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April 2008

The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
2.4 (April 2008)

Contents

I. Editorial, Global Climate Change, by Whitney Bauman

II. From the Field: “All Creatures Great and Small: Humane Society, Animals, and Religion" by Christine Gutleben

III.Letter on Climate Change by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

IV. University of North Texas Conference on Religion and the Environment

V. Upcoming Conference on Religion and Animals

VI. Focus on the Web: Projects and Statements

VII.Worldviews and other Journals in the Field

VIII. Events, Paper Calls, and Other Professional Organizations



I. Editorial, Global Climate Change, by Whitney Bauman

Global Climate Change seems to be on the minds of everyone today, and rightly so.  The Pope, for instance, has called on the United Nations to recognize climate change as an issue of global justice and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has just sent a letter to the US Senate urging them to take action on Climate Change (see below).  On Sunday April 13th, the Reverend Sally Bingham of the Regeneration Project questioned the US presidential candidates on CNN about their potential plans for dealing with climate change.  At this writing, I am aware of at least three recent books published in 2007/2008 having to do with religious responses to Global Climate Change: Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Fortress, 2008); Michael S. Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (Orbis, 2007); and Anne Primavesi, Theology in a Time of Climate Change: Participating in the Wisdom of Gaia (Routledge, Forthcoming 2008). Perhaps all of this attention signifies a shift in the awareness that religion at its heart is concerned about global climate change and that the “religious voice” is finally demanding to be heard in discussions over what we ought to do regarding the changing planet.  In other words, we can check the first phase of addressing a problem off our list: the move from denial to recognition.

Some of the above-mentioned work and news coverage also begins to address a second issue that is surfacing in attempts to address the changing planet: sorrow and/or anger.  Religious communities and the religious academy perhaps more so than another other sector of human life is in a position to begin to help people work through the anger and sorrow over the loss of what we have known to be “nature” or “the planet.”  In other words, once we recognize that human behaviors have contributed to the problem and recognize that no matter what we do now, things are going to change, we also begin to realize that the “nature” we environmentally minded people care so much about is not something that can merely be preserved or conserved; rather, it is also something that is living and responding to these atmospheric changes.  What does this mean for environmental ethics?  Probably a lot of things, but at the least it means that any environmental ethic will become political in the recognition that humans are partially responsible for the “natures” we help to create.  This brings me to the third-phase of religious responses to the environment: imagination.

Again, I would argue that religious texts, scholars, and communities are in a special position to begin to re-imagine the way in which humans live within the rest of the natural world.  If “nature” is changing, then we can’t just “save” it.  We have to ask ourselves, “What vision of the world can we hope to live in?”  This does not mean a slip back into denial: that really everything will be alright or that somehow nature will save itself or a divine entity will intervene to save the planet.  Rather it means really thinking anew, what “the good life” might mean in the context of becoming and evolving with the rest of the planet.  Maybe this will not mean going as far as some in doing away with even the concept of “nature”, but it will mean a change in the way we think about concepts such as humans, other animals, nature, culture, thought, and action.

I for one am glad to be living in a time where “the earth as a starting point of reflection” is, well, almost a given.  Of course, it is ironic that a crisis such as climate change is exactly that which forces us to realize that we are a part of the earth indeed; but the incredible religious response to “environmental crises” building over the last 40 years was not just a forced response.  It took recognition and imagination to get this far, and I am excited to see where the next 40 years will take us.  Or, rather, where we will take it! 

II. From the Field: “All Creatures Great and Small: Humane Society, Animals, and Religion" by Christine Gutleben

 

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has 10 million members, 1 in every 30 Americans.  It was created more than 50 years ago as a complement to local SPCAs and humane societies.  The founders believed that the local groups did not have the expertise or reach to fight the myriad forms of animal abuse in society and that the nation needed a national group.  We remain committed to that complementary role today, and in addition to helping local organizations we are steadfastly committed to taking on factory farming, puppy mills, the exotic pet trade, the fur trade, and other national and global industries. 

The HSUS launched its Animals & Religion department last October in time for the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis.  It was created to advocate for more humane food choices in congregations and theological schools and encourage their support of animal welfare policies.  We received an overwhelming response from religious people and communities across the country.  Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church reacted by saying: “The Humane Society is on solid ground…. You know, Christians believe the earth belongs to God and that life should never be taken without serious consideration, the fact that God lets us take the lives of some of his animals is an awesome responsibility."  The department’s focus on farm animal issues stems from the significant role of food in faith.  From fasting to feasting, Kosher to Hallal and the Eucharist, there are countless examples of religious people making food choices based on their faith and eating in the context of worship.

Recently, we gathered the endorsements of four bishops in California for the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a modest but important measure that will give veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens enough room to simply stand up, lie down, turn around and spread their limbs and wings.  Bishop Marc Andrus and Bishop James Mathes of the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Beverly Shamana and Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church, have each expressed support for this measure.  They are joined by the Reverend Paul G. Irwin, President and CEO of the American Bible Society and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.  In a recent interview with The HSUS, Bishop Andrus remarked, “God entrusts animals to our care. Denying them the ability even to turn around is surely not an example of faithful stewardship.”  Through the help of volunteers, The HSUS gathered 800,000 signatures, enough to ensure the measure will be on the November, 2008 ballot.  We are now working to make these endorsements known in order to obtain the support of congregations across the state. 

Encouraging theological schools to purchase cage-free eggs and creating awareness among students, faculty and staff about factory farming is another priority for the Animals & Religion department.  Last fall, The Pacific School of Religion (PSR), a member school of The Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, CA, committed to serving only cage-free eggs at both cafeterias on campus.  Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, will soon join PSR as a cage-free campus, thanks to the work of student activists who are concerned about supporting and consuming products from factory farms.  Making the simple switch to cage-free eggs fosters a mindfulness regarding food selection and ushers in further questions about the source of our food.  While cage-free egg production isn’t perfect, it’s a meaningful step in the right direction, and purchasing these products sends a powerful message to the battery-cage egg industry that religious institutions are demanding higher animal welfare standards.

 The Animals & Religion website, humanesociety.org/religion, has a chart which includes the major denominations in the United States that have official statements on animals.  Many people are surprised by these statements, particularly those on farm animals.  For example, in 2003, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following statement: “Catholic teaching about the stewardship of creation leads us to question certain farming practices, such as the operation of massive confined animal feeding operations. We believe that these operations should be carefully regulated and monitored so that environmental risks are minimized and animals are treated as creatures of God.”  I encourage everyone who is concerned about animal welfare to visit our site and to become familiar with the many wonderful statements issued by the various denominations in this country.  The Animals & Religion department is working to shed light on current as well as past statements made by prominent figures within each tradition.  What we have come to find is that a concern for animal welfare is a long-standing religious tradition and we hope to revive this concern as part of the current creation care dialogue.

We are preparing to launch an exciting multi-media campaign this summer and are looking for interested congregations and religiously affiliated organizations to join our network.  The campaign asks that individuals, congregations and small groups use only cage-free eggs for the month of October, 2008 in accordance with the Feast of St. Francis.  Religiously affiliated institutions and organizations will begin to work toward being entirely cage-free by 2009.  In addition to the pledge, individuals, families, small groups, and institutions will be encouraged and equipped to explore animal welfare issues within their tradition.  We will provide toolkits that include small group study material following a 20 minute documentary on food and faith, youth group material, children’s Sunday school material, sermon anecdotes, bulletin handouts and signup sheets to recruit new members.  For more, please email us at, (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .

 As the director of the Animals & Religion department I am inspired by the rapid change in attitudes among people of faith towards issues involving food and factory farms.  We live in a time when many religious people thirst for ways to be spiritual that connect intimately with their daily lives.   I cannot think of a more basic activity than eating, and therefore a better activity to involve one’s belief in God.  We make food choices all day long, why not align them with our belief system?  There are at present, more than 300 million religious people in North America.  The author and essayist, Garret Keizer asks, “what if even half of them refused to purchase factory-produced chicken because that kind of food production is unjust to family farmers, unhealthy for poultry workers and certainly unpleasant for chickens?  With a single stroke they could change the way farmers farm, the way chickens live – the way Christians witness”   That is to say, they would be practicing what they believe.  More and more religious people are practicing their faith at the table and in the grocery stores and it won’t be long before they are in the forefront of the animal protection movement.

Sarah Bruyn Jones, All God’s Creatures: Animal advocates link cause with religious blessing day, Tuscaloosa News,  October, 5, 2007.

Garret Keizer, “A Time to Keep Kosher,” in The Christian Century, April 19-26 2000. 


III.Letter on Climate Change by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Below is the full text of a letter on Climate Change written to the US Senate by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  We thought many of you would be interested in seeing it.

March 31, 2008
United States Senate
Washington, D. C 20510

Dear Senator:

Urgent action by the United States in response to global warming is long past due.  As  the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I urge the Senate to take up climate change legislation at the earliest possible moment.  As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist, I believe science has shown us unequivocally that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities.  Climate change is a threat not only to God’s good creation but to all of humanity.  

I am pleased that bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Warner successfully moved through the committee process with many improvements and now awaits Senate debate.  Senate bill 2191, America’s Climate Security Act, is a strong step forward in achieving carbon emission reductions.  At the same time it includes measures aimed at addressing the needs of the world’s most vulnerable:  those, who for demographic reasons such as health or location are most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and those living in poverty at home and around the world.  I strongly support this legislation.  Our nation, historically the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has a responsibility to lead the way in addressing the impact of climate change.

Climate change exacerbates extreme world poverty and poverty is hastening global warming.  Most people living in poverty around the world lack access to a reliable energy source, forcing many to choose energy sources such as oil, coal, or wood, which threaten to expand significantly the world's greenhouse emissions and thus accelerate the effects of climate change.  That need for resources to purchase energy must be addressed in any attempt to lift a community out of poverty.  This cycle—poverty that begets climate change and vice versa—threatens the future of all people, rich and poor alike.  The poverty cycle driven by climate change will only add to political instability, social violence, and war.  Our own domestic tranquility and security are intimately tied to the wellbeing of the poor both here and abroad.

I am grateful for Congressional attention to climate change, and I challenge the Senate to support measures to further strengthen S. 2191 during floor consideration.  I want to be absolutely clear that for those living in poverty, inaction on our part now will ultimately be the most costly of all courses of action.  I am grateful to the members of Congress who have recognized and spoken out on that very important truth.

Many in the faith community have long been aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors.  We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives.  I join my fellow Episcopalians in urging the Senate of the 110th Congress to pass the strongest climate change legislation possible.  The acknowledgment of global warming and the Church’s commitment to ameliorating it are a part of the ongoing discovery of God’s revelation to humanity and the call to a fuller understanding of the scriptural imperative to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I remain

Your servant in Christ,

Katharine Jefferts Schori


IV. University of North Texas Conference on Religion and the Environment

Program debates role of religions in environmental crisis

By: Stephanie Martinez

Posted: 4/1/08

Controversy created by an essay written by Lynn Townsend White, Jr., which argues that the environmental crisis is rooted in Judeo-Christian theology, led debate Friday at a program where speakers discussed various religions' relationships with the environment.

George James of the philosophy and religion studies faculty, who organized the two-session Program for Religion and Ecology Workshop, said he was disappointed that NT students were poorly represented despite the amount of advertising.

"We had a group who came here from Oklahoma City University," he said. "Probably more people came from other universities than they did from this university."

White, a professor of medieval history who taught at Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of California at Los Angeles, served as president of Mills College for 15 years before his death in 1987.

It was his "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," which argues that Judeo-Christian theology is fundamentally exploitative of the natural world, which came under fiery debate.

The speakers and most of the audience at the workshop voiced their disagreement with White's arguments, which state the ecological crisis is a religious problem and cannot be solved by technology and science.

James said one reason for the controversy is that White, in his opinion, "didn't get the biblical references right" and "misinterpreted Genesis."

Martin Yaffe of the philosophy and religion faculty discussed Judaism and ecology, arguing that Judaism is a "green religion" that includes ancient rituals specifically thanking God for nature.

Bruce Foltz of the Eckerd College philosophy faculty presented a lecture on the role of nature in Orthodox Christianity, and Sarah Fredericks of the NT philosophy and religion studies faculty discussed the status of nature in modern Protestant Christian thought.

Fredericks said nature is a topic that has been kept at the very edge of the religion and often been overlooked, but "within the past 40 years, it has been pulled back a bit."

Katy junior Jon Clark enjoyed the array of speakers' specialties.

"It was interesting to hear the debate which is taking place over the ecological views of varying religions," he said. "The debate seems to be very much alive and relevant to current issues."

Much of what Yaffe, Foltz and Fredericks covered argued against White's article, however, Judaism and Christianity were not the only religions discussed.

Chris Chapple of the Loyola Marymount University theological studies faculty added Jainism's relation to ecology to the mix during the workshop's second session.

Followers of Jainism believe that creating harm in the environment is inevitable, but it is their responsibility to minimize that, Chapple said.

Thus, they use no forms of transportation and often wear minimal clothing to prevent the harm of the fibers used to make a garment.

David Haberman of the Indiana University at Bloomington religious studies faculty discussed the controversy over the crisis of the Yamuna River in India, which he said was grotesquely polluted but still houses the goddess of the river in the minds of Hindus.

While some religious professionals argue that the pollution does not affect the spirituality of the river, others believe the water does affect those who bathe in it and drink it. Still others are convinced the pollution harms both the individual and the goddess.

Wallis junior Adam Lamance said the lectures intrigued him.

"I'm taking an environmental science class and we don't cover religion or theology," he said, "but it all ties together and it's not just science."

© Copyright 2008 North Texas Daily


V. Upcoming Conference on Religion and Animals

Giving Voice to Other Beings: An Interdisciplinary Conference at Vanderbilt University

May 2-4, 2008

Nashville, Tennessee

This interdisciplinary conference will look at questions of representation (religious, legal, literary, philosophical), along with the whole range of our communication and engagement with non-humans, and with the ethical and 'spiritual' dimensions of these questions.

Few would contest the claim that formal democratic institutions are failing us politically. Inconvenient voices are often marginalized, and representation is all too easily gamed or corrupted. But there is an alternative to despair: to resuscitate and develop the grassroots conversations and connections through which we can come to respond to the needs of all our neighbors. In the case of the non-human stakeholders on the planet, we never had the illusion of democratic participation, but the possibilities of informal listening, noticing, engagement, conversation and even representation are no less compelling.

We may not be able to establish a parliament of all beings, or an ecological democracy, but do not other species, tribes of a quite different ilk, make claims on us for systematic respect and consideration? As the rate of species extinction accelerates, and the web of life begins to come apart, what once looked like an ethical option is starting to look like a condition for our own survival.

For More Information and Registration, visit: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csrc/giving-voice/.


VI. Focus on the Web: Projects and Statements

Did you know that our website has a list of “engaged projects” for each of the different world religions?  For instance, under “Hinduism” you will find an “engaged projects” tab that takes you to a list of Hindu-based environmental projects: http://fore.research.yale.edu/religion/hinduism/.  Click on each individual project and you will find a brief description of the project and the web site and contact information for that project/organization.  I hope that you will find this feature useful in your research and networking.  As always, these pages are constantly being updated, so if you know of a project that is missing, please send me an email: (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


VII.Worldviews and other Journals in the Field

Worldviews, which has been in publication since 1996, is edited by Christopher Key Chapple, Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University. Chris has published widely in the field of religion and ecology including co-editing the Hinduism and Ecology volume in the Harvard series and editing the Jainism and Ecology volume. He has also published translations of the Yoga Sutras and has helped to organize two highly successful conferences sponsored by Green Yoga which was founded by Laura Cornell. Whitney Bauman of Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley serves as Book Review Editor. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim of Yale University and Heather Eaton of St. Paul's Seminary in Ottawa serve as Associate Editors. The journal is published by Brill Academic Publishers in the Netherlands, and features an international approach to the interface between religion and ecology. Books for review may be sent to Whitney Bauman ((JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) and paper submissions may be electronically dispatched to Chris Chapple ((JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).

If your institution does not currently subscribe, please send an order request to your library with the following link: (http://www.brill.nl/wo). You will also find the current table of contents and information on individual subscriptions through that link. We hope that you will take part in the life of this journal!

Worldviews is one of many journals relevant to the broad area of “religion and ecology.” Here is a link to some other journals in the field of “religion and ecology” and environmental ethics/philosophy: http://fore.research.yale.edu/publications/journals/index.html. If you know of a publication that needs to be added to this list, please send an email to: (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


VIII. Events, Paper Calls, and Other Professional Organizations

Due to the growing length of the newsletter, I am only going to insert here the links to calls for papers and other upcoming events.  I invite you to visit the Forum web-site for this updated information.

Calls for Papers

Other Professional Organizations

Upcoming Events