February 2009

The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
3.2 (February 2009)


1. Editorial by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally 

2. 2009 Meeting of the American Academy of Religion 

3. 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions

4. News: Catholic Bishops in the Philippines Call for Moratorium on Mining and Logging

5. Events

6. New Book: Love God, Heal Earth

7. Report on Interfaith Conference on Climate Change 

8. Online Discussion: “Dharma, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics” 

9. Focus on the Web: Professional Development http://fore.research.yale.edu/education/professionaldevelopment/index.html 

10. From the Field: “City, Nature, Religion,” by Richard Bohannon

11. Worldviews and Other Journals


1. Editorial by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally 



Welcome to the February issue of the newsletter for the Forum on Religion and Ecology.  We have much to share with you this month, including announcements of calls for papers, events, news items, and more.  We have invited Richard Bohannon from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota to write a piece on his research on urban spaces and the contested role of cities at the intersection of religion and ecology.  This inquiry into urban spaces is a growing area of research, which has been addressed in a 2004 conference organized by Stephen Scharper at the University of Toronto and in Richard Register’s International Ecocity Conference Series (http://www.ecocitybuilders.org).
We hope this newsletter will give you a sense of the exciting developments happening in the field of Religion and Ecology.  Furthermore, we hope you not only get a sense of the field, but also a sense for the way in which the field engages the complexity of what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy describes in many of his works as “the sense of the world” (le sens du monde). 

The word “sense” is ambiguous.  To have a sense of something can imply an understanding of the meaning of something, and it can also imply a perception of something through touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, or hearing.  The word “sense” thus intertwines the intelligible (meaning) with the sensible (matter).  The field of Religion and Ecology engages this complex relationship between meaning and matter as it explores religious worldviews, texts, and ethics in order to address current environmental concerns. 

Throughout much of the Western philosophical tradition, matter and meaning have been viewed in terms of oppositions that have supported the subjugation and domination of the environment.  In Plato’s dialogues, for instance, “the sensible” (to aistheton) and “the intelligible” (to noeton) are often articulated in terms of a dualism where the true world of intelligible form is favored at the expense of the illusory world of sensible matter.  This dualism has many expressions throughout the history of philosophy, theology, and science, including arguments about oppositions of transcendence/immanence, God/nature, spirit/matter, mind/body, fact/value, reason/emotion, and masculine/feminine.  

Some attempts are made to resolve this dualism by reducing one realm to another, whether reducing the material realm to a mere social construction or a projection of the human mind or the divine mind, or reducing the realm of meaning to an epiphenomenon of meaningless interactions between physical systems.  For these dualisms and monistic reductionisms, the sensible world is viewed as lacking any sense, that is, any intrinsic meaning or value.

By engaging in the complexity of sense, it is possible to explore the intertwining of matter and meaning without reducing one to the other and without viewing them as mutually exclusive opposites.  However, this does not necessarily imply that matter and meaning are a homogeneous unity.  Perhaps we could describe the relations between matter and meaning in terms of the sense of touch.  To touch something is to become one with it while also remaining distinct.  For example, when a cat’s paw touches a human hand, they come together in contact, yet their differences remain intact. 

Touching and being touched by a hand or a paw can be a helpful way to experience a sense of the field of Religion and Ecology.  This field does not relegate sense to mutually exclusive domains, with matter as the domain of the physical sciences and meaning as the domain of the humanities and of religious worldviews.  Rather, this field recognizes the mutual embrace of meaning and matter.  Bringing together multiple perspectives from religious communities, sciences, and humanities, the field of Religion and Ecology engages the sense of the world, facilitating respectful and tactful contact between all the inhabitants of the Earth community.

Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally
California Institute of Integral Studies
Forum on Religion and Ecology
Web Content Managers & Newsletter Editors



2. 2009 Meeting of the American Academy of Religion

We would like to inform you of two calls for papers for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), taking place in Montréal, Quebec on November 7-10, 2009.  These calls for papers come from the Religion and Ecology Group and the Animals and Religion Consultation.


The Religion and Ecology Group

The Religion and Ecology Group invites proposals exploring sustainable human-Earth relations involving religion, culture, biodiversity, and environment. We encourage thematically coherent panels and individual papers. One session, co-sponsored with the Bioethics group, will focus on global justice through the lenses of Ecology and Bioethics. Other topics include: 1) ecological Hinduism, Yoga, and Jainism in North America (potentially co-sponsored with North American Hinduism); 2) religion, ecology, and globalization (colonialism, imperialism, population, pronatalism, political holism, food); 3) sustainability (problems, tensions, and uncertainties; green buildings, green burials); 4) religion, ecology, and science (including Darwin); 5) environmental values and practice (including scholarship and activism, reformation or radical change); 6) human dimensions (mourning, guilt, spiritual affinity, affectivity, satiation and sufficiency, ecological ruin and triage, ethnobiology , listening to Earth, communication with animals); and 7) religion, ecology, and popular culture (e.g., science fiction).

For more information, visit the Religion and Ecology Group’s AAR website:



If you have any questions, please contact one of the Religion and Ecology Group co-chairs, David L. Barnhill or Whitney Sanford, at barnhill@uwosh.edu or wsanford@ufl.edu.

PLEASE NOTE: Our group is up for review this year, and there is a chance that we might be moved to Section status, with 5 regular panels rather than 2. So we strongly encourage you to submit proposals: individual papers, pre-formed panels, and pre-arranged paper sessions. The quantity as well as quality of proposals will help the cause. Spread the word.


The Animals and Religion Consultation

The Animals and Religion Consultation invites papers and panels considering animals as liminal figures; “real” animals and “symbolic” animals; healing and animals; globalization and differences in categorization of animals; food, vegetarianism, and incorporation of animals and religion by the Humane Society of the United States, particularly the impact of food choices on global warming and its connection to animals; intersections between critical theory, continental philosophy, religion, and animal studies; animals, place, and space in the religious imagination; indigenous traditions and animals; animals in the religious imagination, particularly in literature; and problematic aspects of the domesticated and wild animal categories.

We especially encourage paper and/or panel proposals that address the ways in which studying animals and religion can help us rethink our approaches to the study of religion more broadly. Scholars from any discipline are encouraged to submit proposals.

Paper and/or panel proposals should include a 1,000 word proposal and 150-word abstract. (Your name and contact information is sent automatically with the proposal so you do not have to submit a separate participant form.) Proposals must be submitted via the AAR’s online OP3 system at http://www.aarweb.org/Meetings/Annual_Meeting/Current_Meeting/OP3/default.asp.


If you have any questions, please contact one of the Animals and Religion Consultation co-chairs, Aaron Gross or Dave Aftandilian, at aarongross@umail.ucsb.edu or d.aftandilian@tcu.edu.  

3. 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religion, in partnership with the Forum on Religion and Ecology, will be held in Melbourne, Australia on December 3-9, 2009.

Environmental concerns, collaborations, and actions, as informed by religious perspectives, will be a central theme of the 2009 Parliament. Program submissions on “Healing the Earth with Care and Concern” are welcome, particularly focusing on Climate Change, Bio Diversity, the Earth Charter, the Universe Story and World Religions, and Securing Food and Water for all People.

The 2009 Parliament will convene thousands of people from around the world to renew their work for the future of the planet. The theme is “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth.” We see an urgent need to cultivate awareness of our global interconnectedness, and this Parliament will honor the struggles and spiritualities of the Indigenous Peoples around the globe, particularly highlighting the Aboriginal communities of Australia. Theory and dialogue are linked to choices and actions: the new Melbourne Convention Center is the first in the world to achieve a “6 Star Green Star” environmental rating, and the Parliament is working towards making this event carbon neutral.


4. News: Catholic Bishops in the Philippines Call for Moratorium on Mining and Logging 
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has recently written a pastoral letter insisting that destructive mining and logging practices be stopped.  The letter (“Upholding the Sanctity of Life”) and related press stories can be found at the following two websites:


5. Events

Below are ten events related to the field of Religion and Ecology.

Science and Religion: Conflict or Convergence?”
The Brown Symposium
Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, USA
February 5-6, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/brownsymposium/ 

National Consultation on Global Warming
Church of South India Synod Centre, Chennai, India
February 12-14, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://fore.research.yale.edu/events/2009/CSI_National_Consultation_on_Global_Warming.pdf

(pdf download)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting
Panel: “Toward the Science and Ethics of a Culture of Sustainability,” with Ursula Goodenough, John Grim, Paul Retian, Holmes Rolston, and Mary Evelyn Tucker
Special Invited Address: Al Gore
Chicago, Illinois, USA
February 12-16, 2009
For More Information about the Meeting, visit: http://www.aaas.org/meetings/
For More Information about Al Gore’s address, visit: http://www.aaas.org/meetings/2009/program/lectures/gore.shtml

Climate Changes: Planetary, Religious, and Theological”
Lecture with Dr. Michael S. Hogue 
Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA, USA
February 18, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://fore.research.yale.edu/events/2009/Climate_Changes_with_Hogue.pdf (pdf download)


Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Theology and Energy (ICTE)
University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College, Conway, AR, USA
February 20-21, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.uca.edu/

Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture and Fifth Annual Fundraising Celebration
Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education
Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, FL, USA
February 20-21, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.fgcu.edu/cese/  



Spirit into Sustainability”
Interfaith Event at Sustainable Living Festival
BMW Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
February 22, 2009, 3-5pm
For More Information, visit: http://fore.research.yale.edu/events/2009/Spirit_into_Sustainability.pdf (pdf download)


The National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC)
The National Prayer Breakfast for Creation Care
Washington Week 2009
Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., USA
February 23, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://nrccc.net/

The Sacred in the Metropolis”
International Expert Seminar
Hof van Liere, University of Antwerp, Belgium
March 24, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.hiw.kuleuven.be/ned/nieuws/bijlagen/2008/20081210_ucsia_CfP.pdf (pdf download)

“Understanding Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities”
Inaugural National Conference on Sustainability and the Humanities
Keynote Speaker: Carolyn Merchant
Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA
May 14-16, 2009
Deadline for Proposals: March 1, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=166467 


6. New Book: Love God, Heal Earth

Love God, Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment

Edited by Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham
St. Lynn’s Press, 2009

What does it take to power a great awakening about Earth’s environmental crisis?  Until recently, science has been alone in sounding the alarms while many religious leaders have held back, viewing global warming as a purely secular issue.  Now, in an unprecedented demonstration of unity and moral purpose, religious voices from across the spectrum–liberal, conservative, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists–are joining in one of the largest movements in human history, declaring the environment to be an urgent matter of faith.  In Love God, Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment, the Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham brings together 21 highly regarded spiritual leaders from diverse faiths to make the case for environmental stewardship and show how their faith communities are tackling the issue of religion an d environment. 

Mary Evelyn Tucker has a chapter in this book called “Renewing Hope.”

To order the book or read more about it, visit: http://www.theregenerationproject.org/


7. Report on Interfaith Conference on Climate Change

We are pleased to share a report on the Interfaith Conference on Climate Change that took place in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 2-5, 2008. The report was written by Harfiyah Haleem (of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in London) and Fachruddin Mangunjaya (of Conservation International in Indonesia).

To read a pdf version of the conference report, visit: http://fore.research.yale.edu/events/2008/Interfaith_Climate_Change_Conference.pdf


8. Online Discussion: “Dharma, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics”  

Recently Dr. Pankaj Jain from North Carolina State University gave an online discussion about “Dharma, Hinduism and Environmental Ethics.” You can listen to the talk at Brown Bag Radio: http://www.brownbagradio.net/

9. Focus on the Web: Professional Development

This month we want to direct your attention to the Professional Development section of the Forum website. This section contains information about workshops, calls for papers, conferences, events, academic groups, programs, and grants related to the field of Religion and Ecology. We are continually updating the numerous sections of the Forum website, so please contact us at news@religionandecology.org to share news, suggestions, or corrections for the website.

10. From the Field: “City, Nature, Religion,” by Richard Bohannon

Historically, environmentalists and environmental scholars have tended to hold what Andrew Light calls an “urban blind spot,” either ignoring cities altogether or thinking of them simply as something to escape. This has been especially true of much literature in religion and ecology.

While it is now, thankfully, rather common for religion and ecology to think about urban life as a locus of environmental concern – especially through engagement with the environmental justice movement or the growing popularity of sustainable architecture – there has often been little engagement with the idea of the city as such. That is, we have not turned attention to the city as a socially produced category to the same degree that we have thought about the environment or nature.

One interdisciplinary sliver of the academy – which I label loosely as urban environmental theory – has nonetheless begun to rigorously question our conceptions of the city from an environmental perspective. Urban theorists attempt to transgress the lines between city and nature in various, not always harmonious, ways. They use Marxist theory to describe the city as the metabolization of nature, for instance, or evoke Donna Haraway and portray the city as a cyborg. Several urban historians, most notably William Cronon, have demonstrated that the historical evolution of cities such as Chicago and New York must be understood in the ever-growing web of ecological relationships they form. One thus can’t understand the history of Chicago without understanding the history of deforestation in Wisconsin, for instance – and by implication , one can’t understand Wisconsin’s forests today without taking account of Chicago.

But what might this have to do with those of us who study religion and ecology? (And indeed, there are no urban environmental theorists who delve into the religious sphere). To begin, it tells us that study of the environment necessitates the study of the built environment. Thus to study nature, ecology or the environment in a way that is divorced from the reality of cities is to miss a very significant part of the picture.

It hints at something specific about religion as well, however. To risk over-simplification, if we take these two premises for granted: 1) most religion and ecology scholars have been correct in viewing religious communities and narratives as a major force in creating our perceptions of nature in the West, and 2) most urban environmental theorists have helpfully described some of the ways in which definitions of nature are inevitably tied up in definitions of the city, then it would follow that religious voices have been a meaningful force in developing our environmental (or anti-environmental) conceptions of the city today in the United States.

My own research starts with this assumption, and investigates religious responses to a major flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota – not a major city by any means, but one that has evocatively recreated itself and its relationship with the river. 

To use a brief example from my work: during the flood which devastated Grand Forks in 1997 and threatened other nearby cities, religious publications (e.g., bulletins and newsletters) portray God as squarely on the side of the city in a war against a dangerous and amoral river. In descriptions laced with battle imagery, dikes were blessed with holy water, relief workers were described as godsends and angels, and multiple sources were explicitly clarify that the flood was not an “act of God.” 

While such images should not be considered normative – they even quickly disappeared in Grand Forks as the city recovered – they should give pause to those of us who are concerned with promoting religious perceptions of the city that can underpin a more sustainable future. Like Val Plumwood’s famous encounter with a crocodile, nature can be dramatically antagonistic to human desires, and even to human life. In this context, theologies that too quickly place God within a beneficent nature become rather unconvincing.

The subsequent recovery in Grand Forks has been environmentally complex. The flood helped them to secure federal funding so that the city, like Fargo to the south and Winnipeg to the north, could rebuild its dike system to more readily protect it against future floods. They have chosen to tighten their control of nature, in other words, walling themselves off from the river’s curving line amidst a flat, rectilinear grid of streets and farms. At the same time, they have embraced the river, creating miles of trails (you can ski on them in winter) and turning low-lying neighborhoods into parks and a campground.

The ethical questions raised here are enormous, but, as this is a newsletter, two relatively broad observations remain. First, when religious language appears in responses to the flood, it most often places God (or faith, or the church) firmly within the city and the infrastructure that protects the human inhabitants from the unpredictable wiles of nature – and, importantly, while this is a story of antagonism and control, it is one which makes sense in a time of crisis. More broadly: for residents of Grand Forks, or of cities like New Orleans or Galveston who have experienced worse trauma, a primary way of encountering the natural world has not been through escaping the city (though farmland and wildlife abound), but through the built environment of the city itself.

Richard Bohannon
St. John’s University
Collegeville, Minnesota

11. Worldviews and Other Journals

Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
This journal has as its focus the relationships between religion, culture and ecology world-wide. Articles discuss major world religious traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism or Christianity; the traditions of indigenous peoples; new religious movements; and philosophical belief systems, such as pantheism, nature spiritualities, and other religious and cultural worldviews in relation to the cultural and ecological systems. Focusing on a range of disciplinary areas including Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Sociology and Theology, the journal also presents special issues that center around one theme.

To receive a free sample copy of Worldviews, email marketing@brill.nl.

For more information, visit: http://www.brill.nl/wo

For more information on other journals related to religion and ecology and to environmental ethics/philosophy visit: http://fore.research.yale.edu/publications/journals/index.html. If you know of a publication that needs to be added to this list, email news@religionandecology.org.