Three Pillars for Faith’s Engagement in Environmental Peacebuilding: The transformative potential of faith and spirituality in relationship-building, dialogue, and healing
Authors: Elsa Barron (Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light); Huda Alkaff (Wisconsin Green Muslims); Elyse Baden (Michigan State University); Katie Chustak (Red Cloud Indian School); Matthieu Guillier (Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)
Given the severity and urgency of current environmental crises affecting all regions of the world, future environmental peacebuilding efforts must strive to incorporate a diverse and inclusive range of voices in dialogue and action. One specific demographic that has great potential for engagement in these efforts are individuals who identify with a faith tradition, which, according to a 2015 Pew Research study, includes 84 per cent of the global population.[i]
While each faith has its unique belief system and set of practices, many faith traditions emphasize the importance of valuing and caring for the environment. Furthermore, many traditions value peace and peacebuilding processes, making individuals of faith great partners for environmental initiatives.[ii] It is clear that faith is a powerful foundation to motivate environmental peacebuilding and should be highlighted as a future direction for the field. We, therefore, propose three pillars to guide future faith-based environmental peacebuilding initiatives: relationship to environment and community, dialogue and collaboration, and healing through justice and reconciliation.
What’s been done
Relationship to environment and community:
Faith traditions provide individuals and communities with a system of belief that instils relationality and sacredness. With faith tradition, environmental activism does not stem from scientific or economic insight alone, but rather emerges as the means for caring for the environment as a good relative or a good steward. It also operates as a means of caring for other persons, communities, and nations across the globe who are most impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.[iii] Regenerative agriculture practices, renewable energy, and conservation become moral tenets. This relationship to environment and community shifts dialogue from assigning monetary value to the environment and its ecological services, to that of honouring its intrinsic value. This sacred relationship is radical in societies driven by capital gain that measure the health of a system by its wealth and economy. As climate justice continues to rise as an imperative, diverse faith traditions offer a unique framework for the necessary kind of radical relationship building.
Dialogue and collaboration:
Many faith communities are sensitive to the circular nature of the world we live in. Our world is intrinsically connected, a reality well illustrated by our shared climate system. The goal of interfaith environmental dialogue is to build a mutual collaboration, informed by our interconnectedness, that addresses the moral sustainability issues of our time. Faith communities engaging in this dialogue often perceive themselves as sharing a dependence on and relationship with a common and balanced ecosystem.[iv] Imagining sustainable social, economic, and environmental health and well-being rooted in sacred teachings is key to environmental and community peacebuilding. Instead of conflicting over religious differences, a focus on our human relationships grounded in accountability towards all parts of the ecosystem, responsible care for our neighbours, and an awareness of the intersectionality of the problems and solutions, can bring faith communities together. In so doing, faith communities have the power to rise to spiritual, collective action guided by their values to unite for environmental justice and peace for all.
Healing through justice and reconciliation:
In addition to shared concern around the environment, many faith communities have traditions around processes for mediation and healing.[v] These practices can be applied to reconciliation with the environment, drawing from the idea that we are in relationship with the world around us: a relationship that is strained by extractive and exploitative practices. Environmental care is an avenue for symbolic rapprochement and reconciliation across communities and spiritualities as well as between communities and the ecosystems they inhabit. Reconciliation takes place with the backdrop of care for a shared creation. This ethics of care resonates with an onus for restorative justice as a way to repair society and manage resources outside of an extractive approach. Within the framework of faith, climate action is not just about ensuring a future that is liveable through technological advance. It also includes acknowledgment of past wrongdoings against the environment and those in relationship with it (i.e., Indigenous Peoples) and the need for healing through transforming an ethic of consumption to one of reconciliation and relationship. The depth of this reconciliation and healing resonates with the values of environmental peacebuilding and can be used to inform future directions of the field.
Faith communities have an important role to play when it comes to envisioning and enacting environmental peacebuilding. They bring critical values to the table, including a relationship to land and community, opportunities for dialogue and collaboration, and tools for healing through justice and reconciliation. In addition to these guiding principles, faith groups have networks and trusted leadership expanding across the world, meaning faith-based initiatives have the potential to garner widespread attention.[vi] While the values, vision, and work of many faith groups overlap with the environmental peacebuilding field, their networks often remain disconnected. In the future, environmental peacebuilding practitioners can and should collaborate more meaningfully and more often with faith communities and join forces in their collective efforts to build a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world.
This article is a contribution to a compendium of 50 entries on the future of environmental peacebuilding, written by 150 authors in a collective effort to chart a future course of action. Environmental peacebuilding, climate security, environmental peace and security — these are all terms to articulate the relationship between natural resources and the lines between violent conflict and peace.
The collective project was collated and launched on 1 February 2022 at the International Conference for Environmental Peacebuilding online. It is meant to be a tool both of collective sensemaking and of influence for decision-makers. Learn more here.
[i] Pew Research Center. (2017). The Changing Global Religious Landscape. https://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/
[ii] One such example of this is the fact that Islam literally translates to peace, showing the religion’s integral emphasis on the concept.
[iii] As one example in a North American Indigenous faith tradition, Mitákyue Oyá’siŋ is a central Lakȟóta teaching, meaning “all my relations.” The land, the water, the air, plants, animals, and people are known to be interconnected as relatives.
[iv] For example, Ecopeace Middle East has produced the Jordan River Covenant, bringing together religious leadership to express their attachment to the river and commitment to the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River. Similarly, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development showcases the relationship between ecology and religion in different traditions. In the United States, the Wisconsin Faith and Solar Initiative and the Faithful Rainwater Harvesting (FaRaH) have brought communities of widely differing faiths together in Wisconsin around the potential of solar energy, water conservation, and sustainable development.
[v] The three great monotheisms alone have a long history of mediation and healing processes, from Jewish traditions of diplomacy to Muslim arbitrators and the transformative objective of Christian peacebuilders.
[vi] This potential is exemplified by the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, authored by Pope Francis, which led many Catholic communities of faith around the world to urgently take up action on the environment, notably through the concept of integral ecology, stewardship, and care for the most vulnerable.