We want to thank the ISSRNC and its officers and members for taking the time to share their perspectives on ISSRNC’s history and prospects as an organization, the thinking underlying the design of, “Religion, Science and the Future” the ISSRNC 10th Anniversary Conference (CFP PDF) and the state and future of the study of religion and the environment.
For part one of this interview, see here.
Ipsita Chatterjea: Looking back, inasmuch as proposal submissions and the panels are some indication of the state of the study of religion and environment, what have you noticed as methodological and thematic trends?
Luke Johnston: Methodologically, I see an increasing emphasis on ethnographic data collection, and as in the academy more generally, a turn toward studying religious cultural production in specific geographical or cultural contexts. Thematically, perhaps predictably, attention has focused on increasingly global problems, especially climate disruption, but also biodiversity loss, and environmental justice and rights claims. These are issues where we find not just religion, but also economics, politics, and indigenous rights entangled. From an ethical standpoint, these increasingly global problems present a challenging landscape. These are just some of the areas in which the field has expanded in the past decade.
Bron Taylor: Additionally, we’re seeing increasing interest in survey and other forms of empirical research to test hypotheses, many of which have been advanced by ethnographers and historians. This trend illustrates the synergies between different methodological approaches.
IC: Could you talk to us about books or articles that have appeared in the last few years that the ISSRNC Executive committee and the ISSRNC board of directors and advisors recommend, or publications that embody ISSRNC’s editorial line, including those that either the ISSRNC or prior ISSRNC conferences have had some hand in producing?
Evan Berry: I will not refuse the opportunity to promote my forthcoming book, Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism, due out from the University of California Press this July. This book theorizes the ways religious tradition has influenced the environmental movement in the U.S. and critically engages the vestiges of Christian theology that endure in contemporary environmental discourse.
BT: I hesitate to mention any because I would easily fail to mention equally important sources, including from society leaders and journal collaborators. But members of the society have full backward access to the nearly ten years of journal issues, which when combined with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, provide leads to the wealth of scholarly literature that has been unfolding. It really depends on one’s interests. A new resource for discovering relevant research and cutting-edge scholars is Academia.edu. I would encourage people interested in this field to follow society members; this is a good way to get networked those who share your interests.
IC: How do you all see the study of religion and the environment shaping up over the next few years, what is its future?
Sarah Pike: Given the growth of environmental humanities and critical animal studies in recent years and increasing attention in the news media around global environmental issues such as climate change, the study of religion and nature will increasingly have an important role to play. As mainstream religious traditions, including the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, turn towards environmental issues and new religious and social movements grounded in spiritual commitments, such as radical environmentalism and contemporary Paganism, continue to express commitments to the Earth as sacred, our organization will be on the forefront of understanding these developments and communicating them to a broader audience.
LJ: I hope that both Religion and Nature scholarship and religious studies in general grow into more problem-based disciplines which attend to the wicked socio-ecological problems in particular locales. This would, I think, reflect a broader turn in the past two score years toward lived religion, where everyday behaviors related to environmental impacts are visible, and in which they can be addressed in systemic ways.
BT: I am working on a major, cross-cultural, social-scientific study that I have been calling “The Greening of Religion Hypothesis,” the goal of which is to understand whether and to what extent religions are or might be mobilized broadly to promote biodiversity conservation and social equity. I welcome enquiries from any scholar interested in participating in such research.
IC: With regard to the ISSRNC and your respective assessments of the field, could you each talk about scholars who have forthcoming work you think we (as scholars of religion and specialists) should be looking at?
Bernie Zaleha: Helen Kopnina, and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet are producing a new edited volume entitled Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology. Among the topics covered will be the quasi-religious academic field of political ecology as a form of extreme religious humanism that devalues the non-human world. Publication is expected in 2016.
David Haberman: This is a difficult question. I don’t think I can answer it since so many people are doing interesting work these days. I can only say that I hope that the book I am currently working on, Loving Stones, fits into the category of promising forthcoming publications. I have been working on human conceptions of and interaction with the nonhuman world for some time with my publications, River of Love in an Age of Pollution (California 2006) and People Trees (Oxford 2013). Although a fair amount of work exists on human interaction with ecosystems, such as sacred groves, and with nonhuman animals, my work explores human interaction with particular natural entities such as specific rivers and individual trees. My current work pushes cultural boundaries even farther by looking at human conceptions of and interaction with individual stones (and mountains). I set this all in the context of the history of dominant strategies for interpreting something like rock worship, which for the most part have been rooted in the idea of idolatry.
IC: Can you tell us about the ISSRNC’s The Journal of Religion, Nature and Culture? And with regard to the common ground of the study of religion globally, what other journals (regardless of language) across the subfields that feed the study of religion and the environment do you find scholars citing most consistently, or wish you would see engaged more often?
BZ: The journals that I rely on and that occasionally include research on the religion/environment nexus are the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Sociology of Religion. I also pay attention to Implicit Religion, as much religion/environment research looks at phenomena that are implicitly religious, even if they are outside of vernacular understandings of what constitutes religion.
BT: Janet Joyce, the encyclopedia’s commissioning editor, started her own publishing house as the encyclopedia neared publication. Janet came on board quickly with the vision for the JSSRNC, for which planning began in 2005. The JSSRNC’s Editorial Board has mirrored the Society’s editorial stance, to quote from the submission guidelines, “The genre of the article should not assume, either explicitly or implicitly, that readers share the author’s religious or philosophical presuppositions.” Scholars new to the field would do well to join the society and then go to the journal’s archives and see for themselves the incredible diversity there. I also have been particularly drawn to Anthropology journals (especially Environmental Anthropology) Environmental Psychology, Environmental History, and the sociology journals mentioned by my colleague Bernie Zaleha.
(N.B. Janet Joyce of Equinox Publishing hosts this Blog).
IC: For yourselves and the work you are seeing produced, what fields outside of religion do you find have the most resonance for producing innovative interdisciplinary work on religion?
EB: There is great work being done by contemporary anthropologists that articulates the complex cultural strategies by which poor and vulnerable communities are proactively developing new ways of combatting climate change, the exploitation of natural resources, and rapidly changing environmental conditions. Anthropologists like Anna Tsing, Ben Orlove, and Julie Cruikshank are leading figures in such efforts.
BT: the more interdisciplinary one becomes the more one recognizes that scholars from a host of disciplines – both science and humanities rooted – who are exploring the intersection of religion and nature in interesting ways. Here again is an area I am reluctant to single out disciplines or figures for fear of giving an impression that the field is narrower than it is.
IC: Globally a number of interdisciplinary university centers address the environment, among these which ones have engaged religion particularly well, or are poised to do so?
DH: As this is a relatively new field of study, there are really no full-blown programs – and yet emerging centers in the United States would include: The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Florida (site of the upcoming conference) offers both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion and Nature, which investigates the way religion shapes environmental attitudes and practices in cultures worldwide. Yale University: The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Yale Divinity School offer a joint Masters degree program in Religion and Ecology. The Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University has been training doctoral students in the area of religion and ecology in its graduate program in Ethics, Philosophy, and Politics. Drew University has been training graduate students in Ecological Studies in its Graduate Division of Religion.
SP: Members of our society, including Bron Taylor, have held fellowships at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany and Rachel Carson Center Director Christof Mauch, presented at our 2012 conference in Malibu, California. The growing field of environmental humanities means new programs and institutes are emerging, and the study of religion and the environment need to be championed in these contexts. For instance, the Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is doing interesting and important work, although religion has not yet been prominently featured there. Environmental Humanities sites like the EHL offer promising opportunities for religion and nature scholars.
IC: How does the ISSRNC see the task of shaping both how other fields work with scholarship on religion and the environment and the public understanding of religion and the environment?
DH: The ISSRNC is an academic society that promotes the idea that religion plays a crucial role in shaping attitudes and behavior toward the environment. Members of the society examine global religious worldviews and practices to better understand and critically assess their followers’ relationships with the nonhuman world, whether those be detrimental or beneficial. Hopefully the collective work of the society has the effect of encouraging scientists and policy makers working on environmental issues to take the role of religion more seriously in their considerations regarding challenges and solutions.
IC: We want to the thank you for letting us get to know the ISSRNC, all of you, and learn about the ISSRNC’s “Religion, Science and the Future.” Is there anything else we should know?
LJ: Our conferences are fun! There are always excursions outside the conference venue that explore local nature/culture interfaces, and there’s always lots of time built into the schedule for networking and generally having a good time.
BT: Coming up on our 10th anniversary, by hosting and co-hosting conferences around the world, a publishing program involving an encyclopedia and journal (publishing quarterly since 2007) – the Society has dramatically advanced the critical inquiry into the complex relationships between human beings and what people construe as “religion”, “nature”, and “culture.” There is, however, much left to investigate and explore, which is why we continue to cordially invite others to join us.
Also, the interviewer submitted these questions to the ISSRNC just before becoming the ISSRNC’s Communications Director, having previously worked with the group on religionandnature.com in 2007 and 2009.