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- Gary B. Ferngren (ed.), Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction - PhilPapers
- BREAKING THE SPELL
A culture's worldviews are contained in religious cosmologies and expressed through rituals and symbols. Religious cosmologies describe the experience of origin and change in relation to the natural world.
Religious rituals and symbols — which arise from those cosmologies and are grounded in the dynamics of nature — encourage spiritual and ethical transformation in human life. This is true in Buddhism, which considers the human response to change in nature and the cosmos as a potential source of human suffering. Confucianism and Daoism, on the other hand, affirm nature's changes as the source of the Dao. The death—rebirth cycle of nature also serves as an inspiring metaphorical mirror for human life, sometimes echoed in the Western monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
All religions translate natural cycles into rich tapestries of interpretive meanings that encourage humans to move beyond tragedy, suffering, and despair. Human struggles expressed in religious symbolism find their way into a culture's art, music, and literature. By linking human life and patterns of nature, religions have provided a meaningful orientation to life's continuity as well as to human death and diminishment. In short, religions have assisted their believers in coping with change and transcending suffering. The creative tensions between humans seeking to transcend this world and yearning to be embedded in this world are part of the dynamics of world religions.
Christianity, for example, holds the promise of salvation in the afterlife as well as celebrating the incarnation of Christ as a human in the world. Similarly, Hinduism espouses the goal of moksha , which is liberation from the world of samsara , the cycle of death and rebirth, while also highlighting the ideal of Krishna acting in the world Grim and Tucker Recognizing these creative tensions leads to a more balanced understanding of the possibilities and limitations of religions regarding environmental concerns.
Many religions retain otherworldly orientations toward personal salvation beyond this world, while simultaneously fostering commitments to social justice, peace, and ecological integrity within this world. Environmental discourse has often overlooked how religious symbols, rituals, and ethics imply the need for changes in attitudes toward and actions for creating a sustainable future. Specifically, with the help of the world's religions, humans can advocate for a reverence for Earth, respect for myriad other species, reciprocity between humanity and the natural world, restraint in the use of natural resources, equitable distribution of wealth, and renewed emphasis on sustainability Tucker and Grim We are encouraged by the growing call for the world's religions to participate in facilitating a more sustainable future; to that end, religions have been making mostly positive contributions Tucker and Grim — ; Gardner ; see also Jenkins and Chapple Exemplary models of synergy between spiritual and ecological partners have become easier to find as diverse approaches within the sciences and within religious communities have begun to interweave and expand from local to global scales Table 2.
In addition, there has been a marked growth in scholarly articles related to environment and ecology within the theological literature Figure 3a ; see also Tucker et al. Several national and international meetings have also been held on this subject Table 3. This growing body of scholarly and institutional work on religion and ecology suggests opportunities for more systematic exploration and engagement with religious contributions to Earth Stewardship.
Significant increases in the literature were seen after Earth Day in peak of 82 articles in and after the formation of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the Religion and Ecology Group of the American Academy of Religion in the early s articles in No abstracts were found prior to ; the greatest number of hits is 34 in Parallel examples emerging across the globe Table 1 indicate the potential for building upon these foundations.
Awareness of these developments and prospects for complementarity in religion and ecology are valuable. Informed ecologists and other scientists may be able to improve their partnerships with religious communities, with the aim of facilitating Earth Stewardship. This knowledge also helps to dispel the assumptions among many scientists that religions, especially those of Western origin, are an obstacle to promoting Earth Stewardship. Religious environmental perspectives have matured to such an extent that many denominations profess basic theological and ethical reasons for environmental concern, but scientific research can reinforce denominational policy platforms to enhance local community efforts or shape national and international policies.
There are many cases that illustrate the robust links between religious communities and ecologists. Clergy who testify about the need for local, national, or international environmental legislation often rely on scientific partners to inform their recommendations eg Schori Many local congregations proceed from a concern about climate change to a need for specific information to aid them in conserving energy and reducing their carbon footprint.
Moreover, current interest in local and organic foods within faith communities is frequently supported in part by collaboration with experts in sustainable agriculture. Linking science with religion is often straightforward: scientists partner with and provide information and resources to religious communities just as they do with any other community.
At the same time, depending on the topic, region, and cultural or ideological contexts, familiarity with the values and beliefs of a given religious community can help ensure success in outreach efforts Nadkarni Guidelines for outreach to faith communities have been developed eg recommendations of the Biodiversity Project; Lowry and Swartz , which may help scientists when responding to potential cultural tensions between science and religion eg creationism versus evolution.
Building on such guidelines, in —, the Ecological Society of America ESA has partnered with religious communities to pilot a speakers' bureau that supports religion—ecology dialogue and scientists' outreach to faith communities; this effort www. Through such collaborative projects, religious and scientific communities can expand their common ground, deepen mutually beneficial dialogue, celebrate progress, and build social trust to move the Earth Stewardship initiative forward.
Religions play a central role in formulating worldviews that orient humans to the natural world and in articulating ethics that guide human behavior. Today, with the growing contribution of religions to environmental ethics, Leopold might be encouraged. Surely it will take humanity's best collective efforts to overcome historical and contemporary barriers to empower Earth Stewardship, but there are solid foundations in place for scientific and religious communities to work together to secure a more sustainable future.
Aldo Leopold, seen here in , is often regarded as the father of environmental ethics in the US. In his book, A Sand County Almanac , he articulated the need for a land ethic for the biotic community. Leopold's elegant prose illustrates the importance of religious and aesthetic references when discussing land conservation.
Image courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Volume 11 , Issue 7.
Reading: The History of Religion
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Gary B. Ferngren (ed.), Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction - PhilPapers
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BREAKING THE SPELL
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