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News from Environmental Humanities Initiative

January 27, 2017

by Adam Gabriele Roger S. Gottlieb smiling outdoors

Religions have undeniably shaped today’s world. Scholars in the field of Religion and Ecology study the billions of people worldwide who not only identify but also define themselves religiously.  They argue that any attempt to understand the thoughts and decision-making processes of human agents without considering religious drivers is impoverished.

Scholars of Religion and Ecology study religiously charged conflict and division, but they also highlight the potential for respectful inter-religious communication and cooperation. Indeed, Lynn White’s influential 1967 article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” – a central text in the field – makes the case that ideas particular to certain religions and religious scripture are most responsible for our current environmental precariousness.  He references the Hebrew Bible, for example, which authorizes humankind to have “dominion over the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

However, the Hebrew Bible also contains the injunction of Talmudic law: bal tashchit or “do not destroy.”  According to scholars of the Jewish tradition – including ASU’s own renowned Director of Jewish Studies, Professor Hava Tirosh-Samuelson – the relevance of ancient scripture for the modern environmental crisis is unmistakable.  She notes that Hebrew scripture is “concerned for the wellbeing of the planet.”

In her work, Professor Tirosh-Samuelson emphasizes the ecological relevance of the ethics of responsibility and interconnectedness, which are fundamental moral concepts in Judaism. In Jewish belief, she observes, the natural world is sacralized by humanity’s interaction with it.  This reminds us that the same hands that are currently strangling the life out of this planet could instead be employed in the divine work of making it more perfect.

Another prolific scholar of Religion and Ecology, Roger S. Gottlieb, will visit ASU on March 27-28, 2017.  His lecture will be part of a series of events that will officially launch the Environmental Humanities Initiative.  Gottlieb is a Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as well as author of twenty books and more than one hundred articles on environmental ethics, political philosophy and spirituality.

In his lecture, “For the Love of Life: Environmental Crisis and Environmental Action," Professor Gottlieb will explore how humanity can better understand the facts of ecological degradation and respond to them.  His remarks will illustrate how the environmental humanities are vibrantly contributing to the most important discussions surrounding sustainability and the future of life on our planet.