciousness formation and not just the static artifacts of their culture. This process is what precisely the theory of Freire is striving to realize. As articulated in the foreword to his book, a researcher appropriately expressed the desired paradigm change in the field of research:


Fed up as I am with the abstractness and sterility of so much intellectual work in academic circles today, I am excited by the process of reflection which is set in a thoroughly historical context, which is carried on in the midst of a struggle to create a new social order and thus represents a new unity of theory and praxis. (Freire 1984, 12)


The underlying concern in the above-given sentiment is to make research socially relevant, with critical and creative function for the community. The focus of research on Mangyan communities must attempt to shed light on the structures and systems or prevailing pattern of consciousness that perpetuates the culture of silence and keep them victims of their own apathy. This approach had not been emphasized in the conduct of researches among the Mangyans, leading one researcher to lament on the lack of materials addressing concrete problems and realities that should had been considered long before. It is noted that “all existing literature on the Mangyans have been focused on their socio-cultural life. No attempt has been made to go beyond gathering anthropological data in order to provide insight into the problem of integrating this group into the mainstream of national life.”  (Lopez 1976, xii)


In terms of the question of relevance, we need to find or formulate alternative research approach among the Mangyans that opens up the possibility for ethical, community-focused and culturally appropriate methodology for research in social science, a kind of research espousing “liberating” practice. In this model, the method of research intends to offer venue for intervention as a mode of social action bringing the research as part of the social world involving the subject community. This method of research should aim “to promote research activities on topics of interest to and ultimately of benefit to the community and not to groups outside of it…” (Enriquez 1994, 59).


Research process as a tool and venue for communication process must be able to facilitate the transformative agenda of the community. The dynamic of dialogue between the researcher and the host communities must eventually lead to the transformation of consciousness and eventually to the transformation of unjust structures that prevent them from full realization of their human potentials. Research when considered as a form of communication process “should enable people to articulate their own needs and help them act together to meet their social needs, enhancing human dignity and participation in society” (Gonzalez 1994, 94).









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[1] A quick survey of academic programs on spiritual ecology is provided by the website for the Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE) at the Center for the Environment of Harvard University: This website surveys the major religions of the world, including indigenous traditions, in relation to ecology. The site is available in eight languages. It receives as many as 60,000 visitors each month, one indicator of the accelerating interest in this field.