Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith and the Environment

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith and the Environment

Article excerpt

Arguing that economic and political approaches to environmental problems are failing, an interfaith and interdisciplinary group of scholars says the world's religions must take a more active role in setting the global environmental agenda. That is a key conclusion of a three-year Harvard University project that drew on the ideas of more than 1,000 scholars, religious leaders and activists representing ten major religions. The results were made public at a news conference at the United Nations.

Organizers of the Harvard Project on Religion and Ecology, which conducted a series of conferences exploring the relationships between religion and the environment, stated October 20 that the key to solving the environmental crisis may lie in redefining spiritual values and rethinking humankind's fundamental responsibility to nature.

According to the project organizers, while respect for the Earth may be inherent in the moral teachings of many religions, these values are clearly missing at the corporate and government levels. "Religious values are critical in establishing a new balance of human-Earth relations, one that acknowledges human need for resources but restrains human greed," said Mary Evelyn Tucker, an associate professor of religion at Bucknell University, who coordinated the conferences.

The group also announced the creation of an ongoing forum to bring together policy-makers and scholars in the continuation of what is claimed to be the broadest interfaith and interdisciplinary dialogue yet on environmental problems. Religions included in the conferences and represented in the forum are Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Shinto, Jainism and indigenous traditions. Other religious traditions may be included in the future.

The series of conferences was inspired by the 1992 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which concluded that the environmental crisis is so dire it requires the attention of religions as well as that of scientists, businesses and governments. "We are in the midst of what's being called the `sixth extinction.' All the others were caused by nature--this one is manmade," noted Tucker. "The crisis is too large to say any one discipline can have answers. It needs an interdisciplinary approach and religion and ethics need to be at table."

Religious tradition is a powerful influence that has yet to be tapped in the environmental arena, said Larry Sullivan, director of the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions. …

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