October 2008

The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
2.10 (October 2008)


1. Editorial by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally

2. From the Field: Jim McGarry

3. Focus on the Web: Projects http://fore.research.yale.edu/publications/projects/index.html

4. New Book: The Green Bible

5. Religion and Ecology Events at the American Academy of Religion

6. Conference Announcements

7. Worldviews and Other Journals

1. Editorial by Sam Mickey & Elizabeth McAnally Dear Forum Colleagues, 

Greetings! We think you will find a lot of exciting information in this October 2008 Newsletter, including information about publications, projects, and upcoming events and conferences related to religion and ecology. We have invited Jim McGarry to share his experiences as a teacher in the field of religion and ecology. Having recently finished an “Earth Care” class for women who were experiencing a transitional year after being released from prison, he has composed for us a short piece describing the class, including the texts, films, and exercises that guided the class and some inspiring stories from his interactions with these women.


When we reflect on the classes, conferences, publications, and projects taking place in the field of religion and ecology, two images come to mind: an ecotone and a rhizome. These images can be seen as metaphors for the field of religion and ecology. An ecotone is a transitional area located between two ecosystems or ecological communities. For instance, the boundary between a forest and a prairie is an ecotone. Another example of an ecotone is an estuary, where the freshwater of a river meets the saltwater of the sea’s tide. Ecotones can be particularly fecund places where there is much diversity and density of plant and animal populations. Such diversity and density are produced through what are called edge effects. Ecotones are sites of boundaries, borders, and edges, sites of dynamic tension between ecosystems. This tension is indicated in the etymology of ecotone, which comes from the conjunction of the Greek words for “house” or “dwelling” (oikos) and “tension” (tonos). We would like to suggest that the field of religion and ecology can be understood as an ecotone, a place at the boundary where religion and ecology meet. The edge effects that occur at this boundary facilitate the emergence of various discourses and practices that bring religious worldviews into dynamic tension with ecology. 


A rhizome could be another metaphor for the field of religion and ecology. The word “rhizome” comes from the Greek word for “root” (rhiza), and in its contemporary usage, it refers to a horizontal and often subterranean stem that generates roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes are sometimes called rootstalks (or rootstocks), and they are similar to tubers and bulbs. Examples of rhizomes include ginger, turmeric, Bermuda grass, violets, and irises. Rhizomes form knotty networks in which roots and shoots are interconnected. The roots growing down into the ground and the shoots growing up out of the ground emerge from the nodes of the rhizome’s spreading stems. Unlike the simple linear structure of a tree, the network of a rhizome produces much more complex entanglements and interconnections that keep its roots in contact with its shoots.   The field of religion and ecology can be understood as a rhizome where growths in religious worldviews and in ecology emerge together from nodes of an interconnected network. In short, metaphors of rhizomes and ecotones provide ways of imagining the radical interconnectedness of religion and ecology while still recognizing the uniqueness that distinguishes religious from ecological perspectives. These metaphors apply to many of the interactions that connect religion and ecology, including interactions between science and religion, between theories and practices, between research and activism, and between multiple religious worldviews converging on ecological issues. By engaging these metaphors, we can attend to the dynamic tension and growth that occur at the intersections where religion and ecology converge.


Sam Mickey and Elizabeth McAnally

Forum on Religion and Ecology

Web Content Managers & Newsletter Editors





2. From the Field: Jim McGarry


“An Earth Care Class for Women in Their First Year Out of Prison”


I have been teaching courses on Religion and Ecology for several years now, mostly at two San Francisco high schools and as an adjunct in a local college. I recently completed a unique and very fulfilling class—with a group of women just out of prison.


These women live together for a transitional year in a household sponsored by a religious order of women—some very Green Nuns. These sisters, and the lay staff that works with them, wanted an hour class for six weeks or so to help the women integrate environmental responsibility into the lives they were rebuilding. An immediate need was to boost the recycling and trim water, energy and other waste in their current, transitional household, but the directors did not just want a practical class—they wanted a theological approach that could offer sustaining ideas and practices for the lives of these women ahead.


My wife Kathy was my co-teacher and she is an excellent “process-teacher,” facilitating the active involvement of the dozen or so women in the sessions. I designed the curriculum which was organized around topics that are crucial globally and are “in our hands” locally: energy, water, soil, trees, minerals. Our last class we called Walk the Land; we headed over to the marsh and wetlands that is at the mouth of Colma Creek, the watershed of the house in which these women live.


We were guided also by three ‘texts’: Each of the students received a copy of the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Earth and Faith: a Book for Reflection and Action, published in 2000. It is a compendium of rich ecology resources in both science and the world’s religious traditions. We also provided several copies of the Earth Score Handbook, a detailed, rigorous self-audit tool for households. These two provided the theoretical and practical activities for their “homework.” Finally, we used the fine DVD Renewal, which documents environmental justice struggles of religious communities around the nation. We showed a segment in each class session. For our first class on energy, we showed the piece on mountaintop removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. For our class on water, we showed the segment on water conservation rituals from New Mexico but we also saw a segment from Snitow and Kaufman’s DVD Thirst to frame the issue globally with the story of Bolivia’s fight against privatization. Before we went on our walk to the wetlands of Colma Creek, we saw the segment on the devastation Katrina wrought on the altered the Gulf Coast.


I could discuss in a general way how these students stood out for their intellectual curiosity, how inspiring they were in their determination to be more environmentally responsible, all of which is true. However, I can only begin to reveal the grace I experienced in this class by concluding here with three stories.


At the beginning of our class on Trees, I asked the women to recall a particular tree from their lives that had meaning for them. The stories were varied, though most of the trees came from their childhood. There were memories of climbing and naming, picking fruit and sharing it, sitting in the shade in the hot summer. The memories were specific, sensuous, tender. One woman had no memory of a tree to share and the sadness in the room was palpable. We lingered for longer than I had expected on their recollections and reflections. Then we saw the Renewal DVD segment on the San Francisco-based Green Sangha, inspired by the Thai Buddhist monk who ordained trees, wrapping them in saffron robes to deter loggers, and is now working to convince national magazines to move to recycled paper to save trees.


The stroll at dusk along the Colma Creek wetlands was full of discovery and mystery. The women were amazed at how they felt experiencing just a bit of open space (sky, land, water) so close to their urban home. We stopped and reflected on the history of the San Francisco Bay, imagining how the whole perimeter used to be much like this wetland. We had discussed the price we had paid for doing in over 95% of those wetlands and it helped us appreciate all the more the humble beauty of this place bounded by the corporate headquarters of Genentech to the north and the San Francisco International Airport to the south.


Our final exercise was making creative signage to be strategically posted in the house so that not only these residents but others to come could be helped with the tasks of keeping a green household. The slogans drew on our discussions. At the water taps, the posting was Remember Hetch Hetchy, as many had discovered for the first time where their municipal water supply originates and how John Muir had mourned the inundation of this valley, parallel in several ways to Yosemite. As a reminder to use fewer plastic bags, the women chose Remember Maggie and the Sea Turtles, as Kathy and I had relayed the story from our daughter who learned in school that these grand amphibians mistook plastic bags that blew into the ocean for their main food source, jellyfish, and would consume them leading to death. For turning off the lights, it was Remember the Victims of Katrina and Remember the People of Appalachia , both harking back to those who live in the shadow of refineries or downstream from mountaintop removal and have had all aspects of their health and lives compromised by the coal and petroleum industries.


How does one rebuild one’s life after the mistakes and hard time of prison and the separation from family? There are many new beginnings that need to occur in this precarious first year for women out of prison. Certainly the Earth can be part of the healing, and taking a conscientious role in helping to heal the earth can be one new relationship that is foundational for others. My relationship with these inspiring women has not only enhanced my sensitivity as a teacher but has deepened my relationship to our Sister/Mother Earth, very much a continuing prisoner of our misdeeds. However, with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem “God’s Grandeur,” we can acknowledge a truth about all nature, including our human nature:

And for all this, nature is never spent

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.


Jim McGarry





3. Focus on the Web: Projects http://fore.research.yale.edu/publications/projects/index.html


Did you know that a section of the Forum website contains information about many religious-based grassroots environmental projects taking place around the world? The “Projects” section of the website provides links to these engaged projects, while also providing information about the Earth Charter, which is, according to the website (http://www.earthcharter.org), “a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society for the 21st century.” Along with a brief description of the Earth Charter, the Forum website includes three commentary papers on the Earth Charter, one paper by Douglas Sturm and two papers by Mary Evelyn Tucker. You can explore the “Projects” listed on the Forum website by going to the following address:



As always, these pages are constantly being updated, so if you know of an engaged project that is missing, please send us an email: news@religionandecology.org.



4. New Book: The Green Bible


Published by HarperOne on October 7, 2008, The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God’s vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.


The Green Bible contains the following features:



  • Green-Letter Edition: Verses and passages that speak to God’s care for creation highlighted in green
  • Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  • Essays by Brian McLaren, Cal DeWitt, Barbara Brown Taylor, Pope John Paul II, Ellen Davis, N. T. Wright, Ellen Bernstein, Matthew Sleeth, James Jones, and Gordon Aeschliman
  • Inspirational quotes from Christian teachings throughout the ages
  • A green Bible topical index
  • A personal green Bible trail study guide
  • An appendix with information on further reading, how to get involved, and practical steps to take
  • Recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover





5. Religion and Ecology Events at the American Academy of Religion


We want to remind you about the numerous events related to the field of religion and ecology that will be taking place at this year’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago from October 31 - November 3, 2008.  A list of these events can be found on the Forum website at:




The AAR is a professional, membership-based organization primarily for teachers of religious studies in colleges and universities as well as secondary schools. Please note that paid registration for the annual meeting is required. Further details and registration information can be found at:




The Forum is assisting with the following two events, which are free and open to the public:


Forum on Religion and Ecology Session
Theme: “Heart of the Universe”
Selections from a new film on the universe story with Brian Swimme
Palmer House Hilton Hotel, 17 E


“Where Religion and Ecology Meet: The Field and the Force”
Speaker: Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University
Chicago Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave.
International Ballroom South
Followed by reception, 8:30-10:00pm 



6. Conference Announcements

Religious Environmentalism, Ecological Democracy, and the Problem of Evil”
Hanley Lecture Series with Dr. Roger S. Gottlieb
University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
October 26-27, 2008
For More Information, visit: http://umanitoba.ca/colleges/st_pauls/College_Lecture.html 

Interfaith Climate Summit
Uppsala, Sweden
November 28-29, 2008
For More Information, visit: http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/default.aspx?di=143415&ptid=0


“A Global Congress on World’s Religions after September 11–An Asian Perspective”
New Delhi, India
January 17-20, 2009


Renaissance of the Ancient traditions: Challenges and Solutions”
Third International Conference and Gathering of the Elders
International Center for Cultural Studies (ICCS)
Nagpur, India
January 31-February 5, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.iccsus.org/Conference_Info.php


Global Challenge, Local Action: Ethical Engagement, Partnerships, and Practice”
69th Annual Meeting for the Society for Applied Anthropology
Panel: “Environmental Values and Religiosity: The Expansion of World Religions and the Implications for Environmental Conservation and Stewardship”
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
March 17-21, 2009
For More Information about the conference, visit: http://www.sfaa.net/

For More Information about the panel, contact: Jerry Jacka, jerry_jacka@ncsu.edu


“From the Local to the Global: International Sustainability Conference”
Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA
April 24-26, 2009
For More Information, visit: http://www.villanova.edu/sustainability/yearofsustainabilty/conference 





7. 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; 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 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, please send an email to: news@religionandecology.org.