Joanna Macy

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Joanna Rogers Macy
Joanna Macy.jpg
Born (1929-05-02) 2 May 1929 (age 91)
OccupationAuthor, Buddhist scholar, environmental activist

Joanna Rogers Macy (born May 2, 1929), is an environmental activist, author, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. She is the author of eight books.[1]


Macy graduated from Wellesley College in 1950 and received her Ph.D in Religious Studies in 1978 from Syracuse University, Syracuse. She studied there with Huston Smith, the influential author of The World's Religions (previously entitled The Religions of Man). She is an international spokesperson for anti-nuclear causes, peace, justice, and environmentalism,[1] most renowned for her book Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World and the Great Turning initiative, which deals with the transformation from, as she terms it, an industrial growth society to what she considers to be a more sustainable civilization. She has created a theoretical framework for personal and social change, and a workshop methodology for its application. Her work addresses psychological and spiritual issues, Buddhist thought, and contemporary science. She was married to the late Francis Underhill Macy, the activist and Russian scholar who founded the Center for Safe Energy.[citation needed]

Key influences[edit]

Macy first encountered Buddhism in 1965 while working with Tibetan refugees in northern India, particularly the Ven. 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Sister Karma Khechog Palmo, Ven. Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, and Tokden Antrim of the Tashi Jong community. Her spiritual practice is drawn from the Theravada tradition of Nyanaponika Thera and Rev. Sivali of Sri Lanka, Munindraji of West Bengal, and Dhiravamsa of Thailand.

Key formative influences to her teaching in the field of the connection to living systems theory have been Ervin Laszlo who introduced her to systems theory through his writings (especially Introduction to Systems Philosophy and Systems, Structure and Experience), and who worked with her as advisor on her doctoral dissertation (later adapted as Mutual Causality) and on a project for the Club of Rome. Gregory Bateson, through his Steps to an Ecology of Mind and in a summer seminar, also shaped her thought, as did the writings of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Arthur Koestler, and Hazel Henderson. She was influenced in the studies of biological systems by Tyrone Cashman, and economic systems by Kenneth Boulding. Donella Meadows provided insights on the planetary consequences of runaway systems, and Elisabet Sahtouris provided further information about self-organizing systems in evolutionary perspective.


Macy travels giving lectures, workshops, and trainings internationally. Her work, originally called "Despair and Empowerment Work" was acknowledged as being part of the deep ecology tradition after she encountered the work of Arne Naess and John Seed [2], but as a result of disillusion with academic disputes in the field, she now calls it "the Work that Reconnects". Widowed by the death of her husband, Francis Underhill Macy, in January 2009, she lives in Berkeley, California, near her children and grandchildren. She serves as adjunct professor to three graduate schools in the San Francisco Bay Area: the Starr King School for the Ministry, the University of Creation Spirituality, and the California Institute of Integral Studies.[citation needed]


  • Macy, Joanna (1983). Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. New Society Pub. ISBN 0-86571-031-7.
  • Macy, Joanna (1985). Dharma and Development: Religion as resource in the Sarvodaya self help movement. Kumarian Press revised ed. ISBN 0-931816-53-X.
  • Macy, Joanna; Seed, John; Fleming, Pat; Naess, Arne; Pugh, Dailan (1988). Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-133-X.
  • Macy, Joanna (1991). Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural System (Buddhist Studies Series). State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0637-7.
  • Macy, Joanna; Barrows, Anita (1996). Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God: poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Riverhead Books. ISBN 1-59448-156-3.
  • Macy, Joanna; Young Brown, Molly (1998). Coming Back to Life : Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-391-X.
  • Macy, Joanna (2001). Widening Circles : a memoir. New Catalyst Books. ISBN 978-1897408018.
  • Macy, Joanna (2005). World as Lover, World as Self. Parallax Press. ISBN 0-938077-27-9.
  • Macy, Joanna (2010). Pass It On: Five Stories That Can Change the World. Parallax Press. ISBN 9781888375831.
  • Macy, Joanna; Johnstone, Chris (2012). Active Hope : how to face the mess we're in without going crazy. New World Library. ISBN 978-1-57731-972-6.

See also[edit]

  • David Korten, a collaborator with Macy on the Great Turning Initiative


External links[edit]