In 1967 Lynn Townsend White, Jr. proposed in his essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” that it was Christian influence and Middle Age mechanical technologies that lie at the root of the ecological crisis of the 20th-century.
While not the first to put forward such a critique, White published in the revered journal Science at the cusp of the ecological debate and his argument, based on the premise that “all forms of life modify their context” proved persuasive and pivotal. As Dr. Bron Taylor of the University of Florida Religion Department said, “his thesis became something of a truism, but, like many truisms, it may or may not be true.” What it did cause, Taylor said, was soul-searching among Christians and other religious groups to either defend their religious ecology, confess guilt and direct attention to previous contributions of religion, or to agree that the critique was correct and that the world would need to look outside religion for ecological values.
The ferment concerning this conversation has not abated. In truth, it has perhaps intensified with efforts from academics, journalists, and religious clergy and laity seeking to create a habitat for the discussion of religion and its relationship to nature.
Premier in this conversation is Dr. Taylor and the Religion and Nature program associated with the University of Florida’s Religion Department (UF Religion). Along with launching a Society for the Study of Religion and Nature, publishing an exhaustive encyclopedia on the topic (Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, 2005) and producing a peer-reviewed Journal, UF Religion will host “Religion, Science and the Future, the 10th anniversary conference of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture” January 14-17, 2016.
Remarking that the study of religion now recognizes how deeply intertwined religion is with nature and natural symbols Taylor said, “looks at the interesting reciprocal relationships between the natural, or evolutionary, roots of religious belief and perception and cultures through bio-cultural evolution.”
More than that he said, “it’s an exciting and promising field of research that merges religious studies with environmental studies and produces students and scholars who can build bridges between the natural and social sciences.”
Indeed, UF religion proposed a bold vision when they invited Dr. Taylor to join the faculty and launch this initiative to study the nexus of religion and nature. Now, with the society conference returning to Gainesville it precludes a time when the field is expanding, continuing to consolidate itself, and looking to the future.
Hence, the theme for the conference, “Religion, Science and the Future.” Taylor commented, “too often we don’t think very deeply about the future. We either look to the past or the present and less common for us to think based on these histories and continuing trends to ponder where it is all going.” In that spirit, conference keynote speakers, panelists, and participants will discuss not only where the field is going, but also discuss the relentless ecological crises in terms both religious and scientific.
Included in the conference proceedings will be discussions of the Gaia hypothesis, the greening of traditional religions, and what Taylor calls “dark green religion” — a religion, or a “religion-resembling” set of beliefs and practices, characterized by a central conviction that “nature is sacred, has intrinsic value, and is therefore due reverent care.”
The conference promises to be an engaging and relevant conversation. And it is not only for academics. Aiming to be the “the place for interdisciplinary scholarly inquiry into the religion/nature nexus” the society hopes that scientists, religion scholars, social scientists, anthropologists, laity, and the general public interested in nature, religion, or both would attend and seek to contribute. “The hope is to put people into conversation who would otherwise be insulated,” said Taylor.
Taylor concluded that, “the more big brains we have wrestling with this topic the more chance we have to figure out whether religion might be a positive force in addressing these challenges and if not, then maybe it is try to throw some of these things ‘over the hill.’”
“We are talking about whether humans are going to creatively adapt to the environmental systems they depend on; so it makes sense for religion scholars to figure out whether religion can or might be a positive force here,” he said.
*The Call for Proposals and Papers is available HERE. The deadline for proposals is 15 July 2015 and topics range from “religion, science, and indigenous traditions” to “ethology, botany, and sentience.”