The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
3.8 (August 2009)
1. Editorial, by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally
2. Summary of Pope Benedict XVI's New Encyclical, by John Hart
3. International Conference of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE)
4. New Books
5. New Website: Parisara Ganapati: http://parisaraganapati.net
7. From the Field: "Connecting Jewish Wisdom and the Environment: A Profile of Canfei Nesharim," by Evonne Marzouk
8. Worldviews and Other Journals
Welcome to the August issue of the newsletter for the Forum on Religion and Ecology. We are pleased to share a lot of interesting and exciting information with you this month, including information about new publications, events, and much more.
Pope Benedict XVI recently released an encyclical that provides an example of a religious call for a global transformation of human-Earth relations. In the encyclical, Caritas In Veritate ("Charity in Truth"), the Pope is calling for a radical reform of the economic and financial institutions of the world. The Pope says that a "world political authority" is needed in order to counter the inequities of the current system, inequities that harm not only human beings, but also the natural environment. Such a world political authority would work to protect the world's poor and care for Earth. This new encyclical integrates the religious values of Catholicism with concerns for global issues of economic development, social justice, and environmental sustainability. John Hart, professor of Christian ethics at Boston University, has written a helpful summary of the Pope's encyclical. This summary can be found below.
We have invited Evonne Marzouk to share a short piece with us on her work as the Executive Director of Canfei Nesharim (http://www.canfeinesharim.org), an organization dedicated to engaging in the wisdom of the Jewish tradition in such a way as to empower individuals and communities to respond to contemporary environmental challenges and cultivate more sustainable ways of living. In their efforts to facilitate religious responses to ecological issues, Canfei Nesharim is an excellent example of how engagements with the intersection of religion and ecology are not only of academic or theoretical interest, but are also matters of organizations transforming human-Earth relations and facilitating the emergence of a more sustainable world.
Another example of a call for such transformation is the new website for the Parisara Ganapati project of Youth for Seva (http://www.youthforseva.org). This project promotes sustainable practices during the Hindu ritual of worship ("puja" or "pooja") dedicated to Ganapati (also known as Ganesha). The project aims to raise awareness of the religious meaning of the ritual, and it also provides guidelines for ensuring that the idols and other ritual objects are constructed out of eco-friendly materials and properly disposed of after the ritual. While this transformation of ritual practices takes place on the small scale of the behaviors of individuals and local communities, the transformation called for by the Pope takes place on the much larger scale of global civilization.
The diversity of engagements with the confluence of religion and ecology includes calls for the revisioning of human-Earth relations, from individual and local transformations to radical reforms of international relations and global civilization. Together with these local and global transformations, engagements with the field of religion and ecology also include academic and theoretical inquiries, which support the development of methods, concepts, and frameworks for better understanding and responding to the complex relationships between ecology and religious worldviews.
Other examples of this flourishing of academic and theoretical engagements can be found in new books and upcoming events related to religion and ecology, as well as in the efforts of organizations like the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE), which in their recent international conference focused on the relationship between religion and ecology in the public sphere. We include an overview of the conference along with more information about the European Forum below. From theory to practice and from local to global, there are multiple possibilities for engaging in the confluence of religion and ecology, and more possibilities are emerging. We hope that this newsletter opens up possibilities for your own engagements with religion and ecology.
Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally
California Institute of Integral Studies
Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale
Web Content Managers & Newsletter Editors
Charity in Truth (Caritas In Veritate)
Pope Benedict XVI’s New Encyclical
June 29, 2009
- John Hart, Boston University
In Caritas In Veritate, Benedict explores several themes of interest to the Forum on Religion and Ecology. In particular, he advocates that Catholics (and others interested in Catholic teachings) should responsibly care for Earth, and responsibly promote justice for the human family, especially when confronted with ecological devastation and societal globalization. These ideas are couched in traditional church language, for the most part, to establish their relationship to traditional church teachings. Those interested in the general and particular socio-ecology-related teachings might pass over the more doctrinal and philosophical arguments and relationships; those interested in relating the current pope’s thought to Christian teachings might explore the doctrinal part more in depth. The encyclical is available in multiple languages on the Vatican website.
Caritas In Veritate contains forty-two pages of text, and eight pages of endnotes. What follows represents only a part of its content, but provides themes and statements of greatest interest to members of the Forum on Religion and Ecology.
For the full text of this summary, visit:
About the Author
John Hart is Professor of Christian Ethics at Boston University School of Theology. His most recent book is Sacramental Commons: Christian Ecological Ethics (Foreword by Leonardo Boff; Afterword by Thomas Berry; Rowman & Littlefield, 2006). He has been a “ghost writer” for several church documents, including regional statements on environmental issues by the Midwestern U.S. Catholic Bishops (1980) and the Columbia River Watershed Catholic Bishops of the U.S. and Canada (2001), and the papal homily of John Paul II in Des Moines, Iowa (1979). He has lectured on issues of religion and ecology on four continents: in seven nations, and in thirty-four U.S. states.
“Religion and Ecology in the Public Sphere”
Turku, Finland, 14-17 May 2009
“The variety of the keynote addresses and their different perspectives on theology and ecology provoked many intense discussions which were enlivened still further by the contribution of those from religious traditions in different global contexts as well as those in a European setting. The Baltic Sea formed a fitting backdrop to the main concerns of this conference, not only as a physical reminder of the intense problems facing the natural world, but also pressing those taking part to consider the multifaceted dimensions of science, economics, politics and religion that need to be considered in any serious engagement with environmental issues.”
- Celia Deane-Drummond, University College Chester, UK
The European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (http://www.hf.ntnu.no/relnateur/index.php?lenke=about.php) convened its second international conference dedicated to the theme of “Religion and Ecology in the Public Sphere.” The conference, hosted by Åbo Akademi University, was held in the beautiful surroundings of Åbo/Turku, Finland from 14-17 May 2009.
The conference involved the direct participation and collaboration of scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as from in and outside of Europe. This was in line with the Forum’s broader mandate of fostering inter-disciplinary dialogue and trans-national research on human-nature relationships and religion/ environment/ culture interactions.
The conference featured keynote presentations by internationally renowned scholars; group discussions; paper sessions; a public panel discussion with contributions from political and religious leaders as well as scholars; and social activities in and around the historical city of Åbo/Turku.
Summary of Deliberations and Insights
“For me, the most remarkable thing about the 2nd international meeting of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and Environment was the desire of participants to engage with a range of disciplines and themes. The topic of the meeting—the interaction between religion, ecology and the public sphere—is vital if the future of the human is to be properly safeguarded. And there was lively discussion of such issues as ‘green economics’ and the ‘greening of liberation theology’. Very stimulating, very rewarding!”
- Peter Scott, University of Manchester, UK
The main sub-themes framing conference debates included the following:
A wide range of topics were covered – from liberation theology to green economics to the political implications of climate change – in order to explore the conference theme within a variety of historical, political, cultural, and geographical contexts. Maria Jansdotter from Karlstad University, Sweden, noted: “I would say that the conference probably offered the most multifaceted and inspiring scholarly discussion on themes related to religion and ecology in Europe this year. An extra plus was the articulation of gender issues among keynotes as well as paper presentations.”
As elaborated by Sigurd Bergmann, Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Chairman of the EFSRE Executive Committee: “The conference provided exciting insights into the dynamics and manifold of religion and ecology in different public discourses, spaces and practices. It stimulated energies of reflecting about how religion can move through the in-between-spaces of a strongly sectorised communication of society’s subsystems and about whether and how words and images such as "nature", "God", "faith" and "environment" can transcend the borders which at the same time violently imprison them.”
Celia Deane-Drummond commended the balance that was achieved between the practice-oriented and academic nature of the conference: “What stands out for me, in addition to the fluency of the keynote addresses, is the concern of many of those working in the field to link academic traditions with practices and practical ministries that are not simply superfluous, but an integral way of probing theoretical discussion. While many of those taking part had concerns about the ecological footprint in getting to the meeting, the opportunity to build bridges across cultures and find mutual understanding was only really possible through face to face engagement.”
The Conference Secretary, Björn Vikström from Åbo Akademi University, added: “An exciting detail was also the paper session transmitted through video conference from two different parts of Australia. Because of the ecological disadvantages connected to travel, the opportunity to arrange these kinds of seminars at ecological conferences may be needed more often in the future.”
“The conference was in a wonderful setting, and the organizers did an excellent job in providing space for provocative discussions and warm fellowship. The keynotes and papers succeeded in showing the importance of the conference topic--a topic that at times seems unfortunately neglected in many discussions of religion and the environment. I certainly have come away from the conference with several ideas for my own theological work.”
- Forrest Clingerman, Assistant Professor of Religion, Ohio Northern University
On behalf of the organizing committee, Björn Vikstöm from Åbo Akademi University expressed his gratitude to all participants for their valuable contributions to the scholarly interaction and intense discussions held during the conference. It was announced that an international publication would result from the Åbo conference, with Celia Deane-Drummond and Heinrich Bedford-Strohm as the Editors-in-Chief. It was also reported that the release of the International Publication of Nature, Space and Sacred (conference proceedings from the 2nd EFSRE Conference in Bamberg, 2007) by Ashgate Publishing is scheduled for August 2009. For this book, visit: http://www.ashgate.com/pdf/tis/9780754666868_ROW.pdf
The key message emerging from the conference was that further interdisciplinary dialogue is needed on the intersection between religion and ecology in the public sphere. Contributions from the South should particularly be encouraged. It is the EFSRE’s sincere hope that this conference may serve as the basis for further debate and discussion in this field, as well as a bridge to the 3rd biannual EFSRE International Conference, to be held in Chester, UK in 2011.
Sigurd Bergmann, Chairman of the EFSRE, offered some concluding remarks: “Among my most inspiring experiences were scholarly insights into the ritual space of protesting environmentalists in context, alternative readings of Islam and the committed oceanographer’s dilemma in addressing the public sphere by pure science as well as the final discussion about how political philosophers in our common European past still influence our thinking about the "political animal". A fine bridge to the 3rd Biannual EFSRE conference’s theme 2011: "Animals" in a wide range of perspectives.”
About the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE)
Established in 2004, the European Forum promotes scholarly and critical inquiry into the relationships between human beings and their diverse cultures, environments and religious beliefs and practices. The Forum provides a "home" and an "open space" to scholars in Europe interested in the interactions between religion and environmental matters in different historical, political, cultural, and geographical contexts. This Forum is, however, neither limited to only European fields and topics nor only to scholars in Europe. It understands itself as a body which encourages and resources scholars and networks in Europe and on other continents in order to encourage and support trans-national research communities for the study of religion, nature, culture and the environment. Therefore, scholars from all faculties, and from both Europe and other regions, are welcome.
The main conference organizers were Björn Vikstöm (Åbo Akademi University) and Sigurd Bergmann (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). This conference brief has been prepared by Lisa Marika Jokivirta from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, with the assistance of Executive Committee Members of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (ESFRE).
Nature, Space and the Sacred: Transdisciplinary Perspectives
Edited by Sigurd Bergmann
Nature, Space and the Sacred offers the first investigative mapping of a new and highly significant agenda: the spatial interactions between religion, nature and culture. In this ground-breaking work, different concepts of religion, theology, space and place and their internal relations are discussed in an impressive range of approaches. Weaving together a diversity of perspectives, this book presents an innovative and truly transdisciplinary environmental science. Its broad range offers a rich exchange of insights, methods and theoretical engagements.
God, Creation, and Climate Change: Spiritual and Ethical Perspectives
Edited by Karen L. Bloomquist, The Lutheran World Federation
Lutheran University Press, 2009
Climate change is an urgent global challenge that escalates other injustices and threatens life, livelihood and the future of the planet as we have known it. It also raises deeply spiritual and ethical questions that faith communities must take up. In this book, biblical scholars, theologians and ethicists from around the world take up this challenge, by beginning with the actual realities and faith questions being raised in the most vulnerable communities. They creatively probe, revise and develop perspectives, from Christian and other traditions, that can inspire, guide, empower and sustain us for making the significant changes in worldviews, practices and policies needed at this kairotic time.
Contributors to this book include: Sigurd Bergmann (Norway), Colette Bouka Coula (Cameroon), Norman Habel (Australia), Anupama Hial (India), Tore Johnsen (Norway), James B. Martin-Schramm (USA), Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (USA), Elaine Gleci Neuenfeldt (Brazil), Barbara Rossing (USA), Christoph Stueckelberger (Switzerland), and George Zachariah (India).
An in-depth summary of this book can be found online at:
Truth and Tension in Science and Religion
By Varadaraja V. Raman
Beech River Books, 2009
An examination of the frameworks of science and religion that provides a multi-cultural view of how they affect our perception of the truth.
"The Science/Religion dialogue has become quite vibrant over the last fifty years, but one could argue that it still suffers from three deficits: namely, the lack of a compelling overview, the lack of balance, and the lack of a sense of humor. All three of these needs are filled by Dr. Raman in this new book. With a sure hand he carries us to heights lofty enough to survey the entire field, both in its historical and current scope--not just from a Western viewpoint, but also with many trans-traditional notes. He also compensates for the unbalanced and all-too-frequent shrillness in the dialogue by gently pointing out both the foibles and strengths of both parties to the dialogue--and he is a great one to do it, with his formidable scientific background and his long appreciation of and participation in the religious impulse. And finally, the charming humor that pervades the book keeps the reader almost as well -grounded as Dr. Raman is. It is altogether a delightful and accurate and balanced overview of the field."
—Michael Cavanaugh, past president of The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
“Varadaraja V. Raman, scientist and scholar, presents issues in both science and religion competently, comprehensively, and congenially....A must-read for anybody who wants to find a way between the claims of the anti-religion scientists and the anti-science religious believers.”
—Helmut Reich, Ph. D., Professor, Rutherford University
Swarm Tree -- Of Honeybees, Honeymoons and the Tree of Life
By Doug Elliott
The History Press, 2009
Following tracks, messing with bees, chasing butterflies, stalking deer, tickling trout, and picking up pawpaws--and hitchhikers. This lively collection by celebrated storyteller Doug Elliott will delight readers with its blend of natural history and heartfelt, hilarious takes on life. Whether tracking skunks, philosophizing over dung beetles, negotiating with the police, or reading divine script on the back of a trout, Elliott brings a sense of wonder and humor to every story. His broad scientific and cultural knowledge of the Appalachians and beyond is a treasure. Join him on this down to earth spiritual journey as he probes creation, asks the deeper questions, and reveals fascinating details of the great narrative of life that connect us all.
Ecological Revolution: The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions; China, Japan, Europe
By Mark D. Whitaker
LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009
Most argue environmental movements are a novel feature of world politics. Mark Whitaker argues that they are a durable feature of a degradative political economy. Past or present, environmental politics became expressed in religious change movements as oppositions to state environmental degradation using discourses available. Ecological Revolution describes characteristics why our historical states collapse and because of these characteristics are opposed predictably by religio-ecological movements. As a result, origins of our large scale humanocentric 'axial religions' are connected to anti-systemic environmental movements. Many major religious movements of the past were 'environmentalist' by being health, ecological, and economic movements, rolled into one. Since ecological revolutions are endemic to a degradation-based political economy, they continue today.
Claiming Earth as Common Ground: The Ecological Crisis through the Lens of Faith
By Andrea Cohen-Kiener
Can religious people save the environment? Can the environmental challenge save religion?
Our planet is in trouble, and it will take an amazingly large and powerful force to shift into a more sustainable way of living. Spiritual leader and environmental activist Andrea Cohen-Kiener tells us that people of faith have the numbers, the passion, and the mandate to do it--and that nothing else is strong enough to counterbalance "business as usual."
In this urgent call to action, Cohen-Kiener gathers insights from ecology coalitions, emerging theologies, and spiritual and environmental activists to rally and inspire us to work across denominational lines in order to fulfill our sacred imperative to care for God's creation. Cohen-Kiener and contributors clearly outline the shared values of our faith traditions that drive our commitment to care for the earth. Acknowledging the challenges in working together to implement positive change, they present steps--both big and small, for individuals and groups--for reversing our direction from consumption to sustainability.
* Rev. Woody Bartlett, founder, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light
* Rev. Tom Carr, National Council of Churches Working Group on the Environment * Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York City
* Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Religious Witness for the Earth
* Eboo Patel, executive director, Interfaith Youth Core
* Dr. Lowell "Rusty" Pritchard, national director of outreach, Evangelical Environmental Network
5. New Website: Parisara Ganapati: http://parisaraganapati.net
This website is the hub of the activities for the Parisara Ganapati project of Youth For Seva (http://www.youthforseva.org). The aim of the project to promote eco-friendly practices during Ganapati pooja celebrations. Key aspects of these eco-friendly celebrations are the use of unpainted clay idols for Ganapati pooja, the use of nature based dyes for painting Ganapati idols, and the proper disposal of idols and other pooja material. Another key aim of this project is to promote awareness and understanding about the spiritual and cultural ideals behind Ganapati pooja, ideals which have been obscured by the recent trends.
“Religions, Landscapes and Other Uncertain Boundaries”
Annual conference of the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR)
Bangor University, Wales
September 7-9, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://basr.open.ac.uk/conference.htm
“Charles Darwin: Shaping our Science, Society & Future”
Charles Darwin Symposium 2009
Darwin Convention Centre, Darwin, Australia
September 22-24, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.cdu.edu.au/cdss2009
“Revolution in Evolution”
Christ Church Cathedral, Darwin, Australia
September 25-27, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://christchurchcathedral.org.au/
“Breaking Down Barriers”
Online, interdisciplinary conference
October 19-30, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.blackwell-compass.com/
“Environmental Stewardship in The Judeo-Christian Tradition”
Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST)
Our Lady of the Snows Conference Center
Belleville, Illinois 62223
October 23-25, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.faithscience.org/news.html
American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
November 7-10, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.aarweb.org/Meetings/Annual_Meeting/Current_Meeting/default.asp
While practical and technological solutions can help us address some of today’s environmental challenges, the environmental problem also has spiritual roots. Sometimes, as environmentalists, we have erred by addressing specific environmental problems (fish, trees, endangered species, energy) without seeing the broader, unsustainable pattern of overuse and depletion which is causing breakdown in the fundamental systems of our planet. This broader pattern can only be addressed by a fundamental shift in the way we view our relationship with our resources and ourselves, both on an individual and societal level. The ancient Jewish tradition includes core wisdom which can help us re-envision our society and live more sustainably.
Connecting ancient Torah texts with modern scientific findings, Canfei Nesharim (http://www.canfeinesharim.org) inspires and educates Jewish individuals, organizations and communities to take an active role in protecting Creation in order to foster an environmentally sustainable world. By learning and teaching this ancient Jewish wisdom and connecting it to the modern environmental crisis, Canfei Nesharim is committed to building a safer, healthier, and more just world for our children and all people.
Since its inception in 2003, Canfei Nesharim has successfully introduced Jews from across the religious spectrum to the depth of Jewish perspective on environmental topics in a manner that engages and transforms its audience. Canfei Nesharim’s work was initially seeded in the Orthodox Jewish community, where Jewish environmental education has been most lacking and where the traditional Jewish wisdom resonates most strongly. Over the last six years, Canfei Nesharim has developed a core of educational materials, including an 80-page source book of articles and source sheets on Jewish environmental perspectives, a series of 54 weekly teachings relating to the environment, and a web-based Jewish-environmental resource library, which receives nearly 7,000 hits per day.
Recently, Canfei Nesharim has begun to expand its work to engage synagogues, schools, and Jewish educators across the entire Jewish community. In 2008, Canfei Nesharim piloted the Tree of Life Seminars, providing 140 Jewish educators in San Francisco with training and resources to implement Jewish learning on the environment in their classrooms. In 2008, Canfei Nesharim also launched a synagogue-based family education program series (the first of its kind) which includes environmental linkages to seven important times in the Jewish year and focuses on basic environmental messages such as precaution, water preservation, energy conservation, reducing waste, appreciation for natural resources, and our dependence on the land. In 2009, Canfei Nesharim has begun to create curriculum resources for Jewish schools connecting traditional Jewish wisdom to the environment.
Our goal is to continue to enrich the Jewish community and Western society with traditional Jewish wisdom on our responsibility not only to “protect the environment,” but to live sustainably. We are eager to partner with individuals and organizations from across the religious community, to address the spiritual roots of today’s environmental problems, and transform our culture into one that respects and values the precious resources G-d has provided us. Together, we can build a more sustainable world.
Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology