Special Issue "Religious Environmental Activism in Asia: Case Studies in Spiritual Ecology"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 June 2019).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Leslie E. Sponsel
Website
Guest Editor
Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822 USA
Interests: Spiritual Ecology; Religious Environmentalism; Buddhist Ecology and Environmentalism; Sacred Places; Sacred Caves; Thailand

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Environmental issues and problems are serious, some are getting worse, and periodically new ones are still being discovered. A multitude of diverse secular approaches to environmental concerns from the local to the global levels certainly have made important progress and are vitally indispensable, such as in the environmental sciences, technology, and conservation as well as in the environmental agencies, laws, and regulations of governments. Nevertheless, secular approaches have proven to be insufficient, this in spite of, among many other things, more than four decades of annual Earth Day celebrations to enhance environmental information, awareness, sensitivity, and responsibility in the USA and other countries. Most secular approaches only treat specific superficial symptoms, rather than the underlying root causes of the unprecedented global environmental crisis as a whole. Also, secular approaches have been insufficient because most ignore the fact that ultimately the environmental crisis as a whole is a spiritual and moral crisis, and that it can only be resolved by radical transformations in the ways that industrial capitalist societies in particular relate to nature. This must involve a profound shift in environmental consciousness and actions which has variously been called the Great Awakening or the Great Turning.

Religious organizations like the Vatican, secular ones like the Worldwatch Institute, and hybrids like the Alliance of Religion and Conservation are exploring and implementing into action ideas about the relevance of religion and spirituality in dealing with environmental issues and problems. Hopefully, these and a multitude of diverse other initiatives engaged in spiritual ecology may help to at least reduce, if not completely resolve, many environmental concerns thereby turning the global environmental crisis around for the better to replace the Anthropocene with the Ecocene, although this may take decades or even longer. Clearly religion and spirituality can be extremely influential for the better at many levels and in many ways through their intellectual, emotional, and activist components.

During this new era recognized by geologists, ecologists, and others as the Anthropocene, with so many grave and urgent environmental problems from the local to the global levels, there are also a multitude of diverse practical initiatives in religious environmentalism addressing the challenges which offer significant potential, hope, and achievements.

This special issue of Religions focuses on providing a set of captivating essays on the specifics of concrete cases of environmental activism involving most of the main Asian religions from several countries. Particular case studies are drawn from the religions of Animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Jainism. Countries include Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand. Thereby this issue offers a very substantial and rich sampling of religious environmental activism in Asia.

This is a relatively neglected subject in the journal and anthology literature which deserves far more attention. Thus, this issue of Religions begins to help fill a strategic gap. It reveals collectively a fascinating and significant movement of environmental initiatives in engaged practical spiritual ecology. Accordingly, this issue should be of special interest to a diversity of scientists, academics, instructors, and students as well as communities and leaders from a wide variety of religions, environmentalism, and conservation.

Prof. Dr. Leslie E. Sponsel
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Religious environmental activism
  • Spiritual Ecology
  • Asia

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction to “Religious Environmental Activism in Asia: Case Studies in Spiritual Ecology”
Religions 2020, 11(2), 77; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020077 - 07 Feb 2020
Abstract
Environmental issues and problems are serious; some are getting worse, and occasionally new ones are still being discovered (Flannery 2010; Meyers and Kent 2005; Ripple et al [...] Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Dai Identity in the Chinese Ecological Civilization: Negotiating Culture, Environment, and Development in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China
Religions 2019, 10(12), 646; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10120646 - 25 Nov 2019
Abstract
The Ecological Civilization (Eco-Civilization) is a Chinese political framework to advance a renewed human–nature relationship that engenders a sustainable form of economic development, and its narratives provide political impetus to conserve ethnic minority cultures whose traditional practices are aligned with state-sanctioned efforts for [...] Read more.
The Ecological Civilization (Eco-Civilization) is a Chinese political framework to advance a renewed human–nature relationship that engenders a sustainable form of economic development, and its narratives provide political impetus to conserve ethnic minority cultures whose traditional practices are aligned with state-sanctioned efforts for environmental protection. This official rhetoric is important in Xishuangbanna, a prefecture in Yunnan province renowned for its lush tropical rainforests and Dai ethnic minority. This article explores the relationship between Dai cultural identity and the Chinese state in the context of environmental concerns and development goals. Historical analyses of ethnic policies and transformations of landscapes and livelihoods are presented alongside descriptions of contemporary efforts by Dai community members and the Chinese state to enact Eco-Civilization directives, and they illustrate paradoxical circumstances in which political rhetoric and practice are seemingly at odds with one another, yet often contradict in such ways so as to further the Chinese state agenda. Moreover, case studies demonstrate how new policies and sustainable development efforts have often perpetuated structures and ideologies of the Maoist era to reinforce inequalities between central state powers and already marginalized ethnic minorities. These dynamics warrant further consideration as the Chinese government continues to champion its leadership in environmental governance. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Anuvrat Movement: A Case Study of Jain-inspired Ethical and Eco-conscious Living
Religions 2019, 10(11), 636; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110636 - 18 Nov 2019
Abstract
From proclaiming the equality of all life forms to the stringent emphasis placed upon nonviolent behavior (ahimsa), and once more to the pronounced intention for limiting one’s possessions (aparigraha), Jainism has often been pointed to for its admirably ecofriendly [...] Read more.
From proclaiming the equality of all life forms to the stringent emphasis placed upon nonviolent behavior (ahimsa), and once more to the pronounced intention for limiting one’s possessions (aparigraha), Jainism has often been pointed to for its admirably ecofriendly example. Incorporating some of this eco-friendliness into its design for ethical vow taking, the Jain-inspired Anuvrat Movement, founded in 1949 by Acharya Sri Tulsi, today offers some arguably vital relevance for the urgent modern task to live eco-consciously. While such relevance includes, most explicitly, Anuvrat’s final vow (vow eleven) which calls for practitioners to “refrain from such acts as are likely to cause pollution and harm the environment,” and to avoid the “cutting down of trees” and the “wasting of water,”1 it also includes several of Anuvrat’s other vows as well, which carry significance on a more implicit level. Hence, presenting some of the basic history and philosophy behind Anuvrat, this article also analyzes its potential for ensuring ethical (and eco-conscious) behavior via its hallmark mechanism of vow restriction—a modality of arguably potent strategic and motivational value. Altogether, while first providing a brief inventory of Jain ecological practice in general, the article will then turn its attention to Anuvrat, arguing that when it comes to the modern eco-conscious imperative to “live simply so that others may simply live” (as the popular adage has it), there is indeed much that Anuvrat has to offer. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Daoism and the Project of an Ecological Civilization or Shengtai Wenming 生态文明
Religions 2019, 10(11), 630; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110630 - 14 Nov 2019
Abstract
For China today, environmentalism is central. The socialist doctrine of “Xi Jinping Thought” prioritizes transitioning to sustainability in the goal of building an “Ecological Civilization”. This creates unprecedented opportunities for Daoist practitioners to engage in state-coordinated activism (part 1). We show how the [...] Read more.
For China today, environmentalism is central. The socialist doctrine of “Xi Jinping Thought” prioritizes transitioning to sustainability in the goal of building an “Ecological Civilization”. This creates unprecedented opportunities for Daoist practitioners to engage in state-coordinated activism (part 1). We show how the science of the planetary crisis (part 2) resonates with Daoist values (part 3), how these values integrate in national policy goals (part 4), and how this religious environmental activism plays out in case studies (part 5). Full article
Open AccessArticle
Sacred Watersheds and the Fate of the Village Body Politic in Tibetan and Han Communities Under China’s Ecological Civilization
Religions 2019, 10(11), 600; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110600 - 29 Oct 2019
Abstract
The “spirit” in spiritual ecology is an active political force deserving sustained scholarly analysis and public recognition. This article reports on 15 years of field research on “animate landscapes,” associated with gods and spirits in Tibetan communities, and “vital landscapes” associated with fengshui [...] Read more.
The “spirit” in spiritual ecology is an active political force deserving sustained scholarly analysis and public recognition. This article reports on 15 years of field research on “animate landscapes,” associated with gods and spirits in Tibetan communities, and “vital landscapes” associated with fengshui in Han Villages. Despite a century of dramatic sociopolitical change across rural areas in the People’s Republic of China, many villages maintain significant geo-phenomenological connections between body, mind, and land, comprising a body politic maintained through ritual cycles and dwelling practices that uphold the sanctity and integrity of vital watersheds. Comparative analysis of Han and Tibetan spiritual ecologies reveals that cosmological landscapes comprise the armature of relational ontologies grounding and informing everyday life, livelihood, and power relations. As dynamic, emergent, and flexible systems of socio-ecological adaptation that both shape and are shaped by regional and transnational media, they play significant roles in policy initiatives associated with Ecological Civilization and hold potential for broadening the horizons of Anthropocene scholarship, socio-ecological activism, and meaningful settlement in a profoundly unsettled world. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Global Capital, Local Conservation, and Ecological Civilization: The Tiejia Ecology Temple and the Chinese Daoist Association’s Green Agenda
Religions 2019, 10(10), 580; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100580 - 17 Oct 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Since 1995, the Chinese Daoist Association (CDA) has pursued a green agenda through the publication of declarations, statements and an eight year plan. This agenda has been aided in part by its engagement with global environmental discourse as mediated in particular by the [...] Read more.
Since 1995, the Chinese Daoist Association (CDA) has pursued a green agenda through the publication of declarations, statements and an eight year plan. This agenda has been aided in part by its engagement with global environmental discourse as mediated in particular by the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC). Through its collaboration with ARC and a Dutch businessman, Allerd Stikker, the CDA built its first “ecology temple” in Shaanxi Province and convened its first ecological conference there. Analysis of these declarations and activities reveals an increasing globalization and juridification of environmental discourse in Chinese Daoist temples. In this way the issue of ecology presents further opportunities for the CDA, and by extension the Communist Party of China (CPC), to enhance their supervision of local religious activities. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Fatwas on Boosting Environmental Conservation in Indonesia
Religions 2019, 10(10), 570; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100570 - 12 Oct 2019
Abstract
Concern about the importance of getting Muslims involved in the movement for a better environment in Indonesia has existed since the 1980s, since the involvement of the Islamic boarding school leaders in triggering their community and the involvement of NGOs in empowering the [...] Read more.
Concern about the importance of getting Muslims involved in the movement for a better environment in Indonesia has existed since the 1980s, since the involvement of the Islamic boarding school leaders in triggering their community and the involvement of NGOs in empowering the community, particularly in environmental and agricultural restoration. After the Bogor Declaration on Muslim Action on Climate Change 2010, in 2011, The Indonesia Council of Ulama (MUI) established the Institute for Environmental and Natural Resources (PLHSDA) in the MUI’s Clerical Conference. The role of this unit within the MUI is very important because the MUI has a special unit in tackling various important issues in the environment, where Muslims can find authoritative answers to environmental challenges. So far, there have been seven MUI fatāwa (edicts) released by MUI related to the environment and the conservation movement. This paper will highlight environmental movements by the Muslim community in Indonesia, and describe how the implementation of the MUI fatāwa can contribute to addressing the massive increase in environmental challenges and increase the involvement and understanding of the Muslim communities in tackling biodiversity conservation as well as climate change. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
New Roles for Indigenous Women in an Indian Eco-Religious Movement
Religions 2019, 10(10), 554; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100554 - 26 Sep 2019
Abstract
This article aims to study how a movement aimed at the assertion of indigenous religiosity in India has resulted in the empowerment of the women who participate in it. As part of the movement, devotees of the indigenous Earth Goddess, who are mostly [...] Read more.
This article aims to study how a movement aimed at the assertion of indigenous religiosity in India has resulted in the empowerment of the women who participate in it. As part of the movement, devotees of the indigenous Earth Goddess, who are mostly indigenous women, experience possession trances in sacred natural sites which they have started visiting regularly. The movement aims to assert indigenous religiosity in India and to emphasize how it is different from Hinduism—as a result the ecological articulations of indigenous religiosity have intensified. The movement has a strong political character and it explicitly demands that indigenous Indian religiosity should be officially recognized by the inclusion of a new category for it in the Indian census. By way of their participation in this movement, indigenous Indian women are becoming figures of religious authority, overturning cultural taboos pertaining to their societal and religious roles, and are also becoming empowered to initiate ecological conservation and restoration efforts. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Buddhist Integration of Forest and Farm in Northern Thailand
Religions 2019, 10(9), 521; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090521 - 10 Sep 2019
Abstract
Usually seen as incompatible, forests and farms are integrated by Buddhist environmental activists in Thailand. Monks engaged in environmental conservation see the conditions of farmers’ lives as related to how they treat the forests surrounding their farms. If farmers seek their livelihood through [...] Read more.
Usually seen as incompatible, forests and farms are integrated by Buddhist environmental activists in Thailand. Monks engaged in environmental conservation see the conditions of farmers’ lives as related to how they treat the forests surrounding their farms. If farmers seek their livelihood through cash-cropping and contract farming, they see the forest as a material resource in terms of land for future farms. This attitude contributes to the rapid deforestation occurring across northern Thailand’s mountainous region and a cycle of environmental degradation and economic struggle. Buddhist monks work with non-governmental organizations and sometimes state agents to encourage farmers to shift to integrated agriculture, growing a mix of food crops and raising animals mimicking ecological relations. The monks teach that the forest is part of this eco-system, as it supplies water and other natural resources and must be protected. This paper examines the work of Phrakhru Somkit Jaranathammo, a monk in Nan Province, Thailand, who promotes dhammic agriculture and engages a new interpretation of Right Livelihood, a basic Buddhist principle, to support and protect the well-being of both the forest and farmers. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Reincarnation of Waste: A Case Study of Spiritual Ecology Activism for Household Solid Waste Management: The Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative of Rural Bhutan
Religions 2019, 10(9), 514; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090514 - 04 Sep 2019
Abstract
As rural and subsistence households in the Global South take on the consumption habits of industrialized countries, shifting consumption patterns have contributed to cascades of nonbiodegradable solid waste overwhelming the ability of households, municipal authorities, and governments to manage. As global capitalism expands [...] Read more.
As rural and subsistence households in the Global South take on the consumption habits of industrialized countries, shifting consumption patterns have contributed to cascades of nonbiodegradable solid waste overwhelming the ability of households, municipal authorities, and governments to manage. As global capitalism expands around the world, spiritual ecology approaches to waste and pollution can provide deeper insight into the attitudes and practices that create a “throw away” society. In rural southern Bhutan, the revered Buddhist teacher, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, initiated a waste reduction project based on Bhutan’s guiding development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Through engaging cultural and spiritual values, and drawing on the inspirational qualities of social and spiritual leaders, the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative’s Zero Waste project is an example of spiritual ecology activism for household waste management and waste reduction. Full article
Open AccessArticle
River Goddesses, Personhood and Rights of Nature: Implications for Spiritual Ecology
Religions 2019, 10(9), 502; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090502 - 26 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Designating rights for nature is a potentially powerful way to open up the dialogue on nature conservation around the world and provide enforcement power for an ecocentric approach. Experiments using a rights-based framework have combined in-country perspectives, worldviews, and practices with legal justifications [...] Read more.
Designating rights for nature is a potentially powerful way to open up the dialogue on nature conservation around the world and provide enforcement power for an ecocentric approach. Experiments using a rights-based framework have combined in-country perspectives, worldviews, and practices with legal justifications giving rights to nature. This paper looks at a fusion of legal traditions, religious worldviews, and practices of environmental protection and advocacy in the context of India. It takes two specific legal cases in India and examines the recent high-profile rulings designating the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and their tributaries and glaciers as juristic persons. Although the rulings were stayed a few months after their issuance, they are an interesting bending of the boundaries of nature, person, and deity that produce Ganga and Yamuna as vulnerable prototypes. This paper uses interview data focusing on these cases and document and archival data to ask whether legal interventions giving rights to nature can become effective avenues for environmental activism and spiritual ecology. The paper also assesses whether these legal cases have promoted Hindu nationalism or ‘Hindutva lite’. Full article
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