Ecology drives believers to earth-friendly actions.
Hindus gather to clean the Ganges River. Thai monks ordain trees to help save them from loggers. Even U.S. evangelicals are climbing onto the earth-friendly bandwagon. You can read all about it on the web page of the Forum on 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 at www.environment .harvard.edu/religion.
"The ecological crisis challenges us to cooperate across religious boundaries," said Mary Evelyn Tucker, who along with her husband, John Grim, directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology, based at Harvard Divinity School Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's purpose is to train graduate students—either in the academic study of religion, or in the practice of a religious ministry. .
Their Web site lists over 100 grassroots projects around the world involving religious traditions from Christianity to Taoism to Buddhism, all attempting to solve in creative, spiritual ways their own local environmental problems.
For example, in Iran, the government has included a platform in its program that draws on principles from the Quran for environmental justice. The environmental minister of China said recently that Chinese need to draw on the wisdom of Confucianism and Taoism to protect the environment. The forum's Web site details many ecology projects within Judaism, including the Eco Kosher Network, which seeks to connect the Jewish idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) with consumer practices.
All of this is good news to Drs. Tucker and Grim, founders of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. The forum arose out of a series of conferences on the world's religions and ecology held at Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions beginning in 1995 to 1996, when Drs. Tuckers and Grim, professors of religion at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, were at Harvard on sabbatical. The conferences explored the diverse ways in which religious traditions view nature and construct symbol systems and ritual practices relating humans to nature.
"The forum is a continuation of the work of Fr. Thomas Berry," Dr. Grim said. He called Fr. Berry a pioneer, the first person to deeply investigate the way religious traditions deal with the relation between human communities and local ecosystems.
Fr. Berry emphasized that "when we investigate religion together with ecology, deep, fundamental attitudes toward nature are revealed," Dr. Grim said. "Those attitudes in turn affect the ways we behave toward and interact with the natural world."
Former students of Fr. Berry, Drs. Grim and Tucker said he prompted them to consider the contributions of world religions to the ecology debate.
"Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism
Indeed, the "Green Patriarch" Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, has taken bold steps to make conservation an integral part of faith. He has declared that "crime against the natural world is a sin." Together with Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Paweł II) born , he signed a document calling for an end to the destruction of the environment.
Within Islam, Drs. Tucker and Grim point to the work of scholars like Ibrahim Ozdemir, a Turkish expert on environmental ethics within the Islamic tradition.
Within the Catholic and Protestant traditions in the United States, there has been an explosion of books, programs, conferences and other activities in the last 10 or 15 years. New organizations have sprung up such as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the North American Coalition for Christianity and Ecology, the National Council of Churches' "Climate Change Campaign" and more.
Dr. Tucker calls Catholic church pronouncements on preserving the Columbia River watershed, and other pastoral letters from the U.S. Catholic bishops "helpful and forward-thinking."
Even evangelical Protestants like Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has an environmental message, focusing on creation care. Tim LaHaye, coauthor of the Left Behind series, often blamed for fostering a disdain for the created world, recently said on "Larry King Live Larry King Live is a nightly CNN interview program hosted by broadcaster and writer Larry King. The show premiered in 1985, and is CNN's most watched program, with over one million viewers nightly. " that Christians should work for clean air and water.
An aim of the forum is to help scholars draw out the environmental implications from within different religious traditions, to foster the retrieval of age-old wisdom and information about the relationships between individuals and the bioregion bi·o·re·gion
An area constituting a natural ecological community with characteristic flora, fauna, and environmental conditions and bounded by natural rather than artificial borders. . It's an attempt to deepen the conversation about religion and nature, according to Dr. Grim, and this conversation bears fruit in activism described on the forum's Web site:
* In Malaysia, last year 3,000 volunteers planted 30,000 trees in a nature reserve on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
* Monks in Thailand are ordaining trees to protect them from exploitation and placing stupas (religious shrines) on mountaintops.
* In northeastern Thailand, a quarry company won a government concession to blast a mountain apart for its limestone. Monks from the local temple joined farmers, lawyers, environmental activists and two senators from Bangkok in wrapping a strip of saffron more than three kilometers (1.8 miles) around the base of the mountain. The mountain was thereby made sacred.
* In India, Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra Veer Bhadra Mishra is the founding president of the Sankat Mochan Foundation. He is a former professor of Hydraulic engineering and former Head of the Civil Engineering Department at the Banaras Hindu University. , retired from Banaras Hindu University Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Hindi: काशी हिन्दू विश्वविद्यालय, is a premier central university and a world class eductaional institution , spearheads an effort to clean the Ganges River watershed. His efforts are deeply rooted in the Hindu religious tradition.
* In Africa, in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church Dutch Reformed Church: see Reformed Church in America. works closely with the Shona people in restoration work. They plant a million trees a year.
[Rich Heffern is editor of Celebration's E-series publications. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.]