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Indigenous Religions and Ecology (Grim)

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Course Title

Indigenous Religions and Ecology

Instructor(s) John Grim
Yale University

Religious Studies, Forestry and Environmental Studies, Environmental Studies

Subject(s) Religion and Ecology

Opening with an examination of such terms as “indigenous,” “religion,” "traditions," “lifeways,”and “ecology” we will consider the implications of these terms in the study of local peoples many of whose ways of life have been significantly altered by encounters with more developed societies. The course is focused on indigenous relationships with life-in-place, and the many ways that cultural values associated with lifeways are articulated in symbols, myths, rituals, and other embodied practices. Early on, we will also consider the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples” in an effort to understand the resurgence of indigenous voices in national and international settings.

A foundational approach in this study of religions among small-scale societies is lifeways. As an interrogative approach lifeways inquires into indigenous religious concepts and practices as both culturally differentiated, and cosmologically integrated. It suggests that religion should not be studied as separated from other indigenous social expressions, structures, subsistence practices, symbols, rituals, cosmologies, and ethical behaviors. Lifeway should not be understood as an unchanging concept, but as a means of social adaptation to historical interactions.

Using ethnographies this course explores how particular small-scale societies relate to local bioregions and specific sacred sites in the formation of identity and sovereignty. For example, the regard for sacred sites among indigenous peoples can be considered as nested realms, for example, kinship extends from human communities into biodiversity, bioregions, and/or stars and planets. Indigenous societies in such different settings as Asia, Africa, and Australia, relate to, and differ in their attitudes towards, the natural world. This course triangulates religious studies, ecological studies, and ethnography to investigate ways in which small-scale societies approach their surrounding world. There are also contemporary questions about environmental justice related to indigenous peoples such as biopiracy, as well as pressures on some indigenous peoples to commit to mining, logging, and other extractive projects. We will attempt to understand the spiritual implications of place-based knowledge (IK/indigenous knowledge and TEK/traditional environmental knowledge) and religious ecology.

Another objective in this course is a cross-cultural and comparative examination of the ways in which native thought differs from text-based traditions. What are the contributions and differences of small-scale societies to the “world religions?” In short, this course on indigenous ecologies explores embodied human-Earth relations as an ongoing question having meaningful input into environmental discourse.


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