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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.

Workshops and Public Fora

Religion and Climate Change Adaptation: Resilience or Resistance?

Thursday, April 19, 2018 | University of Leeds (UK)

The role of religions in shaping public understanding and action in response to climate change today should be taken seriously by civil society and policy makers. This is true for the question of how to adapt to a warming world as much as it is for how to prevent it. But the complexities and diverse understandings of both those phenomena (religion and climate change) mean that the answers are far from simple, or unified. In this research panel we hear from three scholars working on different aspects of religion and climate change, with the aim of provoking and deepening the public debate.

  • Evan Berry (Philosophy and Religious Studies, American University) will report from a two-year project on religion and climate change developed by American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. The presentation will draw on diverse global case studies will both highlight possibilities of synergy, and also remind us of how religious commitments can also run at cross purposes to ecological sustainability. 
  • Jeremy Kidwell (Christian Ethics, Birmingham University) will present work in progress on the temporality of (climate) activism. Exploring in particular the power of place, attachment and “nostalgia”, and combining social scientific and philosophical research with years of field work in the UK climate activism scene. 
  • Stefan Skrimshire (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds) will present some work in progress on religion and the ‘sixth mass extinction’. He will explore Christian approaches to mortality and immortality as a critique of attempts to globally manage, engineer, and master death and life in an age of extinctions. 
  • Panel presentations will be followed by responses from two members of CRPL, Emma Tomalin (Religions and Global Development, Leeds) and Rachel Muers (Christian Studies, University of Leeds), before opening up to discussion.
Evan and Robin Trinidad speaking in a panal

Trinidad Workshop

October 2-3, 2017 | The University of the West Indies-St. Augustine

CLALS organized and co-sponsored a two-day workshop in Trinidad, focused on "Small Island Vulnerabilities in the Pacific and Caribbean," hosted by the Institute of International Relations at The University of the West Indies-St. Augustine, and co-sponsored by The Wilson Center's program on Environmental Change and Security, led by Roger-Mark De Souza. Together with our co-sponsors, CLALS also organized a public forum, also held at the Institute and featuring workshop participants, faith leaders, and the Director of the Caribbean's Disaster Emergency Management Agency, which addressed the question: "How is Climate Change Affecting Islands and What Can We Do About It?" Concerned with adaptation and resilience in the face of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and unprecedented weather events, the forum addressed what shared policy goals island states should embrace, giving particular attention to civil society - including religious actors - as a crucial catalyst for community responses to climate change.

Climate and Diplomacy panel

Religion and Climate Diplomacy in Small Island Developing States

July 10, 2017 | The Wilson Center

In July 2017 we co-sponsored a public panel discussion on "Religion and Climate Diplomacy in Small Island Developing States," hosted by the Wilson Center's program on Environmental Change and Security, which compared perspectives from the Pacific and Caribbean. With attention to religious leaders and faith-based civil society actors, this public forum focused on religion's role in addressing island vulnerabilities, and in facilitating constructive engagements between local or community stakeholders and national policy makers, amid concerns for economic livelihoods and sustainability in the adaptation to climate change. The forum addressed how religious actors identify climate as a basis of outreach and collaboration, other issues connected to climate in the course of such efforts, and the potential added value of religious voices as part of mitigation and adaptation efforts. Please click here for a full video recording, and here for an article summarizing the event.

Workshop group gathers in well lit space

Lima Workshop

May 2-3, 2017 | Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya

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.

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

Delhi Workshop

December 8-9, 2016 | Observer Research Foundation

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.

Group of scholars sitting around a large table

DC Planning Meeting

March 31-April 1, 2016 | American University

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).