Charlene Spretnak was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She holds a B.A. magna cum laude, with appointment to Phi Beta Kappa, from St. Louis University, and an M.A. in English and American literature from the University of California at Berkeley. Her work is internationally recognized in various areas of social criticism (including feminism); cultural history; ecological thought and activism (including Green politics and ecological philosophy); and spirituality and religion.
Her eco-social, relational worldview has its roots in eleven summers she spent in the Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio (the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains) at a girls' summer camp. Her love of cultural and intellectual history was acquired through four years at a Jesuit university, where she studied with Walter J. Ong and other inspiring scholars. Her felt responsibility to help ease the suffering of the world was instilled by her parents.
Each of her books was a foray into a new or unexplored area in order to map the terrain. That is, rather than creating a blended synthesis of complex phenomena, Ms. Spretnak has been drawn to figure out and suggest a way of comprehending the overall coherence of a new social movement, or intellectual orientation, or uncharted area of cultural history. She proposed a perspective, explication, and engagement regarding the following subjects, with particular attention to the dynamic of interrelatedness in each subject: the pre-Olympian mythology of Greece, the emergent women's spirituality movement, the ecofeminist movement, the emergent Green Party movement in Europe and the United States, the spiritual dimension of Green politics, the deconstructive-postmodernists' denial of meaning, the rising tide of eco-social solutions to the crises of modernity, a progressive critique of the radical diminution of the Virgin Mary when the Catholic Church modernized at Vatican II, new discoveries of dynamic interrelatedness causing the Relational Shift in modern society, and the uncovered spiritual dimensions of modern and contemporary art.
Her first book, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths (1978), reconstructs, for the first time in more than 2500 years, the pre-Olympian myths of Greece, which are a foundational element of Western culture. Ms. Spretnak's anthology, The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement (1982), suggested a framing orientation for the chorus of voices in the early years of the of the women's spirituality movement. The 1994 edition contains her essay, "The First Twenty Years," on the development of the movement and its many facets. With that addition, the publisher changed the original subtitle to Essays by the Founding Mothers of the Women's Spirituality Movement.
Since the mid-1980s, all of Charlene Spretnak's books have engaged with the dynamics and effects of modernity. Because modernity intensified the unfortunate perception in the West, present since the Greeks, that there is a radical discontinuity between (1) body and mind, (2) humans and nature, (3) self and the world, and (4) immanent and transcendent, Ms. Spretnak believes that the way to correct and reground modern societies is to cultivate ecological, or relational, wisdom. Because relational thought has long been practiced in spiritual traditions and by women, these, too, are central to the grand corrective effort to heal and transform those aspects of modernity that have proven to be destructive.
Ms. Spretnak is the principle coauthor of Green Politics: The Global Promise (with Fritjof Capra; 1984), which was a major catalyst for the Green Party movement in the United States and was voted the best political book of l984 by the readers of New Options. She also wrote The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics (l986), which was the annual lecture to the E. F. Schumacher Society of America in 1984. In August 1984, she co-founded the Green Party movement in this country.
Ms. Spretnak's fifth book, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age (1991), explores the relevance of the core teachings and practices of some of the great spiritual traditions to addressing the crises of modernity. The Boston Globe called this book "profound" and praised her "rare gift for making a bridge from scholarship to 'the real world.'"
She continued her contribution to the Green analysis and vision in The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World (1997), which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the Best Books of the Year. According to Publishers Weekly, "In her far-ranging, in-depth study of the structure of contemporary alienation, Spretnak joins the ranks of gifted writers qua intellectual social analysts like Lewis Mumford." In this book she presents a deeply ecological culture history of the modern condition and develops an eco-social vision by which we might reground human endeavors in the dynamic processes of the Earth Community. A Chinese translation was published in Beijing in 2001.
In 2004 she wrote Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church about the interface between modernity and religion, focusing on what happened to the perception of the Virgin Mary when the Roman Catholic Church modernized itself at Vatican II (1962-65) and in the subsequent decades. She considers the question of whether modernity can engage with the cosmological, symbolic, and mystical dimensions of the full spiritual presence of Mary or whether all that must be disallowed for a more rational and modern version of the religion to prevail – and she reflects on what is lost when the latter view prevails.
Ms. Spretnak's eighth book, Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World was published in 2011. She illuminates the coherence of numerous recent discoveries that are finally moving the relational worldview from the margins into the mainstream. The central realization, with myriad manifestations, is that all entities in this world, including humans, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity that are both composed of and nested within contextual networks of creative, dynamic interrelationships. Nothing exists outside of those relationships. She presents newly created applications of recent discoveries of dynamic interrelatedness – such as Relational Physiology – that are already transforming the way we educate our children, attend to our health, green our communities, and rethink economic activity. New analyses of the crises of modernity and bountiful new solutions are the result; this Relational Shift is increasingly evident since 2000 in our institutions and our systems of knowledge.
Her most recent book is on cultural history: The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present (2014), which counters the dominant narrative in art history that the art of the modern period is entirely a secular endeavor, with a few anomalies. As the book demonstrates, by using direct statements from scores of historical and contemporary prominent artists, the majority of celebrated modern artists had significant interests in the spiritual, which are expressed in the radically new art they created.
In March 1989 Charlene Spretnak was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame by Gov. Richard F. Celeste in recognition of her writings on spirituality and social justice. She lectures in the United States and Europe. She served on the planning committee for the Portrack Conferences on Restructive Postmodernism, held in London; Dumfries, Scotland; and Santa Monica, CA (1992-1996). She has been a participant in several conferences convened by the International Forum on Globalization and several convened by the Foundation for Deep Ecology. She was Scholar-in-Residence at Schumacher College, in England, in 1992, 1997, and 2003. In 2006 Charlene Spretnak was named by the British government's Environment Department as one of the "100 Eco-Heroes of All Time." In 2012 she received the Demeter Award for lifetime achievement as “one of the premier visionary feminist thinkers of our time” from the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology. In early 2012 she was invited by Progressive Radio Network to host a radio program, which she named "All Together Now" and which she hosted through September 2014, when she passed the program on to Eleanor LeCain, author of Breakthrough Solutions.
Ms. Spretnak is a professor emerita in the philosophy and religion department at California Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco. She lives in California with her husband.