A long-standing member of the Garrison Institute advisory board, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and her husband John Grim, joined Garrison Institute co-founder Jonathan Rose in conversation around how we as a global community can transition to an ethic of interdependence that can serve as an inspiring vision for integrating ecology, justice, and peace.
The religious and spiritual traditions of the world transmit ecological and justice perspectives in their scriptures, rituals, and contemplative practices as well as in their moral and ethical commitments. In this webinar, Tucker and Grim highlighted the generative origin stories and worldviews that many faith traditions hold. They explored the ways in which such orientations can foster a filial connection to the universe and help us remember that we belong to a vast earth community.
An example of ecological wisdom from the Confucian tradition comes from Chang Tsai, an 11th-century neo-Confucian. He writes:
“Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds a small place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.”
Tucker and Grim emphasized that religious ecologies can play a critical role in reconstituting human-earth relations and addressing modern environmental crises. By grounding us, building our resilience, and reminding us of our interconnectedness, these traditions prepare us to be an ethical force in the world.
As an expression of this potential, Tucker and Grim cited Laudato Si’, an encyclical of Pope Francis that is celebrating its fifth anniversary this week. The papal letter integrates social justice with environmental justice, connecting the “cry of the poor” with the “cry of the earth,” and calls humans into a deeper relationship with all species.
Another resource Tucker and Grim referenced is the work of eco-theologian Thomas Berry, whom they were students of and collaborates with for decades. His lasting legacy urges humans to expand our community of kin to include animals, the earth, and even the universe. As he wisely said:
“The world is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”
Recovering the rich ecological wisdom of our religious and spiritual traditions is also occurring in China, where a revival of Confucianism and the idea of “ecological civilization” is taking place. Tucker shared that cultural learning now plays a greater role in the Chinese school systems and that parents are increasingly interested in educating their children in the classics.
In addition to taking creative action in response to ongoing environmental crises, these religious ecologies can also help us to respond to this time of pandemic. As an example of this potential, Tucker pointed to the way in which the arts are exploding on the internet right now, remarking that “people’s response to this moment is extraordinary. There is no question that something is birthing and that we can be midwives for that process… change is happening.”
Rose, who moderated the conversation, observed how people are in a more reflective state right now because “we’ve all been taken off the treadmill.” This moment has sparked an awakening, and with the help of our wisdom traditions, we can see this moment as a gateway to transformation. Together, we can re-evaluate how we live and use technology, collectively committing to the goal of advancing the flourishing of the entire earth community.
Islam captures this community-minded religious ecology succinctly in a Hadith, a saying of the prophet Muhammad, in which he is asked: “At the end of time, what should we do?” Muhammed responds, without hesitation, “plant a tree.”
For those interested in exploring this topic further, we encourage you to review the following resources:
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Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim teach at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Divinity School. They direct the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale and are series editors of the Harvard volumes from the conferences on Religion and Ecology. Tucker specializes in East Asian religions, especially Confucianism. Grim specializes in indigenous traditions, especially Native American religions. They have written and edited many books, and for the last 30 years, Grim has served as president of the American Teilhard Association and Tucker as Vice President.
Jonathan F.P. Rose’s business, public policy, and not-for-profit work focus on creating a more environmentally, socially, and economically responsible world. Jonathan and his wife Diana Calthorpe Rose are the co-founders of the Garrison Institute. He serves on its Board and leads its Pathways to Planetary Health program.
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