Religion & Ecology

This page contains ongoing research related to my academic work, which is on the topic of the Anthropocene and its relationship to discourses about post-environmental or post-natural politics. My research explores the networks between religious worldviews, science education, discourses of apocalypse and catastrophe, and how all of this impacts environmental politics. My early work was looking especially at how free market and anti-environmental fundamentalist–especially Young Earth Creationists (YEC)–have acted as a political force against climate change action and for removing or weakening science curriculum and literacy in the US. Since then I have been focusing more on global trends, not just US, with an increasing interest in the Himalayan region.

The larger intellectual project I am interested in is how religious worldviews–by which I mean diverse understandings of spirituality, both institutional and informal–shape the way we view environmental issues and determine our environmental politics. This might include the Creation Care movement coming out of the green Evangelical groups, the Dominion Mandate anti-environmentalists from the fundamentalist wing of Evangelical Christians, animist or indigenous environmentalism linked to protecting sacred forests or rivers, Wiccan and pagan “dark green” environmentalism and direct action politics, as well as how ecology and spirituality play out in Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism, Judaism, Bönpo, Sikhism and other faith traditions. While my primary research has focused on conservative Christianity and animism as influences on environmental politics, I think taking a cross-religious perspective is critical for serious research and politics.

With that in mind, the following offers some resources I have collected in my various studies, including some of my own work in this area. I try to update this page every few months to keep it at least somewhat current.

PERSONAL WORK:

  • This is a talk I gave at the fall 2014 American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference on Bruno Latour, Gaian Animism and the Anthropocene. This is part of a longer chapter for my PhD dissertation that I am currently writing, and this talk is part of my work looking at the 2013 Gifford Lectures by Latour and his idea of the people of Gaia or Earthbound people, and its connection to Gaian political movements and the Anthropocene. Once I do some more work I may post a draft copy of that paper here as well.
  • This is a talk I gave in the fall of 2013 at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference on Astrobiology and Young Earth Creationism. You can also download a copy of the paper that this talk is based on here: [PDF]. This was part of my more recent work looking at a specific area of science and how Creationist discourses were/are influencing them. Although this was written more for a science audience, it gives a bit more of a flavor for what kind of work I am doing.
 
  • Here is a presentation I gave in the Spring of 2013 for the Western Political Science Association (WPSA) annual conference on the intersection of Christian fundamentalism and environmental science as part of a panel on the Anthropocene. The accompanying paper that this talk was derived from can be found here for those interested. To learn more about the Anthropocene, or see more of my writing on it, check out my Anthropocene page on this site.

 

Religion and Ecology Resources

There is a considerable body of research now available for those interested in how religious beliefs and ecology connect and influence each other. These studies look at any number of factors, ranging from the individual to the international, from community organizations to multinational corporations, and from traditional Abrahamic religions to animist and indigenous values and worldviews. And these studies cover all parts of the world and all faith traditions, although there has been more work done on Christianity and the environment due to the the predominance of Euro-American academics and the particularities of both religious studies and ecological studies. A few good starting places for more information on this topic that I would point people to are listed below, separated into categories:

ACADEMIC RESOURCES:

A few good academic journal resources are listed below, which serve as centers for scholarship and discussions of these issues for both academic and popular audiences. If you are interested in learning more about this field or study, these are a must visit.

There are also a few popular magazine that often cover the intersections of religion and ecology, listed below:


ARTICLES:

There are probably hundreds of articles that one could recommend here, but for the sake of brevity, I have listed a few key articles that provide a good overview of the field and are fairly up to date. The bibliographies included in these articles can be a good jumping off point for further research.

BOOKS:

There are literally hundreds, perhaps even into the thousands now, of books devoted to religion and ecology in some form, even if they do not use that exact language. Here are a few key books I would recommend.

  • The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Edited by Roger Gottlieb.
  • The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor.
  • Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology. Whitney A. Bauman, Richard Bohannon II, Kevin O’Brien (eds).
  • Ecology and Religion. Paul Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker.
  • This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. Roger Gottlieb.
  • Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. Bron Taylor.
  • Animism: Respecting the Living World. Graham Harvey.
  • Ecospirit. Edited by Kearns and Keller.
  • Indigenous Traditions and Ecology. Edited by John Grim.
  • Nature Religion in America. Katherine Albanese.
  • Sacred Ecology. Fikret Berkes.
  • Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth. Edited by Delio, Warner and Wood.
  • Worldviews, Religion and the Environment: A Global Anthology. Edited by Foltz.
  • Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World. Frederique Apffel-Marglin.
  • God is Green: Ecology for Christians. Ian Brodley.
  • A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. Hayhoe and Farley.
  • Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust. Edited by Foltz, Denny, Baharuddin and Afrasiabi.
  • Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet. Abdul-Matin and Ellison.
  • Ecology and the Jewish Spirit. Ellen Bernstein.
  • Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word. Edited by Tirosh-Samuelson, Blanchard, Diamond and Eisenberg.
  • Earth’s Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. Callicott and Hayden.

NEWS:

Posted below are a few select articles and media coverage of these issues, and some longer research studies of interest by year, that I thought are noteworthy and relate specifically to my work on religion and climate change politics. I try to update this every few months as new and interesting materials appear. You can also try this Google News search for the latest stories and coverage.

The visit of ‘Raja Bomoh Sedunia’ to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) last week to ‘assist’ in the search for the missing flight MH370 caused sniggers by many Malaysians and was ridiculed by the Chinese. The flying carpet and coconut saga played out by the bomohs (Malaysian shamans) has been the centre of fun on social media and provided excellent fodder for local comedians to use in their programs. Although many people appeared embarrassed by the ‘Raja Bomoh’ episode, it also seemed to pull some very emotional chords. The word ‘bomoh’ was tweeted more than 200,000 times in the last week, with ‘bomoh apps’ appearing on Google Playstore. The metaphysical and superstitious realm in society where ‘bomohs’ act as intermediaries according to Prof Hashim Awang, a senior research fellow of the Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya, is inseparable from the ‘Malay psych”.

A new study concludes many Americans have failed to take action about climate change because they believe that the world will be coming to an end anyway.

In their study, titled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado argue that citizens who believe in the end of days “often resist policies trading short-term costs for hypothetical long-term benefits.”

Current debates from Capitol Hill to Copenhagen suggest political will to tackle climate change is in short supply. The public engagement that might undergird it is also thin. Yet action stirs in a seemingly unexpected realm: In November 2009, preceding negotiations for a global agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, two American evangelical pastors, Tri Robinson and Ken Wilson, traveled to the United Kingdom to launch an action plan to combat climate change. They were joined by leaders from different faith traditions around the world, all with similar commitments to action, who filled the grand halls of Windsor Castle with a colorful mélange of religious vestments and reverberations of prayer and song. Co-hosting the interfaith gathering with Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the delegates: “The world’s faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and accelerating impacts of climate change,” particularly given inescapable moral dimensions of the issue. Noting stagnation among policymakers, he urged, “You can inspire, you can provoke, you can challenge your political leaders, through your wisdom, through your power, through your followers.”

Ban and Philip are two among a growing ensemble of scholars and practitioners who increasingly raise the prospect that religion could shift the debate and propel action on climate change; Robinson, Wilson, and their diverse compatriots are among the religious leaders heeding the call to engagement. For them, the vantage point of religion endows the issue with particular meaning, suggests specific courses of action in response, and animates their voices in the cacophonous, evolving chorus on climate change, of which they are an increasingly noteworthy but often little understood part. In the United States, in particular, this religious climate advocacy is swelling, and American evangelical leaders are playing a central role.

Climate change raises many questions with strong moral and ethical dimensions that are important to address in climate-policy formation and international negotiations. Particularly in the United States, the public discussion of these dimensions is strongly influenced by religious groups and leaders. Over the past few years, many religious groups have taken positions on climate change, highlighting its ethical dimensions. This paper aims to explore these ethical dimensions in the US public debate in relation to public support for climate policies. It analyzes in particular the Christian voices in the US public debate on climate change by typifying the various discourses. Three narratives emerge from this analysis: ‘conservational stewardship’ (conserving the ‘garden of God’ as it was created), ‘developmental stewardship’ (turning the wilderness into a garden as it should become) and ‘developmental preservation’ (God’s creation is good and changing; progress and preservation should be combined). The different narratives address fundamental ethical questions, dealing with stewardship and social justice, and they provide proxies for public perception of climate change in the US. Policy strategies that pay careful attention to the effects of climate change and climate policy on the poor – in developing nations and the US itself – may find support among the US population. Religious framings of climate change resonate with the electorates of both progressive and conservative politicians and could serve as bridging devices for bipartisan climate-policy initiatives.

This article is concerned with “religion and ecology” or religious environmentalism. It analyses how religious traditions are used to understand and interact with the environment and environmental issues,suggesting ways of relating to these that are different from and possibly less destructive and ecologically harmful than those of the modern secular worldview. It argues that religious traditions may thereby be gaining new private and public relevance, while perhaps also being changed in the process, becoming more environmentally friendly and ecumenical. The article ethnographically and qualitatively analyses a “field of religion and ecology” comprising ecologically minded academics and representatives of various religious traditions who promote such ideas, stimulating new eco-spiritualities and theologies, possibly even a new eco-religious movement. It also explores the environmental re-interpretation of several religious traditions within the field, highlighting not only some influential images and views but also any commonalities or convergences that are arising or being encouraged between them.

As American Evangelical Christian Leaders, we recognize both our opportunity and our responsibility to offer a biblically based moral witness that can help shape public policy in the most powerful nation on earth, and therefore contribute to the well-being of the entire world…

…Over the last several years many of us have engaged in study, reflection, and prayer related to the issue of climate change (often called “global warming”). For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority. Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough to offer the following moral argument related to the matter of human-induced climate change.

The strong and vocal presence of the religious Right, with its emphasis on family values and sexual politics, and the virtual absence of any discussion of the environment in the recent U.S. elections, causes one to wonder how much importance religions place on the environment as a moral and spiritual issue. The reports keep pouring in that we are altering the climate and toxifying the air, water, and soil so that the health of humans and other species is at risk. The explosion of population in the twentieth century from 2 to 6 billion people and the subsequent devouring of resources are on a collision course. Furthermore, scientists are documenting that we are living in the midst of a sixth extinction period, with over 10,000 species lost each year, more than any time since the dinosaurs went extinct. Have the religious communities within the United States become so absorbed in their own survival and in the internecine wars surrounding family values that they are unaware of the magnitude of this destruction?

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