The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
4.5 (May 2010)
1. Editorial, by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally
2. New Books
4. Summer Institute: "Contemplative Environmental Studies: Pedagogy for Self and Planet" (August 1-6, 2010 in San Cristobal, NM, USA)
5. Film Series: EarthBound
6. Documentary: The Root and The Tree
7. Call for Submissions to Archive of Case Studies
8. Call for Papers for "Creation, Nature and the Built Environment," the Biennial Conference in Philosophy, Religion and Culture (October 1-3, 2010 in Sydney, Australia)
9. Call for Applications for Templeton Research Fellows Program
10. “Swadhyaya’s Dharmic Ecology,” by Pankaj Jain
11. Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
Welcome to the May issue of the newsletter for the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale. This month, we have a lot of exciting news to share with you regarding recent and upcoming developments in the field of religion and ecology, including conferences, books, calls for papers, films, and more.
We have invited Pankaj Jain to contribute a short piece on the ecological implications of the Hindu concept of dharma or “duty,” particularly in light of the Swadhyaya movement, which emerged in western India in the middle of the twentieth century. The concept of dharma unites concepts of virtue, social cohesion, and ecological order. Jain reflects on some of the ways that the concept of dharma can be used in efforts to work with local communities of Hindus in facilitating religious responses to environmental problems.
There are many upcoming events about which we would like to inform you. First, we would like to direct your attention to some upcoming events focusing on the work of Thomas Berry. Two events will happen at Holy Names University in Oakland, California: 1) a conference, "Thomas Berry and the Great Work of Our Time," July 15-18, and 2) a retreat, "The Great Work: Making It Personal," July 18-20, 2010. For more information on the conference and the retreat, visit: http://www.hnu.edu/sophia/.
We also want to let you know about another summer institute for academics: “Contemplative Environmental Studies: Pedagogy for Self and Planet.” Taking place in San Cristobal, New Mexico, August 1-6, this summer institute is part retreat and part workshop, and it aims to launch an effort within higher education to develop tools for teaching and researching based on a broader understanding of the relationship between our inner lives and the ecological fate of the Earth. For more information, visit: www.acmhe.org.
Along with participation in various events related to the field of religion and ecology, you can also further your engagement with the field through film. In particular, there are two items that may be of interest. First, you might be interested in the six-part film series, EarthBound, which details the complex history between Christianity and God’s creation, from destructive attitudes of dominion to caring attitudes of stewardship. For more information about this film series, visit: http://store.seracomm.com.
You might also be interested in the documentary, The Root and the Tree, which explores how Baba Seechewal brings the spiritual word of Sikhism to life by applying Guru Nanak's words to all environmental ills. To view this documentary, visit: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/913/The-Root-and-The-Tree.
There are a couple other opportunities we would like to mention for those who are interested in further contributing to research in the field of religion and ecology. The Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University has issued a call for submissions to an archive of case studies on environmental ethics. The archive will be an online resource for classroom discussion and research. For more information, visit: http://environmentalethics.info.
Also, you might wish to attend the upcoming conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. This year's conference, "The Energy Transition: Religious and Cultural Perspectives," will take place July 24-31 on Star Island, New Hampshire. For more information, visit: http://www.iras.org.
We hope this newsletter provides a diverse variety of opportunities for becoming more engaged with the intersection of religion and ecology.
Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally
California Institute of Integral Studies
Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale
Web Content Managers & Newsletter Editors
An Ethics of Biodiversity: Christianity, Ecology, and the Variety of Life
By Kevin J. O'Brien
Georgetown University Press, 2010
Life on earth is wildly diverse, but the future of that diversity is now in question. Through environmentally destructive farming practices, ever-expanding energy use, and the development and homogenization of land, human beings are responsible for unprecedented reductions in the variety of life forms around us. Estimates suggest that species extinctions caused by humans occur at up to 1,000 times the natural rate, and that one of every twenty species on the planet could be eradicated by 2060.
An Ethics of Biodiversity argues that these facts should inspire careful reflection and action in Christian churches, which must learn from earth’s vast diversity in order to help conserve the natural and social diversity of our planet. Bringing scientific data into conversation with theological tradition, the book shows that biodiversity is a point of intersection between faith and ethics, social justice and environmentalism, science and politics, global problems and local solutions. An Ethics of Biodiversity offers a set of tools for students, environmentalists, and people of faith to think critically about how human beings can live with and as part of the variety of life in God’s creation.
Kevin J. O’Brien is an assistant professor of Christian ethics at Pacific Lutheran University.
Diversity and Dominion: Dialogues in Ecology, Ethics, and Theology
Edited by Kyle S. Van Houtan and Michael S. Northcott
Cascade Books, 2010
This book records a set of dialogues between scientists, theologians, and philosophers on what can be done to prevent a global slide into ecological collapse. It is a uniquely multidisciplinary book that exemplifies the kinds of cultural and scholarly dialogue urgently needed to address the threat to the earth represented by our super-industrial civilization. The authors debate the conventional account of nature conservation as protection from human activity. In contrast to standard accounts, they argue what is needed is a new relationship between human beings and the earth that recovers a primal respect for all things. This approach seeks to recover forgotten resources in ancient cultures and in the foundational narratives of Western civilization contained in the Bible and in the culture of classical Greece.
Kyle S. Van Houtan is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Program in Science and Society and a Research Fellow in the Center for Ethics at Emory University. He has served as a biologist with the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Geological Service.
Michael S. Northcott is Professor of Ethics in the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the author of The Environment and Christian Ethics (1996).
“Aesth/Ethics in Environmental Change”
May 24-28, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.hf.ntnu.no/relnateur/index.php?lenke=meetings.php
“Daoism Today: Science, Health, Ecology”
6th International Conference on Daoist Studies
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, USA
June 2-6, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.daoiststudies.org/dao/node/7693
“Sacred Earth: Spirituality and Sustainability”
Keynote address by Sr. Miriam Therese MacGillis
Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA, USA
June 11-13, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.chc.edu
“Conservation for a Changing Planet”
24thInternational Congress for Conservation Biology
“Prospects and Values of Integrating Religion in Conservation of Biology”
Workshop of The Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group
July 3-7, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.conbio.org/
"Thomas Berry and the Great Work of Our Time"
Summer Institute at Sophia Center in Culture & Spirituality
Holy Names University, Oakland, CA, USA
July 15-18, 2010
“The Great Work: Making It Personal”
Post Institute Retreat
Holy Names University, Oakland, CA, USA
July 18-20, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.hnu.edu/sophia/
“The Energy Transition: Religious and Cultural Perspectives”
Fifty-sixth Annual Conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
Star Island, NH, USA
July 24-31, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.iras.org/
“Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for A New Generation”
Conference Speakers: Mary Evelyn Tucker, Illia Deleo, Brother Jeffrey Gros, and David Grumett
Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, USA
November 18-21, 2010
“Contemplative Environmental Studies: Pedagogy for Self and Planet”
Lama Foundation, San Cristobal, NM, USA
August 1-6, 2010
For more information, visit: www.acmhe.org
Retreat and Workshop for Academics (open to professors and advanced doctoral students):
Environmental challenges call into question not simply our technological, economic, and political capabilities, but also our fundamental understandings of who we are as a species and how we fit into the broader, more-than-human world. This Summer Institute aims to launch an effort within higher education to develop tools for teaching and researching environmental dilemmas with this broader sensibility in mind. Through a combination of discussions with distinguished scholars, focused conversation among colleagues, artistic exercises, and regular contemplative practice, participants will explore the relationship between our inner lives and the ecological fate of the Earth, and how to fashion this relationship into a pedagogical tool capable of assisting humanity in addressing environmental dilemmas.
Part workshop and part retreat, the Institute seeks to open doors to our own capabilities as teachers committed to education on a fragile and wild planet.
Faculty: Paul Wapner (American University); Matthew Jelacic (U of Colorado); Nicole Salimbene (artist)
Guest Teachers: Richard Falk (Princeton & UC, Santa Barbara); David Abram (author of Spell of the Sensuous)
Created + Called
To Care For Creation
It’s a real problem, no matter your political stance. The Earth is being damaged by human activity.
Christianity has a complex relationship with God’s creation. We have tangled up our concepts of dominion and stewardship. Many imagine eternal life means being whisked away to some other non-physical plane in the ether. In trying to be God-focused, Christians become heaven-focused, at the expense of our earthly home. Can Scripture and our own religious tradition help us rethink those relationships? Is there a model for care of creation that doesn’t force us to the polarized margins?
This cutting-edge series, filmed in high definition, takes Martin Luther’s breakthrough understanding of Justification and Vocation and explodes it across God’s magnificent creation.
EarthBound is a journey beyond the rhetoric into God’s rich and complex creation. Discover the origins of our misconceptions about Scripture’s portrayal of creation. Recognize God’s call to us to relate to the whole creation as our vocation. And experience how God’s people throughout the Church are living out that call.
This six-part series, hosted by David Rhoads, features Walter Brueggemann, Larry Rasmussen, Barbara Rossing, Terry Fretheim, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda and many others.
Episode 1. Created/Called (justified and free to serve the world)
Episode 2. Here/There (creation is earthly, material and good)
Episode 3. Domination/Dominion (above creation, or part of it?)
Episode 4. Me/We (identity in social context)
Episode 5. Now/Forever (short-term benefit, or eternal creation?)
Episode 6. Enough/Too Much (scarcity and abundance)
Available from Seraphim Communications: http://store.seracomm.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=156
The Root and The Tree
Directed by Tisha Srivastav
Produced in 2008
Synopsis: The film explores how a man of faith -- Baba Seechewal, also called Road Baba, Nadi Baba and, Video Baba -- brings the spiritual word to life by applying Guru Nanak's words to all environmental ills. Shot as a personal journey of an environmental reporter who also believes in a life philosophy and wants to see how these are simultaneous spaces, like the roots of a tree that one can't see but the tree one can. All this in a Punjab dealing with the aftermath of the Green Revolution.
To view this documentary, visit: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/913/The-Root-and-The-Tree
The Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University is building an archive of case studies on environmental ethics. The archive will be located at http://environmentalethics.info. This Web site is intended as a pedagogical resource for classroom discussion and research.
Authors of the first 35 cases accepted for publication will receive a $100 stipend. Limit 2 case studies per author.
The case studies may be of any length and should be written in a reportive, third-person voice. Case studies should include enough data to allow for divergent ethical analyses, but the case itself should not include an analysis. Please use MLA citation style with parenthetical textual citations [e.g. (Darwin 1859, p. 243)]. For examples see: http://environmentalethics.info/examples.html
The Web site is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University.
“Creation, Nature and the Built Environment”
The Biennial Conference in Philosophy, Religion and Culture
Catholic Institute of Sydney, Australia
October 1-3, 2010
For More Information, visit: http://www.cis.catholic.edu.au/
The theme is to be interpreted broadly and from the disciplines of philosophy, theology, social science, literature and the arts. Topics that might be investigated include: overcoming the ugly and searching for the beautiful; pantheism and the natural environment; creation, new creation and salvation; landscape in Australian literature and its intersection with human activity; humanism, art, architecture and the built environment; beauty as truth and goodness; policy, politics and stewardship; the future: alienation or harmony.
The conference specifically aims to foster interaction between scholars in the universities and scholars in theological colleges. It also encourages young scholars.
The deadline for proposals is June 18, 2010.
Convenors: Stephen Buckle (ACU), William Emilsen (UTC/CSU), Peter Forrest (UNE), John McDowell (Newcastle), Shane Mackinlay (CTC/MCD), Andrew Murray (CIS/SCD)
For More Information, visit: http://www.cis.catholic.edu.au/
The John Templeton Foundation, the Society of Christian Philosophers, Oxford University and the University of Oklahoma are pleased to announce the Templeton Research Fellows Program for 2011-2012. This is the final year of a program designed to promote extended international exchange at Oxford University with philosophers of religion and scientists. We are seeking highly-qualified Fellows with an established record of successful publication, and whose proposed research will open up new avenues for interdisciplinary growth in the philosophy of religion. Applicants must have a Ph.D. prior to application and be affiliated with an accredited institution.
Two of the fellowships will be given to applicants proposing research at the interface of philosophy of religion and philosophy of physics, cosmology, mathematics, logic, or the natural sciences. One of the fellowships will be given to an applicant proposing research in any area of the philosophy of religion.
We invite recent Ph.D.’s and more advanced scholars to apply for a year-long fellowship in residence at Oxford University for the opportunity to engage in sustained interaction with some of the world’s foremost philosophers, scientists, theologians, and other specialists in religion. Three scholars will be chosen as research Fellows for the 2011-2012 year of the program (two junior and one senior). A Junior Fellow will receive a stipend of $50,000. A Senior Fellow will receive a stipend of $70,000. In addition, there will be funds for relocation, travel, research, etc.
The deadline for letters of intent is September 15, 2010.
The deadline for complete applications is November 15, 2010.
For further details, please visit our website at: http://www.oxfordtempletonfellows.com/
Having heard about the tree-temples of Swadhyaya, I called their office in Mumbai to visit one of such sites in the summer of 2006 during my trip to India. Soon, I found myself on my way to Valsad in Gujarat. I arrived at the home of a swadhyaya volunteer who took me to the site of the local tree-temple with several other Swadhyayis. All of them showed warmth and enthusiasm to welcome me, and they explained about the tree-temples and several other works and ideologies of the Swadhyaya movement. The tree-temple appeared like an oasis having suddenly sprung up out of nowhere. It was a dense garden of trees of mangoes and chikoo (sapodilla). Although I appreciated the view of lush green trees, I was particularly impressed that it was built on a land where people had previously lost all hopes of cultivation. Even the government had declared it as a barren land. As the caretakers of this garden explained about the way they perceive the trees and the vision of their guru Athavale, I began asking questions related to environmentalism.
The Swadhyaya movement arose in the mid-twentieth century in Western India as a new religious movement led by its founder, the late Pandurang Shastri Athavale. In my research, I discovered that there is no category of “environmentalism” in the “way of life” of Swadhyayis living in the villages. The concept of dharma can be successfully applied as an overarching term for the sustainability of the ecology, environmental ethics, and the religious lives of Swadhyayis. Dharma synthesizes their way of life with environmental ethics based on its multidimensional interpretations. Athavale had repeatedly emphasized that the main goal of Swadhyaya is to transform the human society based on the Upanishadic concept of “Indwelling God”. According to him, since the Almighty resides in everybody, one should develop a sense of spiritual self-respect for oneself irrespective of materialistic prestige or possessions. In addition to one’s own dignity, the concept of “Indwelling God” also helps transcend the divisions of class, caste, and religion and Athavale exhorted his followers to develop the Swadhyaya community based on the idea of “brotherhood of humans under the fatherhood of God”. Activities of Swadhyaya are woven around this main principle, which in turn are also aimed at the Indian cultural renaissance.
Although environmentalism is neither the means nor the goal of Swadhyaya’s activities, natural resources such as the earth, the water, the trees, and the cattle are revered and nurtured by Swadhyayis based on this understanding. Environmentalism does come out as an important byproduct of its multi-faceted activities and this was noted by a 1992 conference in Montreal where Swadhyaya was invited to present its ecological philosophy and work. I argue that a multivalent term like dharma can comprehend and describe this kaleidoscopic phenomenon and the way it relates to the ecology. Swadhyaya followers do not regard environmentalism as their main duty, their dharma. Alternatively, from the outside, one can regard their dharma, their cultural practices, as ecologically sustainable as I show below. I also want to note that my observations are based on their activities in the rural parts of Ind ia since the urban and the diaspora Swadhyayis do not have such ecological projects yet.
Vṛkṣamandiras, literally tree-temples, are constructed as inspired by Athavale’s teachings that regard trees as gods. By several explanations from Indic texts, he developed a set of preaching that I would like to term “arboreal dharma,” dharmic ecology inspired by the qualities of trees. He gave slogans such as “Vrḳsạ main Vāsudeva,” (literally, Kṛsṇa in trees) and “Paudhe main Prabhu” (literally, God in plants). To explain divine power in trees, he interpreted the capillary action of trees in this way, “There is a divine power in trees which makes it possible for water and fertilizer to rise from the roots below and reach the top portion against the gravitational force. It is not just the result of Keśākarṣaṇa (capillary action). Rather, it is Keśavākarsạṇa (Kṛsṇa’s force).” According to Athavale, ancient Indic sages had the spiritual vision to see divinity in the entire universe. Since it is difficult for common people to see this transcendental reality in their routine lives, sages specifically asked them to revere some representative plants such as Tulsi, Vata, and Bilva.
In July 1979,10 Athavale gave a practical shape to his dharmic ecology, when he inaugurated the first tree-temple at village Kalavad in Rajkot district in Gujarat. It was named Yājñavalkya Upavan, an orchard named after the Vedic sage Yājñavalkya. There were 6000 trees planted here. So far, followers of Atha- vale have created about two dozen such tree-temples in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. Villagers nurture them throughout the year. They frequent tree-temples not as gardeners but as devotees. The orchard becomes their temple and nurturing the plants becomes their devotion. The fruits or other products collected of such orchards are treated as prasāda, divine gift. The income generated from selling such fruits is either distributed among needy families or saved for future such prayogs.
McKim Marriott has suggested that dharma can be an ethnosociological category to study and analyze the Indic world that frequently transgresses the world of religion, environmental ethics, and human social order, as is evident from my case studies of Swadhyayis. Swadhyayis, like other Hindus, use dharma to mean both their religious practices and their social duties. Thus, I suggest that the concept of dharma can function as a bridge between the ecological notions and environmental ethics of local Hindu communities and the ecological message related to the planet earth. The word dharma can be effectively used to translate the ecological awareness to reach out to the local communities of Hindus based on its meanings related to duties, ecological order, sustenance, virtues, righteousness, and religion.
(This piece is a summary of an essay by Pankaj Jain entitled “Dharmic Ecology: Perspectives from the Swadhyaya Practitioners,” published in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology, 13.3, pp. 305-320.)
Pankaj Jain, PhD
University of North Texas
Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies
Department of Anthropology
Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology has as its focus the relationships between religion, culture and ecology world-wide. Articles discuss major world religious traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism or Christianity; the traditions of indigenous peoples; new religious movements; and philosophical belief systems, such as pantheism, nature spiritualities, and other religious and cultural worldviews in relation to the cultural and ecological systems. Focusing on a range of disciplinary areas including Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Sociology and Theology, the journal also presents special issues that center around one theme. For more information, visit: http://www.brill.nl/wo