Religion and ecology

Religion and ecology

Religion and ecology is an emerging subfield in the academic discipline of religious studies. It is founded on the understanding that, in the words of Iranian-American philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values," and that religions, being the primary source of values in any culture, are thus implicated in the decisions humans make regarding the environment. Historian Lynn White, Jr. first made the argument in a 1966 lecture before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, subsequently published in the journal "Science", that Western Christianity, having de-sacralized and instrumentalized nature to human ends, bears a substantial "burden of guilt" for the contemporary environmental crisis. White's essay stimulated a flurry of responses, ranging from defenses of Christianity to qualified admissions to complete agreement with his analysis. Some proposed that Eastern religions, as well as those of indigenous peoples, neo-pagans, and others, offered more eco-friendly worldviews than Christianity. A third, more obscure camp, argued that while White's theory was indeed correct, this was actually a benefit to society, and that thinning the populations of weaker plant and animal species via environmental destruction would lead to the evolution of stronger, more productive creatures.

By the 1990s, many scholars of religion had entered the debate and begun to generate a substantial body of literature discussing and analyzing how nature is valued in the world's various religious systems. A landmark event was a series of ten conferences on Religion and Ecology organized by Bucknell University professors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim and held at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions from 1996 to 1998. The conference papers were published in a series of ten books, one for each of the world's major religious traditions. An active Religion and Ecology group has been in existence within the American Academy of Religion since 1990, and an increasing number of universities in North America and around the world are now offering courses on religion and the environment.

Other landmarks in the emerging field was the publication of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature in 2005 and the formation of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture in 2006, which began publishing the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture in 2007. (For more information about all three see [] .) The introduction to the encyclopedia, and entry entitled "Religious Studies and Environmental Concern," and many others, provide an additional introduction to scholarly debates about religion and ecology as well as religion and nature more broadly; see [] .

Christianity and ecology

Christianity has a historic concern for nature and the natural world. At the same time, ecological concerns operate in tension with anthropocentric values, such as the Biblical notion of human dominion over the earth. Fact|date=January 2008

A broad range of Christian institutions are engaged in the environmental movement and contemporary environmental concerns. For instance, Catholic activists have found support in teachings by Pope Paul VI (Octogesima Adveniens, #21) and Pope John Paul II (e.g., the encyclical Centesimus Annus, #37-38). Pope Benedict XVI has likewise spearheaded environmental efforts during his papacy. Fact|date=January 2008 In the 1990s, Evangelical Christians in the U.S. formed a network and joined a religious environmental coalition. Fact|date=January 2008

Hinduism and ecology

In Hinduism, practitioners and scholars find traditional approaches to the natural environment in such concepts as dharmic ethics or prakrti (material creation), the development of ayurveda, and readings of vedic literature. Hindu environmental activism also may be inspired by Gandhian philosophy and practical struggles, such as the Chipko resistance to forestry policies in Uttar Pradesh, India. [cite book|editor=Chappl and Tucker|title=Hinduism and Ecology: The intersection of earth, sky and water|publisher=Harvard Univ. Press|date=2000]

Judaism and ecology

In Judaism, the natural world plays a central role in Jewish law, literature, and liturgical and other practices. Fact|date=January 2008 Within the diverse arena of Jewish thought, beliefs vary widely about the human relation to the environment, though the rabbinic tradition has put Judaism primarily on an anthropocentric trajectory.

In Jewish law ("halakhah"), ecological concerns are reflected in Biblical protection for fruit trees, rules in the Mishnah against harming the public domain, Talmudic debate over noise and smoke damages, and contemporary responsa on agricultural pollution. In Conservative Judaism, a new initiative has adopted ecokashrut ideas begun in the 1970s. In addition, Jewish activists have recruited principles of "halakhah" for environmental purposes, such as the injunction against unnecessary destruction, known as bal tashkhit. Fact|date=January 2008

In contemporary Jewish liturgy, ecological concerns have been promoted by adapting a kabbalistic ritual for the holiday of trees, Tu B'shvat. Biblical and rabbinic texts have been enlisted for prayers about the environment, especially in Orthodox Judaism and Jewish Renewal movements.

In the U.S., a coalition of Jewish environmentalists (COEJL) undertakes both educational and policy advocacy on such issues as biodiversity and global warming. [cite web|title=About COEJL|publisher=Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, New York|url=|accessdate=2008-01-08] Jewish environmentalists are drawn from all branches of religious life, ranging from Rabbi Arthur Waskow to a growing Orthodox non-profit. [cite pressrelease|url=|title=Canfei Nesharim Named One of North America’s Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits|publisher=Canfei Nesharim|date=2007-10-08|accessdate=2008-01-08] In Israel, secular Jews have formed numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations to protect nature and reduce pollution. While Israeli organizations make limited use of Jewish religious teachings, a few do approach Israel's environmental problems from a Jewish standpoint, including an environmental center named after Abraham Joshua Heschel.

ee also

*Spiritual ecology

Further reading

*Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man". Rev. ed. Chicago, Ill.: Kazi Publishers, 1997 [1967] .
*Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," "Science" 155 (1967): 1203-1207.
*Richard C. Foltz, ed., "Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology", Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (2002).
*Anand Veeraraj, "Green History of Religion". Bangalore, India: Centre for Contemporary Christianity, 2006.
* Bron Taylor, ed., "Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature" (2 volumes) London: Continuum International. Online introduction and entries at []
* "Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture," introduced at []


External links


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