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HDS Talks Green, Spirituality

Harvard Divinity School panel infuses ‘green’ into spirituality

Students and religious leaders explored the intersection of religion and environmentalism at a conference held Friday at the Harvard Divinity School.

At the gathering, “Ministry for Earth Community,” speakers presented various methods that religious leaders should use to encourage environmental activism.

Many also emphasized that environmentalism has roots in the fundamental doctrines of many faiths.

All four members of the panel discussion agreed that religious leaders are uniquely suited to inspire people to protect the environment. But they said that sparking such inspiration is an enormous challenge.

“It is difficult to frame in terms of religious tradition or current mission,” said panelist Willis J. Jenkins, assistant professor of social ethics at Yale Divinity School. “Environmental issues have to make theological sense. They have to make a community come alive.”

In that vein, each panelist discussed practical ways to describe environmentalism in terms of religious faith.

“It can be a spiritual practice to turn off the light,” said panelist Reverend Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an Episcopal priest and member of the leadership council for Religious Witness for the Earth, an interfaith organization dedicated to protecting the environment.

“When we install solar panels we can worship God’s creation, the Appalachian mountains, which are being blown off in the search for coal,” she said.

Roger S. Gottlieb, a panelist and professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, noted that “denial and avoidance are in a sense reasonable strategies when the reality is overwhelming.”

“We need not just a short burst of energy during Earth Week, but an entire change of our way of living spiritually,” said Susan Abraham, moderator of the discussion and assistant professor of Women’s Studies and Ministry Studies at HDS.

In the afternoon, audience members attended a series of workshops led by the panelists that aimed to develop skills in organizing and inspiring people to change. The workshops also emphasized humans’ interconnectedness with nature and faith.