ABOUT THE WORKSHOP
Taken together, the three Abrahamic traditions include nearly half of the world’s population. These religions, have particular claims to ‘truth,’ which have sometimes led to past conflicts. Yet they share common cosmologies and ethics and provide many similar teachings in their respective sacred texts. They have each developed particular worldviews regarding the value and meaning of life. However, to a large extent they have comparable doctrinal and normative teachings: a belief in one God beyond the known and the observable; a commitment to social justice; and a sense of wonderment towards the universe and Earth, among others.
The Abrahamic religions have exhibited shared sensibilities of global awareness and responsibility and have worked as inspired catalysts for social change. The history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam indicate clearly that these traditions have consistently represented a genuine moral force, while exhibiting strong spiritual energy. Despite secularization and the one-sided criticism of their supposed outdated, ineffective ideologies, the Abrahamic religions remain foundational to how people of these faiths think, feel and act to this day.
Another important element that distinguishes the Abrahamic traditions from other religious ones: all three originate from a similar ecological setting—the dry lands of southwestern Asia—a fact that functionally contributed, at least in the early times, to shaping the human-environment relationship and patterns of interaction.
Current environmental challenges in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) Region and beyond suggest an urgent need for cross disciplinary debate and understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental change as a prelude to successful mitigation and adaptation. Thus, one of the main tasks of this workshop is to explore how the Abrahamic traditions impact the ways in which humans perceive and interact with nature and the potential to translate those perceptions and interactions into positive social and ecological action. More than twenty years ago Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions initiated multiple conferences on issues pertaining to religion and ecology that resulted in the publication of 10 seminal books between 1996 and 1998. Today, the Forum on Religion and Ecology (www.fore.yale.edu) at Yale University continues this work and is “the largest international multi-religious project of its kind” aiming at broadening understanding of the relationships between religious worldviews and environmental issues, in part by promoting scientific dialogue between the fields related to religious studies and other academic disciplines.
This Abrahamic Traditions and Environmental Change workshop builds on these past and present academic conversations with the aim of looking for a means through which the three Abrahamic faiths can help understand and counteract contemporary environmental change in the MENA region. It is also our intention to initiate a relevant, scalable and sustainable collaborative program between MENA scholars & practitioners and their North American and European partners.
WORKSHOP RATIONALE & OBJECTIVES
Human-induced environmental change is not new. Humans have for a very long time accessed elements of the environment to support their expanding needs and wants. The environmental changes of the present time, however, are intensifying and literally creating new environments. The urgency of contemporary environmental change calls for policies and practices that reverse current degradation trends to help produce socially and ecologically sustainable development solutions that are consistent with the broad U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
In their “Overview of World Religions and Ecology,” written in 2009, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim formulated in a clear manner the need for a more holistic ethical change:
“Emerging biocentric, zoocentric, and ecocentric ethics are attentive to life forms, animal species, and ecosystems within a planetary context. A new ‘systems ethics’ of part and whole, local and global, will assist the religions in articulating a more comprehensive form of environmental ethics from within their traditions. This is a major part of the development of religions into a dialogue with the sustainability movement. Humans are seeking an ethics to respond not only to suicide and homicide but also to biocide and ecocide… Thus religions are gradually moving from exclusively anthropocentric ethics to ecocentric ethics.”
Spirituality can and must contribute to sustainability. The Abrahamic religions, with their moral authority and grounding in ethics can instill new directions in nature-society theory and practice.
This workshop takes place with the assumption that ethical, moral and spiritual dimensions of Abrahamic religions can and must help shape cultural and value systems that impact environmental change mitigation and adaptation. Furthermore, these religions—viewed by some as part of the causation of human induced environmental change—have the potential to move societies towards ecocentric ethics. The Abrahamic traditions on human-nature relations can contribute in many ways towards material struggles for environmental sustainability and support workable solutions that help mitigate the impacts of contemporary environmental change.
It is our expectation and hope that the workshop will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss religion and ecology in the Middle East/North Africa context with a unique group of academics and practitioners. Workshops results – if we are to be successful – should include: 1) dynamic group and individual conversations that contribute conceptually and politically to current debates; 2) concrete plans for post-workshop collaboration; and 3) the establishment of new friendships and professional relationships.
This workshop is a joint venture between the University of Connecticut Office of Global Affairs, Al Akhawayn University, Morocco, and The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University.
This workshop was made possible by the generous support of the Marsha Lilien Gladstein Foundation and the Cohen Family Fund.
Many thanks to Paideia Study Abroad in Greece (Storrs, CT), the University of the Aegean (Rhodes, Greece), the City of Rhodes and the Government of the South Aegean Islands for their hospitality and assistance with local arrangements.