Can the World’s Religions Help Save Us from Ecological Peril?
By Paul Hond
Scholars and religious leaders argue that a spiritual connection to nature is essential for environmental recovery.
“The ecological situation requires the moral force of all the world’s religions,” says Mary Evelyn Tucker ’85GSAS, a historian of religion who holds a dual appointment at the Yale School of the Environment and the Yale Divinity School. She and her husband, John Grim, lead the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and are recognized as the founders of the field, which began as a series of conferences at Harvard in the late 1990s and today includes sixteen graduate programs nationwide. “We all understand that the awe and wonder of the natural world is something that captivates every human — we see it expressed in art, music, poetry — and if we leave that aside, we lose a sense of motivation, joy, engagement, and all the dynamizing energy that’s needed for ecological movements,” Tucker says. “The energy must come from a love of the earth community in all its complexity and beauty.”
Tucker notes that all the world’s religions have ecological components, from Hindu principles of asceticism and loving devotion toward nature to Buddhist concepts of interconnection and compassion to Jainism’s emphasis on nonviolence to Western traditions valuing creation. And she observes that all religions are broadening their teachings and practices in order to meet the ecological challenge. “Their theologies need to be expanded,” she says. “We call it retrieval, reevaluation, and reconstruction. All religions have something to offer, and that’s really the foundation for this new and emerging field.”