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CLALS | Religion & Climate Change

Religion and Climate Change in Cross-Regional Perspective

Climate change is dramatically altering the planet and affecting human livelihood in ways eliciting religious response. This two-year project seeks to deepen our understanding of the relationship between religion and climate change across multiple regions of the world. It builds upon a previous research project focused on forms of religious engagement with environmental conflict in contemporary Latin American democracies. The present project advances previous work by incorporating a comparative perspective across regions and religions beyond just Latin America, in order to enhance understanding of religious responses to the transboundary effects of climate change. In so doing this project gives sustained attention to the interactions between transnational religious influences and local cultural contexts, and the ways religion mediates the global and the local, as a source for the varieties of religious response to the planet-wide challenges of climate change.

At once building upon existing research and stimulating new inquiry into the similarities and differences of religious engagement with climate change across regions of the world, this project attends to three distinct if interrelated levels of analysis: the role of religion as a key part of ongoing public discourse on climate change; specifically religious sources of environmental knowledge, as this knowledge informs community responses to climate change; and the ways that climate change is also driving religious change. These comparisons across regions and religions are, in turn, developed with attention to three features of climate change concerned with water: the effects of glacial melt in the Andes and Himalayas, climate-related stress upon urban water systems in South America and South Asia, and the vulnerabilities of small island archipelagos in the Caribbean and the South Pacific respectively.

With generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, this project is led by Evan Berry, an Associate Professor in American University's Department of Philosophy and Religion. Project co-principal investigators include CLALS Director Eric Hershberg and CLALS Research Associate Professor Robert Albro. A basic project goal is to enhance inter-regional collaboration among academic and practitioner networks. Findings will circulate as scholarly publications, through presentations at academic conferences, and also in formats and forums designed to inform policy decision makers and stakeholders in Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Oceania. In addition, the project will incorporate features of print and video journalism and social media dimensions. As work advances, this project page will be regularly updated.

Group of scholars sitting around a large table

Scholars from the US, Latin America, Australia, Europe, and Asia discuss next steps during the Spring 2016 planning meeting.

Workshops and Public Fora

In the spring of 2016, CLALS held an initial planning meeting, which included scholars from around the globe. Participants compared the role of religion in environmental mobilizations at the international and local levels, as well as religious responses to shared environmental changes across different geographical regions (including Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania, and South Asia). The third and final workshop in Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017.

May 2017 Workshop and Public Forum in Lima, Peru

Workshop participants gather in well-lit space

CLALS organized and co-sponsored a two-day workshop in Lima, Peru, focused on “Mountains and Implications of Glacial Melt in the Himalaya and Andes,” hosted by the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. Together with our co-sponsor, CLALS also organized a public forum, held at the university and which addressed “Latin America’s Current Contributions to International Climate Change Negotiations,” which featured multiple workshop participants together with Peru’s top climate negotiator. This forum considered the range and impact of the region’s contributions to moving forward international dialogue and cooperation around climate change over the previous decade.

December 2016 Workshop and Public Forum in Delhi, India

Group of men and women gather outside on a sunny day in Delhi

CLALS organized and co-sponsored a two-day workshop in Delhi, India, in early December of 2016, which was hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, one of India's premier think tanks. This workshop convened researchers from India, Latin America, the US, and Europe, to address the role of religion and religious actors in the response and adaptation to emerging water-related challenges made worse by climate change. Topics encompassed glacial melt and river health, emerging agricultural challenges, connections between climate change and the increase of rural-to-urban migration, conservation efforts and stresses upon urban water systems in the global South, including freshwater and wastewater management, for which India offers important material for study. The first of a projected three regional workshops, this meeting convened researchers working on related problems of religion and climate in South Asia and Latin America to identify and refine case studies and analytic approaches to climate change, as a transboundary problem eliciting religious response. 

Together with the American Center in New Delhi, CLALS also organized a public policy forum entitled "Civil Society's Role in Combating Climate Change," which followed the workshop and featured AU professors Ken Conca and Evan Berry, together with a US Embassy representative and Indian officials experienced with climate change policy. This forum considered the role of civil society in shaping policy responses to climate change, as a moral call to action, and compared the US with India, while considering how civil society might serve as a catalyst for bilateral cooperation around present and future climate challenges.