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Treasure House for Interfaith Climate Activists

The Forum on Religion and Ecology – A Profile

One does not expect religion professors to lead the charge on hot-button issues, particularly at major secular universities. So some might be surprised to hear that religion and ecology emerged as a serious academic arena in the late 1980s. A Religion and Ecology group was established in the American Academy of Religion in 1991, 21 years ahead of an Interreligious and Interfaith Studies group approved at AAR last December.

Mary Evelyn TuckerMary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim at Yale University took the lead. A specialist in Asian religions, Tucker was involved in the discussions to create an Earth Charter from its inception. Grim is a specialist in indigenous traditions and the environment. Husband and wife as well as professional colleagues, they initiated a series of conferences on religion and ecology from 1996-1998 at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. Over 800 environmentalists and international scholars of the world’s religions participated. Subsequently the Religions of the World and Ecology Book Series was begun, ten volumes examining Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Indigenous traditions, Islam, Jainism, and Judaism with regard to the environmental crisis the planet faces.

John GrimIn the wake of this extraordinary academic project, a library of ongoing research and activity emerged. A world-class website was established with a raft of resources that can help students of climate change and activists get educated in the cause.

One page, for instance, has links to dozens of statements of climate change from different traditions, organized by religion. Or get linked to the Fall 2001 issue of Daedalus¸ edited by Tucker and Grim and published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, devoted to “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?” You can download the whole issue for free, 15 essays that remain essential reading a dozen years later.

The couple eventually established the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale in 2006 as an umbrella for a growing set of issues and activities. Their newsletter has gone from 800 to 8000, and they have become, as their website attests, “the largest international multireligious project of its kind. With its conferences, publications, and website it is engaged in exploring religious worldviews, texts, ethics, and practices in order to broaden understanding of the complex nature of current environmental concerns. The Forum recognizes that religions need to be in dialogue with other disciplines (e.g., science, economics, education, public policy) in seeking comprehensive solutions to both global and local environmental problems.” Visiting the website is essentially entering a library devoted to all these matters.

The newest chapter in Professors Tucker's and Grim’s work has been serving as executive producers for the Journey of the Universe, hosted by Brian Thomas Swimme, a multimedia project including a book, a film, a series of DVDs, and ongoing events. The project “weaves a tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe.”

Perhaps the best part of the Forum story is how it reaches far beyond itself, networking hundreds of leading academics and activists and providing sterling support and resource for anyone who cares deeply about religion, the Earth, and all that lives. Environmental studies and activism proliferate today at every level of education, in most countries, and in most religious, spiritual traditions. Thank you, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim.

The embedded video, “Religion and a New Environmental Ethic,” is a chance to get to know Mary Evelyn and John and get to the heart of their work and why it is so important in 13 short minutes. It was produced by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem in cooperation with the Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, one in ICSD’s series of downloadable interviews with pioneers in religion and the environment.