My favorite definition of sustainability that I found was from the Free Dictionary. Sustainability was defined as “to keep in existence, maintain.” This definition was my favorite because it was the most inclusive one I could find. Many other definitions spoke specifically about the environment. While sustainability is most commonly used in reference to the environment and a “green” lifestyle, it can also be used in an economic or cultural sense as well. I will be focusing on the cultural definition of sustainability.
In terms of culture, sustainability refers to maintaining certain cultural markers, such as language, traditions, ancestry, and religion. Some of these can be very positive, such as keeping a language alive, or participating in a family ritual. A negative example would be forbidding intermarriage as a way to continue “racial purity.”
Since the English began to rule Ireland, the Irish Gaelic language has been in steady decline. Even in the Victorian Era, James Joyce wrote about university students enrolling in Irish classes to keep the language alive (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Today, according to a census reported in The Guardian, about 25% of the Irish population speaks Irish, which is odd, considering it is officially the country’s first language. While some of the Irish refuse to speak a language other than English, in Irish speaking parts of Ireland, Irish Gaelic is taught in schools. According to the Irish Central website, the number of Irish speakers is on the rise. This is due to people wanting to preserve this language, an example of cultural sustainability. Just as we try to conserve natural resources, Irish speakers are trying to conserve their language.
The other example of cultural sustainability I will use is quite different. This is because it is a movement to revive something that has been arguably gone for thousands of years. The pagan revivalist movement is a movement dating back to the 1950s, that is attempting to revive the various world pagan religions that disappeared after the rise of Christianity. Religions such as Druidry, the ancient religion of the Celts, or Greco-Roman beliefs are being followed by some people in modern society, particularly in the UK and US. Some people are trying to revive these old religions because they identify with the culture that used to practice them. For example, a German or German-American may worship the old Germanic or Viking gods. Others just find a spiritual truth in these ancient practices. While this example is not the most well-known, I find it extremely interesting, because it is a movement to resurrect a religion believed to be extinct. Which brings up a question: Does sustainability encompass not just keeping in existence, but bringing back to existence?
So, while one can maintain resources and economic structure, one can also maintain languages and religions.