The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
2.7 (July 2008)
1. Editorial by Whitney Bauman, “Changes in the Forum Family”
2. From the Field: Forrest Clingerman and Mark Dixon, “A Field Report on the Ohio Northern University Working Group on Religion, Ethics, and Nature”
3. Focus on the Web: The Shift to Yale
4. The Natural History of the Bible, by Daniel Hillel
5. United Church Of Christ Announcement on Climate Change
6. Conference Announcement
7. Sermon Contest
8. Events, Professional Organizations, Calls for Papers, and Journals
Greetings! Changes abound here at the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and I just want to take this opportunity to describe some of those to you.
First, this marks the last issue and month that I will be working with the Forum on Religion and Ecology as Research Associate and Web Content Manager. I am sad to leave, of course, but very excited about my new position as Assistant Professor of Religion and Science at Florida International University in Miami. I look forward to working with the Forum in other capacities in the future, and of course, look forward to working in the field of “religion and ecology” for many years to come. I am very thankful for the grounding in “religion and ecology” that the Forum has given me and for all of the wonderful opportunities to work with Mary Evelyn, John, and other folks associated with the forum. I know that I will be drawing on the Forum as I move on to become a part of a campus and community that will be struggling with issues of global climate change in the near future. If you need to contact me personally, you can still do so at the same email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With every ending, there is also a beginning. I am pleased to introduce to you the new Forum Web Content Managers and Newsletter Editors, Sam Mickey and Elizabeth McAnally. Sam and Elizabeth studied philosophy and environmental ethics at the University of North Texas. Currently, they are doctoral students studying integral ecology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. They have been working with the Forum over the past couple of years, updating information on the website. I look forward to where they will take the website and newsletters, and I couldn’t imagine passing this job along to anyone else! You can reach Sam and Elizabeth with the Forum newsletter and website concerns at: email@example.com.
Finally, many of you are probably confused about “where” the Forum is physically located. Well, there is a reason for that. The website has been hosted at Harvard; Mary Evelyn, John, and Tara have been working from the East Coast; Sam, Elizabeth, and I have been working from the West Coast.
We are also pleased to let you know that the Forum on Religion and Ecology and the website are officially moving to Yale. This is because Mary Evelyn and John have appointments to teach in the joint program in religion and ecology between the Divinity School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They also have appointments in the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and the Religious Studies Department. We are extremely grateful to the Center for the Environment at Harvard, which has hosted the Forum website for nearly ten years. Our special thanks to Michael McElroy and Dan Schrag, the directors of the Center.
The new website address is: http://www.yale.edu/religionandecology.
Please send all emails related to the Forum website and newsletter to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please send all other correspondence to:
The Forum on Religion and Ecology
Yale Divinity School
Bellamy Hall, 638
354 Canner Street
New Haven, CT 06511
I hope that you enjoy this issue of the newsletter, and look forward to sitting back and reading the many issues to come!
Forum on Religion and Ecology
Berkeley, CA, USA
“A Field Report on the Ohio Northern University Working Group on Religion, Ethics, and Nature”
As the readers of the FORE newsletter know, environmental issues are not simply scientific or political in nature–they are also spiritual and religious matters. It was with this insight in mind that a group of faculty members at Ohio Northern University started the Working Group on Religion, Ethics and Nature (WGREN). Begun in 2005 with funds from both the Metanexus Institute and Ohio Northern, the group has quickly become an active voice on the ONU campus. The ONU Working Group was started with representatives from religion, philosophy, and the sciences, but now also includes students at the university and representatives from community organizations, such as the local ministerial association, the local public library, the Audubon Society and the Girl Scouts. By bringing these people together, the group seeks to have broader impact on campus and beyond. All this is reflected in WGREN’s statement of purpose:
The ONU Working Group on Religion, Ethics and Nature recognizes that issues that concern the natural environment are more than scientific or technological problems, in the most basic sense these are also ethical and spiritual concerns. The simple truth is that no permanent solution to these environmental problems will be possible unless it is includes a fundamental reorientation in our spiritual attitudes about, and ethical obligations to, the natural environment. Thus WGREN is a local initiative whose purpose is to facilitate dialog between the academic disciplines and non-academic communities on issues that relate to religion, ethics and the natural environment. WGREN’s principal aims are (1) to sponsor forums on campus and in the local and regional communities to encourage dialogue about the interactions between the world’s diverse religious traditions, ethical theories and the sciences, in particular as these interactions relate to the natural environment, (2) to provide opportunities for conversations and collaborations between professors and students on particular issues, and (3) to increase awareness on campus and in the local and regional communities about the diverse religious perspectives on specific scientific and environmental issues.
WGREN’s Past Programs
Because of its desire to advance an interdisciplinary dialogue, WGREN has created and sponsored a number of different types of events. The aim has been to attract a wide audience at Ohio Northern and in the community in general. Certain events are infrequent, but have been important for the success of the Working Group. For example, a student-centered retreat was held at the University’s Metzger Nature Center in eastern Ohio during the first year of the Working Group. This provided students with an opportunity to engage in discussions about religion and ecology in an informal, relaxed setting. Conversations were coupled with visits to some of the unique ecosystems in the area. Likewise, a roundtable discussion on climate change was held as a way of educating the community. The roundtable included presentations from scientists, pastors, and local politicians.
While these events have been well attended and important for the Working Group (a full schedule can be seen at www.onu.edu/org/wgren), two event series in particular have made an impact at Ohio Northern: the WGREN lecture series, and its book discussion groups.
From the start, WGREN has tried to create a local dialogue focusing on how religion and ethics contribute to our understanding of the natural world. One of the most important ways in which it has done so is through a series of lectures on the Ohio Northern campus. In the first two years of its existence, WGREN has been able to bring internationally known scholars to Ada, Ohio. Speakers presented formal lectures to audiences of community members, students, and faculty. Just as importantly, however, they have led classes and more informal discussions to further engage students at the University. During its first year, WGREN brought William Jordan III to campus. Jordan is Co-Director, DePaul University Institute for Nature and Culture and has been an influential voice in restoration ecology. During 2007-08, two lecturers were hosted by WGREN. Mark Wallace of Swarthmore College talked about The New Green Religion: Why Faith is Vital to Saving the Planet.” In the spring, Pall Skulason, a philosopher from the University of Iceland, discussed “On the Spiritual Understanding of Nature.”
One of the most successful components of WGREN’s programs has been book discussion groups. These discussion groups consist in 12-20 participants in addition to the discussion leader. Books are provided to participants, and each group is open to university students, faculty, and staff, as well as local community members. As a result, these groups have brought people from diverse disciplines and backgrounds together to discuss recent books or anthologies on religion, ecological science, and the environment. Among those books that have been discussed are Ted Peters’ Evolution From Creation To New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, And Convergence, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Norman Habel’s Readings From The Perspective Of Earth and David Haberman’s River Of Love In An Age Of Pollution.
Future Endeavors and Two Calls for Participation
We warmly invite readers of this newsletter to participate in two projects of the Working Group: a weekly meditation series and an academic conference to be held in April 2009.
An ongoing program is the weekly meditation (www.onu.edu/org/wgren/essays-index.html). The meditations provide another forum in which individuals can contribute their voices to ongoing dialog about the natural environment’s spiritual and ethical dimensions. In other words, these are an important avenue to promote new and different discussions as part of WGREN’s mission. Thus the meditations are short reflections on spiritual, ethical and environmental concerns, and in particular on the individual contributor’s own personal experiences. In the past these have included poems as well as prose. The meditations also alternate between those that inspire us to think about some issue or experience in a novel manner and those that provide instruction in or encourage special activities.
The Working Group seeks contributions for this ongoing mediation series in the desire to widen the participation in this project to engage as many different voices as possible. Our hope is that this will provide a unique opportunity for those engaged in environmental ethics and theology, and more broadly in the dialogue surrounding religion, ethics, and nature. Information for potential contributors can be found on the WGREN website.
On 17-19 April 2009 WGREN will culminate its initial program series with an academic conference on the Ohio Northern University campus in Ada, Ohio. True to its interdisciplinary nature, the conference will draw on scientists, theologians, religion scholars and ethicists. The conference’s theme is “Recreate, Replace, Restore: Exploring the Intersections Between Meanings and Environments.” Representing the diversity of disciplines that the organizers hope to include in the conference, speakers will include David Abram (Alliance for Wild Ethics), Dan Spencer (University of Montana), and Stephen Kellert (Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies), as well as others speakers from the sciences and the humanities. This conference will be a mixture of panels, plenary talks, and paper and poster presentations. An opportunity to visit a local restoration project will also be part of the conference. The aim of this conference is to further the ongoing dialogue on religion, ethics, and the environment by exploring three interrelated concepts: to recreate, to replace, and to restore. The interdisciplinary dialogue hosted by the conference is meant to illuminate certain unique dimensions at the crossroads between finding value and reflecting on one’s place in the world. Each of these terms has diverse religious, ethical, and scientific connotations. Each converges on the ways in which humans both think about and act upon their surroundings. And each radically questions the damaging conceptual divisions between nature and culture, human and environment, and scientific explanation and religious/ethical understanding. Papers, discussions and keynotes will reflect on how one or more of these terms illuminates the intersection between questions of meaning and the environments in which we find ourselves.
To further explore these issues, conference organizers are seeking papers in the humanities, social sciences and the ecological sciences on the conference theme of “Recreate, Replace, Restore: Exploring the Intersections between Meanings and Environments.” Individual papers should be approximately 20-minutes reading time. We strongly encourage submissions from diverse scientific, religious, and philosophical approaches.
Possible paper and poster themes include (though are not limited to):
• The philosophical, ethical, or religious dimensions of restoration in all its aspects.
• Scientific assessments of restoration or the reintroduction of species.
• Built environments, nature, and the meaning of place.
• Theological and philosophical reflections on human alterations of environments.
• Ways of interpreting and/or responding to the meaning of individual places.
• Interpretations or critical assessments of the conference concepts (“Recreate, replace, restore”).
• Identification of areas of ecology that are unrepresented in discussions of creation or creativity.
• Other paper topics related to “recreate, replace, restore”.
A larger call for papers is available on the WGREN website. The deadline for initial proposals is October 31, 2008. Paper proposals should be sent to the conference organizers Mark Dixon (email@example.com) or Forrest Clingerman (firstname.lastname@example.org). Poster proposals should be sent to conference organizer Jay Mager (email@example.com). All proposals should include name, contact information, and 3-5 keywords, in addition to a 300-500 word abstract. A fuller call for papers as well as additional information about the conference can be found at www.o nu.edu/org/wgren.
As mentioned in the Editorial above, the Forum website is moving to Yale. Please be sure to change any saved links you may have to the new site: http://www.yale.edu/religionandecology. Our new website will continue to have the same information and format, and we will continue to update it regularly. Our old website will still be up for a while longer, but it will not include new updates.
Traversing river valleys, steppes, deserts, rain-fed forests, farmlands, and seacoasts, the early Israelites experienced all the contrasting ecological domains of the ancient Near East. As they grew from a nomadic clan to become a nation-state in Canaan, they interacted with indigenous societies of the region, absorbed selective elements of their cultures, and integrated them into a radically new culture of their own. Daniel Hillel reveals the interplay between the culture of the Israelites and the environments within which it evolved. More than just affecting their material existence, the region’s ecology influenced their views of creation and the creator, their conception of humanity’s role on Earth, their own distinctive identity and destiny, and their ethics. In “The Natural History of the Bible,” Hillel shows how the eclectic experiences of the Israelites shaped their perception of the overarching unity governing nature’s varied manifestations. Where other soci eties idolized disparate and capricious forces of nature, the Israelites discerned essential harmony and higher moral purpose. Inspired by visionary prophets, they looked to a singular, omnipresent, omnipotent force of nature mandating justice and compassion in human affairs. Monotheism was promoted as state policy and centralized in the Temple of Jerusalem. After it was destroyed and the people were exiled, a collection of scrolls distilling the nation’s memories and spiritual quest served as the focus of faith in its stead. A prominent environmental scientist who surveyed Israel’s land and water resources and has worked on agricultural development projects throughout the region, Daniel Hillel is a uniquely qualified expert on the natural history of the lands of the Bible. Combining his scientific work with a passionate, life-long study of the Bible, Hillel offers new perspectives on biblical views of the environment and the origin of ethical monotheism as an outgrowth of t he Israelites’ internalized experiences.
United Church of Christ Launches Climate Action Campaign
Churches from Four Corners of State Rise to Challenge
Church bells normally ring on Sunday mornings to alert the neighborhood that God is calling the faithful to worship. But on June 22, United Church of Christ (UCC) churches throughout the Commonwealth will begin a campaign to ring their church bells 350 times signaling the desire for real steps towards solving the global warming crisis.
“Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But we would certainly not want to subject ourselves to the mosquito-borne disease and rising seas our neighbors now face because of climate change,” said the Rev. Carrie Bail, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, UCC in Williamstown, whose church bell will ring 350 times on June 22. “Because we can no longer stand idly by, we’ve started to take real steps in our own church building. And we also want to join with people around the world to demand a political solution,” added the Rev. Dale Rosenberger, Senior Minister at Dennis Union Church in Dennis.
The number 350 comes from the latest scientific estimates of how much carbon dioxide is a safe level in the atmosphere. At the moment, burning coal, oil, and gas have taken that number too high—the atmosphere currently holds about 385 parts per million of carbon dioxide. “As a result, the planet is heating up too fast,” said Bill McKibben, environmental author and coordinator of the worldwide 350.org campaign.
“In December of 2009, the world’s leaders will meet in Copenhagen to forge an international agreement on global warming,” McKibben said. “So people in every country on earth are mobilizing to make sure that they don’t bend to the special interests and instead meet the targets science has laid out. African villages are planting 350 trees at the edge of town; we’ve even had people planning 350 mile marches to bear witness to this message.”
The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Minister and President of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, called the bell-ringing, which is taking place in churches across the state, “more than symbolic.”
“As the largest Protestant denomination in the Commonwealth, as congregation after congregation decides to ring its bell 350 times, more and more of our 82,000 members will learn why the number 350 is so important. And when Christians learn that our daily choices threaten the most vulnerable people on earth and all future generations, they will change their behavior and demand that governments change everyone’s behavior.”
Antal has issued a challenge to the 400 United Church of Christ congregations in the state, asking that 350 of them ring their bells 350 times by the 350th day of the year – December 15. Four churches – one in each corner of the Commonwealth – are initiating this campaign: First Congregational Church, UCC in Williamstown: June 22; Dennis Union Church in Dennis: June 22; Old North Church in Marblehead: July 5; and First Congregational Church in Sheffield: (date still being set).
The ringing of 350 church bells is happening in many churches across the country.
Photo / Video opportunities:
A photo at any of these 4 churches ringing their bell. Call to see if they have special plans – for example to have the Sunday School children take turns pulling the bell rope/pushing the bell button.
Dennis Union Church has just renovated their building with several “green” features.
The sound of the booming bell of one of these four churches.
For more information:
Rev. Jim Antal, Minister & President
Mass. Conference, UCC
One Badger Road
Framingham, MA 01702
Assistant Willie Sordillo:
(508) 875-5233, ext. 225
Rev. Dale Rosenberger
Dennis Union Church
713 Main Street
PO Box 2020
Dennis, MA 02638-5020
Rev. Carrie Bail
First Congregational Church, UCC
906 Main Street
Williamstown, MA 01267-2639
Rev. Jill Graham
First Congregational Church
125 Main Street
PO Box 387
Sheffield, MA 01257-0387
Rev. Dennis Calhoun
Old North Church
8 Stacey Street
Marblehead, MA 01945-3565
For additional information on the science behind the number 350:
Contact Phil Rice at Sustainability Institute at (802) 436-1277 x103.
View slides, “Why350?.ppt.”
“Recreate, Replace, Restore: Exploring the Intersections between Meanings and Environments”
A Conference at Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio
17-19 April 2009
Proposal Deadline: 31 October 2008
For more information: http://www.onu.edu/org/wgren/conference-index.html
Submit an Entry to Earth Ministry’s “St. Francis Sermon Smack-Down”
Find yourself preaching in the shower?
Got a sermon in you ready to bust out?
The sermon contest is open to anyone and everyone! All you have to do is submit a sermon, homily, or message of faith in action related to care for God’s creation! Three finalists each will be selected in lay and clergy categories to give their sermons at Earth Ministry’s Celebration of St. Francis in October. See the promotional flyer for full contest rules and fabulous prizes.
Submission deadline is July 31, 2008. Enter today!
Send submissions to Deanna Matzen (Earth Ministry’s Operations Manager):
Calls for Papers:
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; 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, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit: http://www.brill.nl/wo.