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Religion, Culture and the
      Environment
Lecture Outline
1. Christianity and the environment: Lynn
    White Jnr (1967) ‘The Roots of our
    Present Ecological Cr...
White argued that:

• quot;What people do about their ecology depends on what they
  think about themselves in relation to...
Sparked huge debates:

E.g. over the messages within Genesis:
  quot;God saw everything that had been made and
  indeed, i...
Did recognise that:

Eastern, Orthodox Christianity more respectful, and
  traditions within the mainstream Protestant and...
Prompted:

• 1986: The Assisi meeting, with
  representatives from all the major world
  religions, committing themselves ...
Hinduism and the environment
•    Analytical approaches
•    The ‘standard popular’ argument
•    Cautions and caveats
   ...
Analytical approaches to
        Hinduism and ecology
• Exegesis of mytho-historical texts (e.g. the Vedas,
  Upanishads, ...
Hinduism and ecology: the
        ‘popular’ argument
• The holism of Hinduism – the immanence of god
  in all things, matt...
Variations of this argument have been
supported by:
 • Orientalist scholars
 • European (and especially German/Nazi)
   Ro...
Organisations:
• Swadhyaya (Gujarat) – the immanence of
  god in all things used to promote social and
  environmental jus...
Cautions and caveats
1. Limitations of textual analysis
2. ‘Environmentally problematic’ Hindu
    beliefs and practices
3...
1. Problems with texts
quot;No person should kill animals helpful to all. By
serving them, one should obtain heaven“
    (...
quot;Whether we are in a rural area, in woods, on a
battleground or in public meetings .. we should
always speak graciousl...
Problems
• Reflect elite, Brahminic male views and
  experiences, not those of the poor, rural, women,
  low castes or adi...
Dwivedi:
      If Hinduism is so innately ecologically
      harmonious, how can we explain the current
      environmenta...
quot;Environmental history becomes another location
in the struggle for the construction of and control
over a national po...
quot;Vandana Shiva ... has become a leading
 light of Hindu ecology, and makes
 regular appearances in neo-Hindu [i.e.
 fu...
2. Beliefs and practices
Holism and dualism:
• Semitic religions critiqued for their
   transcendental dualism – the separ...
For the renouncer, seeking liberation from maya:

  “The defects of the body, mind and objects of
  experience are innumer...
Purity and pollution:
• The sacred landscape/river can be
  worshipped, while the profane is neglected
  (e.g. Alley, 1998...
“We ignore the social dimension of our
actions and practices. The late Dr Adiseshaiah,
one of our prominent economists and...
3. Contemporary realities and
            challenges
• The ‘weak case’: Is any religion an appropriate or
  sufficient bas...
The best analyses recognise:
• The enormous diversity of belief and practice
  within and between various Hindu traditions...
The worst analyses propose:
• An essentialised connection between Hinduism
  and ecologically sound values, beliefs and
  ...
Conclusions
• Most religions have a variety of traditions and practices,
  and texts which are open to significant interpr...
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Transcript of "Religion, Culture And Environment"

  1. 1. Religion, Culture and the Environment
  2. 2. Lecture Outline 1. Christianity and the environment: Lynn White Jnr (1967) ‘The Roots of our Present Ecological Crisis’. Science 2. Hinduism: are ‘Eastern religions’ the answer? 3. Conclusions
  3. 3. White argued that: • quot;What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny -- that is, by religion.quot; • Judaeo-Christianity the most anthropocentric religion – nature is their to serve humans • Associated with this, the West’s ability to change and damage nature the highest because of science and technology. A relationship between Christian values and technological development since Medieval times.
  4. 4. Sparked huge debates: E.g. over the messages within Genesis: quot;God saw everything that had been made and indeed, it was very good.quot; (Gen 1:31) But …. quot;Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.quot; (Gen 1:26)
  5. 5. Did recognise that: Eastern, Orthodox Christianity more respectful, and traditions within the mainstream Protestant and RC church which were better (e.g. St Francis of Assisi). BUT: Historically, the P. and RC church has been blatantly unconcerned with the environment.
  6. 6. Prompted: • 1986: The Assisi meeting, with representatives from all the major world religions, committing themselves to promoting greater environmental consciousness. • A huge academic literature, meetings etc
  7. 7. Hinduism and the environment • Analytical approaches • The ‘standard popular’ argument • Cautions and caveats • Limitations of textual analysis • ‘Environmentally problematic’ Hindu beliefs and practices • The challenges and realities of contemporary India
  8. 8. Analytical approaches to Hinduism and ecology • Exegesis of mytho-historical texts (e.g. the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita) to uncover philosophical precepts and teachings, and indications of past behaviours. • Ethnographic explorations of practices (e.g. sacred groves, religious rituals) • Socio-political analyses of movements and struggles for environmental justice (e.g. Narmada Bachao Andolan, Chipko)
  9. 9. Hinduism and ecology: the ‘popular’ argument • The holism of Hinduism – the immanence of god in all things, matter and consciousness – means that humans recognise their part in divine creation, and respect the rest of it. • Gods and goddesses often take full or part animal form; trees and plants are worshipped, and play an important ritual role. • The doctrine of reincarnation gives humans an intimate sense of connection with other life forms through the belief in the trans-migration of souls.
  10. 10. Variations of this argument have been supported by: • Orientalist scholars • European (and especially German/Nazi) Romantics • Indian philosophers (from Vivekananda to Gandhi) • Lynn White Jnr (1967) ‘The Roots of our Present Ecological Crisis’ Science • ‘Neo-traditionalists’, post-colonial scholars and ecofeminists
  11. 11. Organisations: • Swadhyaya (Gujarat) – the immanence of god in all things used to promote social and environmental justice • Various organisations in the Braj region (just below Delhi) who use devotion to Krishna to promote reforestation.
  12. 12. Cautions and caveats 1. Limitations of textual analysis 2. ‘Environmentally problematic’ Hindu beliefs and practices 3. The challenges and realities of contemporary India
  13. 13. 1. Problems with texts quot;No person should kill animals helpful to all. By serving them, one should obtain heaven“ (Yajurved, 13.47; quoted in Dwivedi and Tiwari, 1999, p.174) quot;He who plants even one tree, goes directly to heaven and obtains Mokshaquot; (Matsya Purana, 59.159; quoted in Dwivedi, 1990, p.206)
  14. 14. quot;Whether we are in a rural area, in woods, on a battleground or in public meetings .. we should always speak graciously about the Mother Earth and be respectful to herquot; (Atharva Veda, Kanda XII, Hymn I, verse 56; quoted in Dwivedi, 1997, p. 31). quot;Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and its dissolutionquot; (Krishna to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita, 7.6; quoted in Dwivedi, 1990, p.204)
  15. 15. Problems • Reflect elite, Brahminic male views and experiences, not those of the poor, rural, women, low castes or adivasis. • Value-behaviour gaps (what do they tell us about the way people really thought and behaved?). • Full of complexity and contradictions. • Plenty of evidence (textual, historical, archaeological) of less ‘ecologically harmonious’ views and behaviours • The politicisation of environmental discourses
  16. 16. Dwivedi: If Hinduism is so innately ecologically harmonious, how can we explain the current environmental situation? The answer: “700 years of foreign cultural domination” … whose alien cultures, ideologies, religions and institutions have “shaken the faith of the masses in the earlier cultural tradition … and greatly inhibited the religion from continuing to transmit ancient values which encourage respect and due regard for God's creation” (1990, p.210-11)
  17. 17. quot;Environmental history becomes another location in the struggle for the construction of and control over a national political memory, and is not innocent of its own implications. Over the last few years, organisations such as the Hindu nationalist Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (affiliated with the RSS) have articulated a politics which shares many of the assumptions of new traditionalism, defining Indian authenticity on the basis of 'Hindutva'quot; (Sinha, Greenberg and Gururani,1997, p.90).
  18. 18. quot;Vandana Shiva ... has become a leading light of Hindu ecology, and makes regular appearances in neo-Hindu [i.e. fundamentalist] ashrams in North America. Her work is most respectfully cited in The Organiser, the official journal of the RSS, the cultural arm of Hindu nationalist parties” (Nanda, 2002: 30)
  19. 19. 2. Beliefs and practices Holism and dualism: • Semitic religions critiqued for their transcendental dualism – the separation of humans from nature. • But Advaita Vedanta also sets up a dualism: matter and consciousness (maya) on one side, and liberation/absorption and loss the Self (moksa) on the other.
  20. 20. For the renouncer, seeking liberation from maya: “The defects of the body, mind and objects of experience are innumerable. The discriminating have no more liking for them than for milk- porridge vomited by a dog” (quoted in Nelson, 1998:70) “Pure non-attachment is disregard for all objects – from the god Brahma down to plants and minerals – like the indifference one has towards the excrement of a crow” (p.81)
  21. 21. Purity and pollution: • The sacred landscape/river can be worshipped, while the profane is neglected (e.g. Alley, 1998, 2002 on the Ganges; Haberman, 1994, on the forests of the Braj) • One’s own self/house is kept scrupulously clean, while pollution/waste is expelled out, to be absorbed by lower caste/class groups (e.g. Varma, 1998; Gupta, 2000)
  22. 22. “We ignore the social dimension of our actions and practices. The late Dr Adiseshaiah, one of our prominent economists and academicians, wrote about his mother that she was a high born lady who kept her house spotlessly clean. Every morning she used to sweep and clean the house herself, and then drop the rubbish in the neighbour’s garden. Self-regarding purity and righteousness, ignoring others, has been the bane of our culture. It has created a gulf in our society between people, even with regard to basic needs and fundamental rights” President Narayan, Republic Day address, 2000
  23. 23. 3. Contemporary realities and challenges • The ‘weak case’: Is any religion an appropriate or sufficient basis from which to confront the sheer scale and original nature of contemporary environmental threats (e.g. Tomalin, 2000)? • The ‘strong case’: religion is part of the problem, not the solution. Environmental and social justice cannot be achieved as long as people adhere to religious myths of nature, existence, gender etc. (e.g. Nanda, 2002, 2003)
  24. 24. The best analyses recognise: • The enormous diversity of belief and practice within and between various Hindu traditions • Hybridity with other religions, including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and sarna • The importance of situating analyses within their changing historical, regional and socio-political contexts • Complex and non-linear ‘value-behaviour’ relationships • AND some question whether religion/culture is appropriate in particular cases or at all
  25. 25. The worst analyses propose: • An essentialised connection between Hinduism and ecologically sound values, beliefs and behaviours. • Rely on an anti-Semitic religion, anti-science dualism • Rely uncritically on Brahminic sources and traditions • Are inattentive to context, diversity, hybridity and change • Are inattentive to the hierarchies and oppression of women and low castes that accompanies belief in divine cosmological order.
  26. 26. Conclusions • Most religions have a variety of traditions and practices, and texts which are open to significant interpretation • To what extent is religion a guide to behaviour? • Problems with ‘cosmological’ (as opposed to science/political) understandings of environmental well- being. • Better to frame environmental issues in ways that have meaning for local people? • More effective • Opposes Eurocentric, techno-centric, economically reductionist SD outlook • Must be aware of specific contexts and issues
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