Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, to name but a few, have inspired talk of the link between spiritual and environmental concerns. Experts say the increase in fierce hurricanes is linked to environmental factors. Would better stewardship of the Earth help?
Since the early 2000s, more people of faith have begun boldly taking environmental stands. National coalitions have been bolstering and diversifying their membership and include Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. Meanwhile, more local groups are organizing educational campaigns and lobbying legislators. Most activity focuses on fuel economy and global climate change, but in all faith traditions and all regions, groups are pressing issues they see as critical to being good stewards of the Earth.
How are religious voices engaging in environmental issues? Why is the movement growing? Are there critics? Watch for regional faith-based groups working on such issues as alternate electricity sources and old-growth forest preservation. Talk to area colleges and universities with research programs based on religion and the ecology. Talk to individuals who, motivated by faith, make the environment a personal cause.
Why it matters
All major religions view stewardship of the Earth as a moral obligation, and many have issued official positions on the environment. But relatively few people make it a ministry to work for public change and to educate the folks in the pews. That number has been steadily increasing, along with awareness of the ties between ecology and religion.
- The American Academy of Religion has a Religion and Ecology Group website.
- Read the journal Daedalus‘ issue on world religions and ecology.
Read a 2002 story by Elizabeth Kadetsky on beliefnet.com about Western and Eastern religious leaders’ increasing activism on environmental issues.
“Religions and Environmental Groups Work Together”
Read a Jan. 9, 2003, Associated Press story posted on beliefnet.com on how faith groups have addressed environmental issues in the United States and abroad.
“”Should Churches Convert Drivers of SUVS?”
Read a Christian Science Monitor article, “Should Churches Convert Drivers of SUVS?”
“Are Your Palm Sunday Palms Bad for the Environment?”
Read a March 22, 2013, article from Slate Magazine about Palm Sunday traditions and the environment.
National Religious Partnership for the Environment
The National Religious Partnership for the Environment is an alliance of major faith groups and denominations across the spectrum of Jewish and Christian communities and organizations in the United States. Its four founding partners are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Creation Justice Ministries and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology wants to establish religion and ecology as an area of study and research in universities, colleges, seminaries and other religiously affiliated institutions. The forum arose out of a series of conferences on the world’s religions and ecology hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions.
Center for Environmental Philosophy
The Center for Environmental Philosophy was created by the board of directors of Environmental Philosophy, Inc., a nonprofit corporation of the State of New Mexico. It is the product of a number of activities begun with the creation of the journal Environmental Ethics. It is based at the University of North Texas in Denton.
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life concentrates on addressing climate change and encouraging sustainable congregations. Its national partners are the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.
Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences
The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences is an international organization that highlights a Muslim perspective on environmental issues. It is based in Birmingham, England. Fazlun Khalid is founder and director.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.
Stephanie Kaza is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where she teaches courses on religion and ecology, eco-feminism and “unlearning consumerism.” She is a practicing Soto Zen Buddhist and is co-editor of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.
Kenneth Kraft is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and an expert on socially engaged Buddhism. His books include The Wheel of Engaged Buddhism: A New Map of the Path, on spiritual responses to social and environmental issues, and, as co-editor, Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.
Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and she helped found the university’s Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, of which she is director. She is a noted scholar of Hinduism and the environment.
State by state
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life posts a list of state Interfaith Climate Change Campaigns. The campaigns center on the health and environmental implications of global warming.
In the Northeast
Rick Clugston is executive director of Maine Interfaith Power and Light, based in Portland, a nonprofit organization working to bring environmentally-friendly electricity to consumers in the state.
Timothy C. Weiskel
Timothy C. Weiskel co-directs the Working Group on Environmental Justice, based in Cambridge, Mass. The group offers publications accessible through the web.
Religious Witness for the Earth
Religious Witness for the Earth, based in Littleton, Mass., is a national interfaith network dedicated to public witness on issues such as climate change and environmental devastation. Contact co-chairs Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, senior minister of the Haydenville Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Haydenville, Mass.; or Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, Md.
Joy Bergey is state coordinator of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Global Climate Change Campaign, based in Laverock, Pa.
Religious Studies in Secondary Schools
Religious Studies in Secondary Schools, a coalition of public and private Catholic secondary school teachers, has held workshops about the connection between religion and ecology.
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, based in New York City, is a North American association of nearly 250 Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish institutional investors working to hold corporations accountable to stewardship of the earth, among other issues. Contact Susana McDermott, director of communications.
Catholic Conservation Center
The Catholic Conservation Center is a website based in New York that offers Catholics ways to connect Roman Catholic teaching to environmental causes. Contact site founder Bill Jacobs.
In the South
Bron Raymond Taylor
Bron Raymond Taylor is a religion professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he helped to launch a graduate program in religion and nature. Taylor was also instrumental in the formation of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and served as its first president from 2006-2009. He is considered a leading scholar on religion and nature, and his books include (as editor) the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and (as author) Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.
Georgia Interfaith Power & Light
Georgia Interfaith Power & Light in Atlanta is a faith-based environmental organization that works to address climate change and pollution. Contact executive director Alexis Chase.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity has a Better Built Program that promotes energy-efficient, environmentally friendly construction and encourages good stewardship of natural resources and raises awareness of the environmental impact of house building.
In the Midwest
David Landis Barnhill
David Landis Barnhill is director of environmental studies and an English professor at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh.
Faith in Place
Faith in Place works with religious and spiritual leaders in Illinois on issues of environmental sustainability. It has offices in Chicago, Champaign and Waukegan, Ill.
Web of Creation
The Web of Creation, an ecumenical site maintained by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, provides congregational resources on ecology and religion. Contact director David Rhoads.
The Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith is executive director of the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis, which has participated in the National Council of Churches’ Faith-based Climate and Energy Campaign.
David Haberman is a professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. He teaches on the subject of religion and ecology, particularly in regards to South Asian religions. His books include River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India and Understanding Climate Change Through Religious Lifeworlds.
Kim Winchell coordinates the Interfaith Climate Change Campaigns: Michigan (formerly the Michigan Interfaith Global Warming Campaign), both based in Freeland, Mich.
In the West
Hava Tirosh-Samuelson is a professor of modern Judaism and history at Arizona State University in Tempe, where she studies Judaism and ecology, bioethics, and religion and science.
Eco-Justice Ministries is an ecumenical agency based in Denver that helps churches care for the Earth. The Rev. Peter S. Sawtell is executive director.
Frederick Denny is a professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research interests include contemporary Islam, religion and ecology and religion and human rights.
Bee Moorhead is executive director of the interfaith group Texas Impact, which is based in Austin, Texas, and promotes environmental conservation and opposes voter suppression measures.
J. Baird Callicott
J. Baird Callicott is a professor in the philosophy and religious studies department at the University of North Texas in Denton. His expertise includes ecological ethics. He has written several books, including In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy and Earth’s Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics From the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback.
Susan Stephenson heads up both the Regeneration Project and the California Interfaith Power & Light campaign.
Target Earth, in Colfax, Wash., is a national network of Christian organizations committed to environmental stewardship.
Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation
The Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation is a coalition of churches, synagogues and para-religious organizations concerned with forest conservation. It is based in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Leslie E. Sponsel
Leslie E. Sponsel is a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He specializes in religion and ecology and has written about Buddhism and the environment.
Bernard Daley Zaleha
Bernard Daley Zaleha is president of the Fund for Christian Ecology, a Boise, Idaho-based nonprofit that encourages discussion of religion’s responsibility toward the earth.
LeAnne Beres is executive director of Seattle-based Earth Ministry. Earth Ministry is a Christian, ecumenical group based in Seattle that works with individuals and congregations on environmental issues.
Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center
The Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center is a northwest environmental and responsible investment collaborative venture of several religious communities based in Seattle. Contact executive director Linda Haydock.