Deforestation and Religious Collaboration: Approaching Environmental Issues through Interreligious Dialogue
By Karen Veslemøy Lemvik
Master’s Thesis in Religion and Diversity: Conflict and Coexistence
University of Oslo The Faculty of Theology
This master’s thesis looks at the connection between interreligious dialogue and environmental issues. The aim of the study is to look at three elements, namely: 1) religion in ecological contexts, 2) models of interreligious dialogue in a specific environmental context, and 3) what contribution religion has to environmental issues. These elements are embedded in the research question of the thesis, which is: “how can one approach environmental issues through interreligious dialogue?”. To answer this, qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives from the global initiative ‘Interfaith Rainforest Initiative’. By identifying reoccurring themes in the interviews, four main dimensions of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative were discovered: reach, inclusivity, action-orientation, and religion. Through discussing the main findings in light of existing theory on interreligious dialogue, and religion and ecology, three main observations are made. Firstly, the connection between religion and spirituality is somewhat unclear, and the division of the two terms causes challenges. This calls for a revision of the terms. Secondly, a revision of the terms should include a dimension of religions’ relation to the natural world, as the connection between religion and ecology is central in the intersection between interreligious dialogue and environmental issues. Thirdly, new understandings of interreligious dialogue are required. While the specific example in this study is an example of a dialogue in the form of social action, existing action-oriented models of interreligious dialogue fails to speak to the width of activities and goals of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. The study discovers several ways in which one can approach environmental issues through interreligious dialogue. The interreligious profile opens for the participation of a variety of religions and actors, and through this has the potential to reach numerous people in multiple contexts. This dialogue also brings a variety of language, traditions, values, and narratives into an environmental context. These elements function to elevate environmental issues from practical issues to ethical issues, and as such opens for the mobilization of people on both an ethical and a spiritual level.