Ecology, Environment and Religions: Key Issues and Challenges

Vadodara, Gujarat, India - February 26-27, 2018

As a part of the series of Pre Parliament events – two day National Seminar on “Ecology, Environment and Religions: Key Issues and Challenges” organized jointly - Centre for Culture and Development (Vadodara – Gujarat – India) and Indian Council of Social Science Research (Mumbai – India) on February 26-27, 2018 at Vadodara (Gujarat) India. Print and electronic media had very widely covered the event. 

The seminar discussed important questions and concerns for protecting and caring of the earth for today and future generations. How may we apply our social teaching, with its emphasis on the life and dignity of the human person, to the challenge of protecting the earth? What can the interfaith experience offer to the environmental movement and what can we learn from it? What steps can we take to devise a sustainable and just economy? How do we secure protection for all God’s creatures, including the poor and the unborn? We are destroying resources that future generation of humans’ need, by engaging in actions that contradict what it means to be human. As research scholars, as individuals, and as institutions, we need a change of heart to preserve and protect the planet for our children and for generations yet unborn. A just and sustainable society and world are not an optional ideal, but a moral and practical necessity. We have to stimulate the dialogue between physical and social sciences along with religions to the issue of climate change. 

Padma Shri and “Waterman of India” Rajendra Singh delivered the keynote address for the seminar. In his address, Dr. Singh remarked that unless the Indian community is involved in the conversation of the conservation of nature, any concern for the environment is not of much value. According to him, religious bodies hold power and can play a significant positive role in the discussion of environmentalism, but in the present time religious power has become corrupt and has little to say in the issue of environment conservation. He believed that local communities are full of knowledge and when we start understanding them they would teach us a lot of things about nature. The traditional knowledge and practices of every area have imbibed a thorough understanding of ecological balances and technologies to harness natural resources in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner, however, such practices have never been documented. Today we are standing on the verge of another great cataclysm due to the exploitation of our natural surrounding for material wealth, but it is unlikely that God will intervene this time to rescue people who have forgotten God and discarded their traditions completely. It is therefore needed to rediscover our age-old tradition as a panacea for this evil environmental disaster. 

In her guest of honor address, ‘Spirituality - Balancing Energy for Ecology’ Dr. Binny Sareen stated spirituality as a balancing energy for ecology. For her the topic of the seminar was important and the need of the hour. Spiritual ecology according to her refers to the intersection between religion, spirituality, and environment. She emphasized how spirituality plays an important role in controlling not only the outside world but also the inner nature. Many things related to damaged things outside is interlinked to one’s internal thought process. Spirituality, thus has an important power that connects oneself to his/her outer world. 

The first session of the seminar focused on the theme of ‘Ecology and Biodiversity- Human Environment Relationship’ with three presentations. Dr. Lancelot D’Cruz presented on ‘Value Addition to Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Livelihoods and Biodiversity Conservation’. Dr. Deepa Gavali presented on ‘Biodiversity and Conservation: Role of Communities’ and Dr. Arun Mahato on ‘Cultural Dimension of Indigenous People of Jharkhand on Conservation of Biodiversity’.

The second session focused on the ‘Social Dimension of Ecology: Society-Environment Relationship’. Amit Mitra presented on ‘Changing Ecology, Religion, and Markets in Eastern India: From Sacred Groves to Hindutva’, Dr. Shashikant Kumar on the ‘Regional Dimension of Urbanisation and Climatic Vulnerability in Gujarat’ Rohit Prajapati ‘Is that why "Development" Is So Disastrous ...?’ Ramnath K.Rao on ‘Engendering Environment: Mapping the Ecological Discourse and Women’, Jothi Xavier on ‘Environmental Education for Action’ and Dr. Dhananjay Kumar on ‘Status of Environment in Gujarat’. 

 

The first session on the second day focused upon the theme of ‘Ecological Sustainable Development: Case Studies’. It had two presentations. Dr. Jayesh Bhatt on ‘Reviewing the Ecological Sustainability of Banni Grassland of Kutch’ and Lakum Mahesh on ‘Environmental Predicaments from Sabaltern Lens: A Study of Sanand’ 

The second session of the second day focused on ‘Religious and Spiritual Dimension on Ecology: Religion-Environment Relationship’ had three presentations. Dr. Joseph Mattam presented his views on ecology by summarizing the document of Laudato Si by Pope Francis in the paper ‘Understanding Christian Perspective to Ecology through Laudato Si’. Maulana Mufti Ahmed Devlavi presented some aspects of the Islamic perspective on environmental ethics in the light of Quranic verses and Islamic narrations in his paper titled ‘Ecology, Environment and Religion: An Islamic Perspective’ and The Paper by Sanjay Rattan, titled ‘The Religion–Conservation Paradigm: Lessons for Practitioners in the Indian Context’, highlighted the faith-ecology paradigm of protecting environment. While linking religious groups to conservation his paper argued that religious bodies have the influence and ability to shift one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change. 

Dr. Jayesh Shah, Ambassador – Parliament of the World’s Religions gave his concluding address. In his presentation ‘Ecology, Environment and Religious: Key Issues and Challenges’, he mentioned that there is a tension in the environmental world between those who wish to tell us that the end is almost here and those who want to encourage us to plant trees for the future. For more than thirty years, the world’s major institutions, scientists, governments and the largest NGO’s have compiled and analyzed details of how we are abusing the planet and yet the crisis is with us. To him, religions need to collaborate with the environment and development movements in order to make this world a better place for all life or creation. In his address, he also talked about the importance of religious diversity and different worldview as crucial to the development of life on earth. Without diversity, we would not have the intellectual and practical means to tackle problems that we cause through our own beliefs and systems. He also argued about the importance of acknowledging the human face behind the race of conservation of ecology and environment. The source of livelihood and better infrastructure and educational facilities with their own resources can help in the empowerment of the missing human face in the conservation movement with the help of religions. He concluded the address with the opinion that we need to learn about a variety of faith traditions and explore ecology and environment from various spiritual dimensions. It is so because each of the faith traditions has something unique to offer to humanity and to earth and each tradition represents one face of the whole picture. The focus should be on the role each of the faith traditions play at the ground level based on the sayings of their scriptures or traditions for the conservation and preservation of environment and ecology. 

Besides presentations by the scholars and religious leaders, the interaction and participation by the invited members from different religious communities in the discussions during various session for both the days raised substantial questions, comments, and issues that require sincere reflection. 

By bringing people together to talk about ecology and environment, this effort has initiated a dialogue about the roles of interdisciplinary approaches and religious faiths for the conservation and preservation of ecology for today and the future. It has drawn our attention to the hope of achieving a goal where development and environmental commitment work together to protect and enhance the quality of life on this planet. It is understood that different faiths coming together to protect earth will take time but stimulating dialogue between them and different disciplines is a need and welcome effort to the issue of the environmental crisis in the world.

 

 

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