Santa Clara University


Religion and Ethics in The Global Environment

1. Brief Introduction
2. Excerpts from Religion and Politics in the International System (Cambridge, 2006):
3. A Short Introductory Course
4. Other Resource Materials
5. Recent Articles

1. Brief Introduction:

Pedersen (below) organizes the treatment of religious resources for environmental ethics into a) the Abrahamic religions, b) South Asian religious traditions, c) East Asian religious traditions, and d) religious traditions of Indigenous Peoples. At the end, the article lists eight points that those traditions, “to a greater or lesser extent,” agree on. Pedersen terms the Abrahamic religions neither anthropocentric nor biocentric, but theocentric. The Earth belongs absolutely to God. In the Jewish tradition, the author focuses on the concepts of “stewardship,” special blessings [bracha], and the cessation of work on the Sabbath. For Christianity, the author discusses the “eco-justice” movement, monasticism, and sacramentality. In the Qur’an, as in the Hebrew Bible, nonhuman creatures have their own relationships with God, unmediated by humans. Islam has also developed a strong eco-justice perspective. For the South Asian religions, Pedersen discusses the continuity of all forms of life, non violence [ahimsa], and the ascetic ideal. Indeed, Jainism takes ahimsa to its strongest point in forbidding the killing of any living thing. For Buddhism, the article points to the Jatakas, more than five hundred stories about the Buddha’s previous lives and to the principle of all things as arising in dependence on causes and conditions. For Confucianism and Daoism, the article stresses the role of qi [energy] in constituting a single universe and the necessity of following “the Way” in one’s life. Shinto offers characteristics in common with other indigenous traditions. 

Public and governmental support for limiting climate change has grown in the last decade as the world has experienced more and more ecological disasters. The current focus in on the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen in December 7-18, 2009. However, the last day saw frantic negotiations that produced an agreement by the United States and the BASIC countries (China, India, South Africa, Brazil) that set out a united acceptance of the problem and vision for the future, but did not legally obligate the countries to pursue it. A host of commentators have since listed the positive and negative aspects of the document. 

2. Excerpts from Religion and Politics in the International System (Cambridge, 2006):

Religion and Politics in the International System Today (pp. 21-28) treats the Global Environmental System in its discussion of the global economic system. The post-World War II Bretton Woods economic system that fostered international trade has had major effects in increasing the transportation system (fuel consumption, world transmission of non-native species); the rate of transmission of disease (SARS, AIDS); destruction of native habitats; and global warming. Population growth remains a major issue. As an independent natural system, the environmental system both follows its own scientific processes and interacts with human activity. In both cases global effects have increased.

3. A Short Introductory Course:

Pedersen offers a fine summary of the various religious resources for the environmental movement in a single article. Gottlieb offers a longer, and superbly argued treatment from a more recent perspective, covering both theoretical and socio-political issues. Barnhill and Gottlieb have also edited a fine collection of articles. See below for the religious traditions covered in the volume. Gary Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute offers the combination of a new approach to "Progress" with many examples of religious interventions for the environment. In his November 2007 talk at Santa Clara University Gardner emphasized the possible contributions of religious traditions to lessening consumerism. Worldwatch ( also provides links to many other sites) is known for its emphasis on issues of global economic development and sustainability. It issues a yearly report on "The State of the World." The 2006 edition focused on China and India, 2007 on "Our Urban Future."  For the relationship between environmental ethics and social justice, see the United Nations Human Development Report 2007/2008. Chryssavgis has put together the major environmental statements of the "Green Patriarch" Bartholomew I who has been particularly active on this issue. Scientists Crane, Kinderman, and Malhotra provide a very readable comprehensive and balanced analysis of the energy crisis, with various realistic options for tackling it.

Pedersen, Kusumita P., “Environmental Ethics in Interreligious Perspective,” in Twiss, Sumner B. and Grelle, Bruce, eds. Explorations in Global Ethics: Comparative Religious Ethics and Interreligious Dialogue (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1996), 253-90.

Gottlieb, Roger S. A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet's Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). This is as close a definitive treatment of environmentalism and religion as exists. If you don't have time for the entire book, see Chapter One on ecotheology and Chapter Three on "Sustainable Religion" and its practices.

Barnhill, David Landis, and Gottlieb, Roger S., eds. Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Ground (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2001). Essays cover Indigenous Traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese Religion, Confucianism, Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Ecofeminism.

Gardner, Gary S. Inspiring Progress: Religions' Contributions to Sustainable Development (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006).

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 2007/2008, Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Chryssavgis, John, ed. Cosmic Grace--Humble Prayer: Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew I, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2009).

Crane, Hewitt D., Kinderman, Edwin M., and Malhotra, Ripudaman. A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

4. Other Resource Materials:

Darlington, Susan M., “Buddhism and development: The ecology monks of Thailand,” in Queen, Christopher, Prebish, Charles, and Keown, Damien, Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003). This volume reads very well as a continuance of Queen and King (1996). It is divided into four sections: Historical Roots, Asian Narratives, Western Frontiers, and Three Critiques.

Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003. This doctor-public anthropologist writes of his experience with the lack of health care in developing countries, especially Haiti, Russia, and Chiapas (Chapter Three). For those interested in Catholicism, he discusses Liberation Theology in Chapter Five. Forward by Amartya Sen.

Gottlieb, Roger S., “Saving the World: Religion and Politics in the Environmental Movement,” in Gottlieb, Roger S., Joining Hands: Politics and Religion Together for Social Change (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 2002), 151-78. Gottlieb is a professor of philosophy at Boston’s Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a background in the Marxist tradition before focusing on the environmental movement and its relation to religious traditions. Chapter Seven unites the book’s approach to religion and politics (“Joining Hands”) with recent environmental statements and actions within religious traditions.

Gottlieb, Roger S., ed., This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002). Fine collection of readings.

McFague, Sallie. A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008). A theological response to the 2007 United Nations report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Protestant theologian McFague of Vancouver School of Theology (emerita from Vanderbilt Divinity School) starts her ninth chapter with Hopkins' "God's Grandeur."

White, Lynn, “Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155 (1967): 1203-07. This very influential early article, focused on the environmental impact of the Western tradition which the author identifies principally with Christianity, has been both praised and criticized for its contribution to setting the terms of the debate for the next ten years. For a contrasting view which analyzes the disparate strains in the Abrahamic religions, see Pedersen above.

Pope John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all Creation. In "And God Saw That It Was Good", edited by D. Christiansen, SJ and W. Grazer (Washington, DC: USCC, 1990).

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. 1991. Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (Washington DC: USCC, 1991).

Pope John Paul II. 2001. “Ecological Conversion,” at

Some other religion and the environment websites:

Biodiversity Project publications

Catholic conservation center

Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Evangelical Environmental Network

Forum on Religion and Ecology

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Eco-Justice Working Group

National Religious Partnership for the Environment Conference on “Ethics, Values, and the Environment” March 18, 2006, sponsored by the Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

For student work under Professor Keith Warner, Santa Clara University, click here

See Markkula Links for Environmental Ethics (11)

5. Recent News Articles:

"In Disaster's Wake," New York Times Week in Review, January 2, 2005. Section covers threats from tsumanis, typhoons, and earthquakes, and human responses, in week following the great Asian tsunami. There are more disasters, and more people, especially the poor, are living in dangerous areas. In addition, richer areas like Los Angeles have upgraded building codes while poorer areas like Tehran have not.

"Nations Near Agreement on Steps to Revive Climate Treaty," New York Times, December 15, 2007. Report on Bali Climate Conference. After strong speech by Al Gore, U.S. delegation agrees to reenter negotiations to establish within two years a new protocol to the original climate treaty signed by George H.W. Bush in 1992.

"What's Your Consumption Factor?" New York Times, January 2, 2008, op-ed by "Guns, Germs and Steel" Jared Diamond on differences in consumption of natural resources between developed and developing countries (U.S. to Kenya, 32 to 1). Impact of economic rise of China and India.

"New encyclical echoes a Green vision," by Rich Heffern, National Catholic Reporter, July 24, 2009. Despite starting from different organizing visions, all the overlap between Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas in veritate (June 29, 2009) and Green party positions.

"U.N. Says Poor Nations Need $600 Billion for New Energy," New York Times, September 2, 2009. U.N. Report puts cost per year of program to enable poor countries to developing countries to use renewable cleaner energy resources rather than dirty fuels that increase global warming.

"Eco-skeptics put spin on Benedict's message," National Catholic Reporter, January 8, 2010. Article by John Allen on papal World Peace Day (January 1) message on the environment and critical response from the skeptics. "[M]ore spin a given statement breeds, the more important it is."

"Brazil's bishops sound alarm about the Amazon," National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 2010. Catholic bishops from Para state in Brazil, visiting Rome, oppose current form of Belo Monte dam in Brazil. It is slated to be the world's third largest dam, and, according to the bishops, very harmful to indigenous people. Tie to human trafficking between the Amazon and Europe. Three of the fifteen bishops are under death threats at home. The government, however, has decided to continue with construction. See Brazil.

"Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover," New York Times, August 10, 2010. Comparison of Portugal's very successful program with other countries.


Thanks to Professor Keith Douglass Warner, O.F.M., Santa Clara University, for recommending many of the above sources. You may access a recent article of his on environmental justice and the Catholic imagination at . The comments on the various sources, however, remain the responsibility of the web author.

September 10, 2010.