By Jessica Paden April 19, 2017

A powerful gathering of people devoted to resisting authoritarianism and encouraging environmental activism took place in CIIS' Namaste Hall this March, during the second annual Religion & Ecology Summit. This year's well-attended, day-long conference, which attracted scholars, students, and activists from universities around the Bay Area, featured distinguished leaders in the ecological, religious, and justice fields, bringing together scholars and practitioners to bridge the divide between religion and the environment.

In this tumultuous time for our planet, the summit focused on a call to action and empowerment to help save our hallowed land from destruction. In fact, many of the participants attended an environmental march in San Francisco immediately after the conference, in keeping with this call. 

Bridging Science and Religion

"Never before has this work across disciplines and faith traditions felt more urgent or timely," said Dr. Elizabeth Allison, Chair of CIIS' Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion graduate program, in her opening remarks. "Your presence here today is a powerful act of resistance against a regime that would divide and poison us. Instead, we come together, in unity and solidarity, recognizing our shared commitment to the future of a habitable and flourishing planet."

Skillfully combining the fields of science and religion within a strong framework of activism and social justice, CIIS is at the forefront of an academic network that strives to save our sacred environment from the corporate, political, and economic powers that would destroy the matrix of life.

The refrain "what do we do?" was asked and answered throughout the conference. Keynote speaker Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, encapsulated the active goal of the conference saying, "ecology, justice and peace: that's the movement we have to put together."

We Need All People

It is clear that this work is gaining traction. The burgeoning movement that Tucker called for, and the conference that addressed it, drew the attention of the SF Examiner, which published a piece about this year's Religion & Ecology Summit in The City section of the paper.

Presenters at the Summit emphasized the need to be as inclusive as possible. "We need all people and all ways of knowing," said Laura Tam of SPUR, a Bay Area urban policy group. Presenters also focused on economic and ethical disparity. 

Less-privileged people tend to experience more of the negative effects of environmental upheavals like climate change, while people of privilege are more able to insulate themselves from the negative effects of climate change and habitat degradation, yet are often implicated in the forces creating them. Ethicist Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda called the "question of who creates climate change in relation to who suffers from it the greatest moral issue of our time." 

A Focus on Mindful Action

The conference, funded this year by an anonymous donor and hosted by CIIS' Ecology, Spirituality and Religion graduate program, focused on what can be done to build bridges across racial, ethnic, and class divides to support work within the religious and ecological communities to secure our future in a healthy environment. The urgency of the situation was echoed again and again, perhaps most poignantly by Corrina Gould, a Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone activist, who said of her people, "it is my great burden to make sure we are not completely erased."

The focus on action remained prominent throughout the day. In an afternoon panel, Reverend Steve Blackner, founder of Church of the Woods, urged the audience to "develop a network of practitioners" where we can come to understand "the land itself as the bearer of the sacred."

The audience received the benefit of the presenters' collective years of experience doing activist, religious, and scientific work, which often came in the form of practical advice. Ms. Margaret Gordon, co-founder and co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, asked the audience to consider that "changing mindsets is a slow progression." 

With wisdom gleaned from her over 20 years of experience with Oakland activism, Gordon advised how best to move forward in the change process, saying, "You have to be strategic, mindful, intentional in your process. Don't go in with a privileged mind. If you go in a rush you're going to get a reality slap."

The Religion and Ecology Summit is sponsored by CIIS' Ecology, Spirituality and Religion graduate program.

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