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Religious Beliefs and Ecology Relationship

In my initial proposal, I have stated that religion and environmental justice could correlate on different levels to provide a better insight into the issues presented by the latter. The highlight of my idea was the fact that addressing this challenge as a community would be an effective way to resolve it. There was always a dire need for strong and reliable ties between different parts of society, and it is even more actual now when the pandemic and its consequences shake the world.

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As states Johnson (2018), “when people begin to think about God in relation to this stunning natural world opened up to our wonder but being destroyed by our wasting leads to a whole new approach” (p. 18). Combining faith and critical reason, I strive to provide my audience with an insightful reflection on both religious and ecological agendas in terms of environmental justice. The main question has already been asked: how to bring together religious beliefs and ecology? In this essay, I will try to answer that question and elaborate on the benefits of communication between public organizations, religious institutions, and the society they represent.

Different religions have different traditions regarding humanity’s relationship with its environment, but almost all of them agree on Earth being our mother and holy creation of divine power. An insight into Hindu rituals provided by Narayanan (2001): “She is to be honored and respected; classical dancers, after pounding on the ground during a concert, touch the earth reverentially to express their esteem for it” (p. 183).

One of the most ancient religions – Zoroastrianism – even sees different aspects of the real world such as earth, animals, metals, fire, water, plants, and humans as seven divine emanations of the high god Ahura Mazda. Even the pantheistical beliefs of ancient Greeks and Egyptians proclaimed the earth to be a living creature: the Charybdis from Homer’s The Odyssey or Naunet of Egyptian mythology both appear as the embodiments of the all-consuming power of the ocean.

Recognizing it, we may safely conclude that for every religion, earth is the beginning, the ultimate incarnation of the world as conceived by their deity, and the place for the spirits and living creatures alike to live and prosper.

Another facet of sacral meanings of nature is, of course, the water. If the Earth is the mother and the Sun is the source of life power, then the water is blood that runs through the veins of every living creature and the planet itself. Christians view the water as a symbol of purification, a determination in beliefs, as they baptize with or in it. Water is the beginning and the continuity of life – without it, lives no one. I myself saw the beautiful Wishing Wells in Palm Springs, California and envisioned the metaphor behind it.

The Wishing Wells is an installation by artist Serge Attukwei Clottey that represents the everyday trek people of Ghana and other desert lands need to take in order to gather the much-needed water. In the installation, Attukwei Clottey becomes the water warrior and carries an empty Kufuor gallon – they are used to transport water in Ghana – through the sculptural complex and its surrounding. The goal of this performance is to connect communities in the Coachella Valley with the artist’s hometown of Labadi in Ghana by using religious motifs and ecological approach.

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Religion is indeed a powerful force, under whose banner people still unite most willingly and productively, so it seems only logical to link it to the topic of environmental justice. The goal of any religion is not only to bring out the better in each individual human being, but also to moderate the community through a set of rules established in form of tenets.

Those sacred regulations can be successfully connected to the issues of ecology, thus giving the religious believers a possibility to act and provide their own perspective on the matter. In this regard, it does not seem important which religion is featured, as any experience might be crucial to the problem-solving.

The ultimate task is to create a connection between human beliefs and the issue that could be addressed through those beliefs. In our case, this can be achieved through the conjoined work of our university and the people of faith: together, it would be possible to resolve the environmental challenges in our community effectively. As I have already written in my initial proposal, the first steps could be simply being in closer touch with the surrounding society.

An excellent example of a union between religion and community might be the Jadidism movement, which arose among Muslims of the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century. The Jadids sought to change the cultural and social approach to Islam, vouching for a new teaching method at Madrasas – Muslim religious schools – at first, then focusing on creating a more progressive, modern view on the religion. This movement insisted on opening “the gates of Ijtihad” – a right to independently read and understand the Quran, which was only possible through the spread of scientific approach and education.

Everything the Jadids stood for, including the eradication of poverty, equal rights for women, and open access to education, made their impact on Muslim society. This current is now considered vital for the development of Islam in the twentieth century and the previously uneducated common Muslim folk of the Russian Empire. I see it as a beautiful, powerful illustration of what religion can do when it joins its forces with the community and looks more deeply into what people of that community need the most.

Looking back into the history of humanity, we may notice that the ethical questions and norms set by religion were able to withstand the destructive influence of time and change of cultures. As humankind progressed in its development, those questions and norms either became a foundation for philosophical ideas or remained a law of the highest moral.

Pope Francis (2015), too, emphasized the opinion of Patriarch Bartholomew, who “has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for a solution not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms” (p. 11). This approach seems unattainable at first – to revert humanity’s conduct to the existing reality in times of raging capitalism and consumer’s attitude towards the Earth is by no means a simple task.

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However, if we start with smaller steps, affecting the environment of our community first and then spreading the idea of environmental justice further with the help of the university’s public image, we might find this challenge easier to overcome.

In my initial proposal, I have suggested that the involvement of public organizations generally provides a more immersed audience while simultaneously giving them space to exchange and discuss ideas on an academic level effectively.

This could also work as a way to communicate the issues of environmental justice towards other parts of society that might not have been interested in those matters initially. The support of the university expressed in hosting charity and sports events, open readings, and discussions would provide these originally uninvolved parts of the community a chance to step into action and give their opinions on the problem.

As I see it, the confidence to express their points of view and a feeling of camaraderie towards each other and religious concerns would help to unify the community against the challenges of environmental justice. The key objective is to show the people how to improve their living conditions by working together. The religion seems to be the most reliable and universal foundation for uniting very different parts of society. The critical reason also helps to support my claim by providing an objective insight into the issue.

References

Johnson, E. A. (2018). Chapter 9: Creator spirit in the evolving world. In Quest for the living God: mapping frontiers in the theology of God (pp. 181–201). Bloomsbury Academic.

Narayanan, V. (2001). Water, wood, and wisdom: Ecological perspectives from the Hindu Traditions. Dædalus, 130(4), 179–207.

Pope Francis. (2015). Encyclical letter, Laudato si’ of the Holy Father Francis on care for our common home. St Pauls.

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