Current Journal

Greenfaith photoWe are delighted to present this issue on interfaith/multifaith environmental activism and teachings, expertly curated by the Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, a leading interfaith environmental organization. We at the JIRS are grateful to Fletcher, the folks at GreenFaith, and the many contributors to this issue for the wealth of perspectives we are able to share with you here.

A brief introduction to Issue 19 by Sue Fendrick, Editor-in-Chief of the JIRS.

The twenty-four month period leading up to the Paris climate negotiations last December, also known as COP 21, represented, by almost any measure, a high water mark of the religious-environmental movement.   Never before have religious groups around the world within such a concentrated period of time shown such a level of public support for environmental action. This essay represents an effort to chronicle some of this activity and demonstrate the substantial and multi-faceted growth of this movement, and then introduces the other articles and essays in this issue of the Journal of Inter-religious Studies, of which I (on behalf of GreenFaith) serve as guest editor. In doing so, it highlights some of the questions, developmental challenges, and new dimensions of a movement that has steadily emerged from the margins of religious life, to represent an increasingly strong center of gravity for interfaith organizing on a global scale.

This article describes and discusses “Fé no clima: Comunidades religiosas e mudanças climáticas,” an May-September 2015 initiative in Rio de Janeiro. This initiative was organized by a well-established Brazilian NGO, Instituto de Estudos da Religião (ISER), with a history of work on religious diversity and human rights, and Gestão de Interesse Público (GIP), an organization that helps civil society organizations which work on climate change and development projects. Because the religious segment has a substantial influence on the Brazilian government and on everyday life and political ethics, Fé no Clima was created with a strategy of mapping the ongoing climate change debate within this segment and fostering religious engagement with climate issues. It attempted to provide positive answers to challenges articulated in previous ISER initiatives, and established a baseline from which to create a new consensus-based ecological consciousness and support related advocacy within faith communities.

Research consistently shows that public understanding of climate change science is strongly biased by cultural influences--in particular politics, ethnicity, and worldview. Although faith currently has a limited influence on people's views about climate change, it has the potential to generate narratives of concern and action around shared values and identity that can cross these boundaries. This article explores the reasons that climate change is so cognitively challenging and presents our qualitative and quantitative research to identify new faith-based language. This was the first international research to develop and test language that might work in an interfaith context, appealing across all of the world's five main faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Engaged Buddhism, a movement that applies Buddhist teachings and practices to a range of social issues, has produced Buddhist leaders and organizations who have made important contributions to the protection of the environment in Asia, and has elevated the visibility and importance of such efforts in Buddhist communities across Asia and beyond. The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INER) and its Inter-religious Climate and Ecology Network have played leading roles in this regard, having applied Buddhist teachings to the ecological crisis and having developed a range of initiatives to enable Buddhists to contribute to the development of an environmentally sustainable society.

Hindus working on multi-faith environmental initiatives in the West face challenges of messaging, resulting from the often unacknowledged dominance of Abrahamic faiths’ conception of the relationship of humans to the rest of existence and polarities in belief in the public phrasing of and definition of our current ecological problems and solutions. Hindus need to be better at articulating their beliefs for non-Hindus, while at the same time non-Hindus need to recognize that some of the messaging and priorities in the environmental activism community are at odds with, or at least not fully aligned with, Hindu spiritual beliefs.

Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On the Care For Our Common Home,” is the highest profile statement ever by a religious leader on the environment, receiving global media coverage and evoking responses from theologians around the world. This article represents a selection of comments on the encyclical by Catholic theologians and lay leaders, and by scholars from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Protestant Christian traditions, excerpted from a series of two webinars hosted by GreenFaith in September 2015.

In June 2015, GreenFaith held the Emerging Leaders Multi-Faith Climate Convergence (the Convergence) in Rome, a gathering of 110 Millennial generation leaders from multiple faiths and more than 30 countries. The Convergence began on June 28 with a dramatic march by several thousand people of diverse faiths as well as environmentalists into St. Peter’s Square, to thank Pope Francis for his encyclical Laudato Si’. It continued with a three-day series of workshops and trainings at which these young faith leaders shared their passions and concerns with each other, built relationships, and developed climate action plans which they would proceed to implement in their home countries. Convergence participants developed the hashtag #faithrising and launched an active on-line community of mutual encouragement that continues to this day. To lift up the voices and perspectives of this new generation of multi-faith leaders under age 35, we invited several of them from different countries to share their perspective on the intersection of faith and the climate crisis, bringing their generational identity to bear.

Diseases caused by dirty water and inadequate sanitation kill hundreds of thousands of children every year and trap millions more in a cycle of poverty and disease. Can religious groups, which are increasingly involved in water projects – from building wells and toilets to advocating for rights to water – make a difference? In this paper, Weldon explores the growing interest among faith communities in linking their spiritual teachings on water and cleanliness with practical action. Water crosses religious as well as geographical boundaries. Weldon is optimistic about the potential for building greater unity and understanding through interfaith collaborations in an area that everyone can agree on: the need for clean water, decent toilets, and healthy children.

David Seidenberg provides a much-needed addition to the literature on ecology and religion with his Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World. His exhaustive exploration of the contribution of kabbalistic theology to our thinking--and acting--with regards to the Earth (not only as divine Creation, but also an expression of the divine image (tselem) in the world), is valuable for its historical scholarship, engaged creative theology, and reframing of significant environmental ethical issues such as anthropocentrism and biocentrism. While anchored in Jewish sources and schools of thought, this book is likely to be of interest not only to those of other Abrahamic faiths (Christianity and Islam) but also to people of all faiths concerned about the fate of our species and our planet.

KAMPALA, Uganda Ñ (Jun 2, 2011) Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Chaplain and Religious Affairs Director (U.S. Navy Captain) Jon Cutler tours the Kampala Gaddafi Mosque with a member of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

As befits the end of a seven-year cycle, this is a kind of “sabbatical” issue. Six scholars in the field of interreligious studies each respond to one of our previously published articles, using their response to reflect not only on the specific issues in that article but on the issues it raises for the field as a whole. A seventh piece captures a conversation among the members of the Journal’s leadership team about the evolution and mission of the Journal itself.

A brief introduction to Issue 18 by Sue Fendrick, Editor-in-Chief of the JIRS.

Interreligious peacebuilding (IRPB) practitioners operate within the wider context of peace and conflict resolution, applying processes such as dialogue, peace education, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.  As an emerging field, several lessons have arisen within IRPB highlighting how it can improve its effectiveness. Interfaith efforts in Israel/Palestine reflect several of these lessons. One main lesson is discussed in this essay: The need for careful examination of the macro setting and questioning of the power dynamics, taking into account the goals of harmonization versus liberation, is crucial. In addition, the value of interreligious intervention as a tool to contribute to the humanization of the other is asserted.

For Lamptey, academic questions are also questions that matter to our communities—or should. This paper lifts up Lamptey’s core insight: the value of bringing together the conversation about gender difference with the one about religious plurality. It argues that two theoretical issues Lamptey explores—hierarchy and boundaries—have real life implications for Jews, connecting to some of the most hotly debated topics in the Jewish world today. In the early work of Judith Plaskow on hierarchy (both gender and religious) and in recent works by Shaul Magid and Noam Pianko on boundaries (related to Jewish peoplehood), we see how Lamptey’s thinking can help us to navigate this new territory in helpful ways. The conversation has important implications for how we understand interreligious engagement in the 21st century.

This article builds on the various meanings of "dialogue" within the growing field of interreligious education, and updates the discussion from the original article. Noted here is the history of the term "dialogue" itself, the range of understandings of the term within the literature today, and the relational applications of dialogue within interreligious engagement.  Also, specific applications of the use of dialogue within interreligious hospitality, youth work, and peace-building are noted. A brief discussion of the "next steps" for interreligious dialogue within student teaching and learning is offered in conclusion.

In her response to Melissa Heller's article, “Jewish-Christian Encounter Through Text: An Interfaith Course for Seminarians,” Suomala discusses how using traditionally Jewish methods of studying sacred text, i.e., hevruta-style partner groups, can also work in the undergraduate classroom.  While an interreligious encounter around sacred text is a more optimal avenue to fruitful and productive learning across religious boundaries, many colleges and seminaries aren't located in settings where this is possible.  Suomala considers how instructors and professors might proceed, using Heller's approach, in the absence of the religious other.

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