By Jessica Paden March 18, 2016

An enthusiastic crowd of 111 people packed Namaste Hall on a rainy Friday for the inaugural Religion and Ecology Summit at CIIS.

Hosted by the Ecology, Spiritualty, and Religion (ESR) program and sponsored by a grant from the American Academy of Religion, with additional support from the Philosophy and Religion department, the Summit invited leaders from community organizations and academia to speak about the intersection of religion and ecological issues.

“CIIS, in convening thought leaders in the field for this essential dialogue, is positioned as a leader in the field of religion and ecology,” says ESR Chair Elizabeth Allison.

“This conversation is necessary,” she says, “because leading thinkers have been realizing that the environmental crisis is a crisis of conscience and consciousness. We have to reconsider how we think about humans' place in the world,” she says.

“One thing we can do is look to sources of wisdom, and one of those sources is religion—a deep moral force we have that’s available to guide us.”

Reverend Sally Bingham The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham

Eijun Linda Cutts, abiding abbess of Green Gulch Farms and Central Abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center; Rev. Canon Sally Bingham of the Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power & Light; and Andreas Karelas from Re-volv Solar, were among the powerful voices to speak at the day-long conference.

Further evidence of the conference’s success is the encouragement of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale to collaborate on a follow-up conference next year. In addition, the Western Region of American Academy of Religion, is interested in collaborating with CIIS to bring a focus on Religion and Ecology to the 2018 Western Region meeting.

“It’s thrilling to have a grad program here at CIIS that can support these efforts re-linking ecological science with the deep wisdom and ethical guidance of the world's religious and spiritual traditions," says Allison.

"Our grad students can support environmental organizations as researchers and interns as we work to re-weave the fabric of values, ethics, and ecological sciences for a more just and sustainable future." 

Read the Introduction, "Two Streams Converge at the Religion and Ecology Summit," by Robert McDermott, Department Chair of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness.        

The keynote address, delivered by Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University senior lecturer and research scholar, stressed the vital need for a focus on values in the sciences—a new marriage of ethics with the humanities and the natural sciences. “This flourishing future is going to require the coming together of science and values, which have been so separated, especially in academia,” Tucker said.

Economics and Religion

Dr. Richard Norgaard, Professor Emeritus of Economics at UC Berkeley, a self-proclaimed “economist by training, not by conviction,” spoke on the morning panel. “Growth has become the solution to everything,” he said, “Economics explains how we are supposed to behave…we’re supposed to be consuming more and more, if we don’t do that the economy will collapse. Economics has become a kind of religion,” he said.

Further emphasizing the point, Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Professor Sean Kelly said, “Science without conscience is immoral. Science with conscience—these two streams need to be rewoven together.”

For ESR doctoral student Laura Pustarfi Reddick (PCC ’13) the Summit was a wonderful experience. “All of the speakers were inspiring, focusing on the intersections of Religion and Ecology from multifaceted angles. I feel reinvigorated in my own research in the doctoral program.”

ESR doctoral student Kim Carfore and PCC doctoral student Elizabeth McAnally gained valuable professional experience and networked with leaders in the field as they handled the logistical aspects of the Summit, including a convivial lunch, featuring Indian dishes, for all participants.

rev sally bingham Mary Evelyn Tucker, Elizabeth Allison, and Brian Thomas Swimme

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