This document was prepared prior to the start of the conference series and describes the agenda of the conference series, delimits the topics and questions to be engaged, and addresses questions of methodology and of the anticipated value of the conferences.
I. Overall Goals
1. Identify and evaluate the distinctive ecological attitudes, values and practices of diverse religious traditions, making clear their links to intellectual, political, and other resources associated with these distinctive traditions.
2. Describe and analyze the commonalities that exist within and among religious traditions with respect to ecology.
3. Identify the minimum common ground on which to base constructive understanding, motivating discussion, and concerted action in diverse locations across the globe; and highlight the specific religious resources that comprise such fertile ecological ground: within scripture, ritual, myth, symbol, cosmology, sacrament, and so on.
4. Outline the most significant areas, with regard to religion and ecology, in need of further study (by research scholars and graduate students); enumerate the highest-priority questions within those areas and propose possible approaches toward them.
5. Articulate in clear and moving terms a desirable mode of human presence with the earth; note what is already actualized and indicate how best to achieve what is desirable beyond that.
II. Topics to Be Addressed
A. Assess Religious Attitudes toward Nature by Disclosing and Presenting:
1. The lessons and values derived from religious reflection on creation, cosmogony, and cosmogenesis.
2. The religious principles and orientations associated with cosmology (knowledge of the order of the cosmos and its fundamental structures as well as its inhabitant beings such as sun, moon, stars, elements, seasons, animals, fish, birds, flora, and so on).
3. The religious conceptions of the place and role of supernatural being(s) in relation to the natural world.
4. The religious perceptions of the place and role of the human being in the world.
a. The relationship between supernatural being(s) and human beings with regard to the processes that alter and/ or sustain nature, both wild and cultivated.
b. Religious reflections on the material nature and needs of the human being (anthropogony, sociogony).
c. Religious evaluations of human labor and economy as they interface with nature (human use of nature as well as religious restraints and limits thereon).
i. Hunting, gathering, preserving
ii. Agriculture: foods and harvests
iii. Urbanism and industrial production
iv. Production of information and instruments of communication (book writing and production, education to literacy, information technology)
d. religious understandings of the historical character of human existence (e.g., collective memory, habits of praxis, perdurance of monumental space), as it impacts the natural world.
5. The character and function of ritual reflections of nature and natural resources.
6. Evaluations of change: the changing relationship of religion and environment; religious evaluations of environmental change; conversely, the ecological consequences of changes in religious practice and belief. The implications for religions of the nature of change as described in theories of evolution.
7. Reflections on the religious responses to the rise of science, to the claims of scientific knowledge, and to the demands of the scientific method.
8. Religious reflections on the nature and role of decay, death, and termination; evaluations of disaster (such as drought, flood, catastrophe, famine, disease).
B. Assess the relationship of sound ecological policy to principles and practices which advance the free exercise of and mutual understanding among religions.
1. How can diverse traditions, with their distinctive expressions and histories, become the basis for the development of the values, virtues, principles, and practices that can sustain the environment even on a global scale? In other words, can we develop the grounds and motivations for shared understandings and concerted actions so that human beings in diverse communities across the globe can assume responsibility, in terms consonant with their own religious traditions and histories, for a healthy sustainable environment.
C. Analyze the impact of religious/ sacred arts (visual, musical, dramatic, architectural, sartorial etc.) on attitudes and practices toward nature.
1. What has been the role of myths, symbols and rituals in the perception and shaping of nature as sacred art?
2. What is the role of religious art in “transforming” or “manipulating” nature for human ends?
III. Issues of Theory and Practice
A. How best to combine knowledge and action toward an environmental ethics?
1. Develop case studies of noteworthy ecological examples from within the religious traditions: exemplary ideas, people, communities both historical and contemporary. What factors have optimized the combination of knowledge and action in these cases? How have knowledge and action been cultivated in admirable ways?
2. How to learn from past error and failure? Develop case studies of noteworthy ecological failures. What factors have contributed to the negative ecological impact of specific religious ideas, institutions, practices, or leaders? What can be learned about the relationship of knowledge and action from these counter-cases?
3. What is the role religions can play in shaping environmental ethics? Can religions begin to identify and define more holistic worldviews and values that would support the implementation of environmental ethics?
IV. Fostering Change
A. How can the conferences and publications best serve to assist change in persons and institutions?
1. Propose principles which might serve as the basis for ecological mission statements and ecological policies in a range of institutions, documenting closely the derivation of those principles from religious sources and traditions. The institutions to be kept in mind in formulating such principles are not only the religious institutions themselves, but also educational and academic institutions, professional guilds or unions, and institutions that are sources of public policy (such as schools of government, think tanks, legislative and executive bodies and their staffs, the media, corporate boards of directors, and non-governmental organizations).
2. Gather exemplary mission and policy statements already in existence and show their relationship to the religion-based principles; draft example models to propose for areas where no examples can be found.
3. Provide the vision and motivation for the creation of such clear statements of policy and mission by demonstrating their link to programs that stimulate change:
a. Among leaders, such as training and retraining programs;
b. In individual constituent members, such as awareness programs, information sources, and practical training for communities and groups (e.g., religious communities or the work-place) which cultivate lifeways and which can accept care for the environment as a matter of habitual practice, character formation, or spiritual discipline.
c. In institutional policy and directed institutional practice.
4. Generate detailed plans on the best ways to use the compendium of resources gathered in the set of published volumes:
a. As a basis for identifying existing resources and charting areas needing further investigation.
b. As a curriculum on religion and ecology.
c. In training courses for institutional leaders.
d. As resources for policymakers and their staffs.