Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Making the Ground Holy
An Interview With Mary Evelyn Tucker

From May 1996 to July 1998, a series of ten conferences was held at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. These conferences, also sponsored by the Center for the Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE) and Bucknell University, focused on the ecological traditions of each of the major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Shintoism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Indigenous Traditions. There were three culminating conferences. The first was at Harvard, followed by a press conference and symposium at the United Nations on October 20th and a final general conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on October 21st [see report]. One of the prime movers of the conferences was Mary Evelyn Tucker who, with her husband John Grim, teaches religion at Bucknell University. Satya asked Professor Tucker to comment on the conferences and assess their achievements.

Q: What was the purpose of the ten conferences and the three culminating conferences?

A: Clearly, religions need to be involved with the development of a more comprehensive worldview and ethics to assist in reversing industrial pollution, resource depletion, the widespread destruction of species and the unrelenting loss of habitat. The conferences on Religions of the World and Ecology held at Harvard had six aims. The first was to reconceptualize attitudes toward nature by examining perceptions from religions of the world with attention to the complexity of history and culture. The second was to contribute to the articulation of environmental ethics grounded in religious traditions and inspired by broad ecological perspectives. The third was to identify the institutional grounds for systematic changes within religious traditions to transform attitudes towards the environment. The fourth was to stimulate the interest and concern of religious leaders and students and professors in religion in the environment. The fifth aim was to link the transformative efforts of the world’s religions to the larger international movements involved, and the sixth was to join with ecologists, public policymakers, economists, business-people, health professionals, educators and others wishing to reinvent industrial society.

Q: What was the most interesting and/or challenging information that came out from the conferences?

A: The most positive dimension of the conferences was the overwhelming sense of interest and concern that they generated. There was a remarkable sense of solidarity among the scholars who participated along with healthy discussion and disagreement. The finest aspect was the high level of commitment that the conferences tapped into so that personal ego was overridden by eco-concerns. In other words, the sense of the challenge of the crisis caused the scholarly community to respond with a deep sense of concern, commitment, and excellent scholarship that modeled cooperative learning not competitive scholarship for personal self aggrandizement. This has resulted in a call to keep alive this network of public intellectuals who were involved in the series.

Q: How best should environmentalists and those with those religious concerns proceed from the conferences?

A: We have announced an ongoing forum on religion and ecology which will continue with conferences and lectures etc. We would invite the participation of interested individuals and groups in this work as we begin to design the forum. Our focus will be on research, education, and outreach.

Q: So many conferences are full of high rhetoric and few plans of action. What programs do you feel can be implemented or supported by attendees to the conferences?

A: There is a great deal of work to be done to activate religious communities to the size and scale of the environmental crisis and to the importance of responding with a new set of values: to live within limits, to reduce consumption and overpopulation, to help renew, not exploit, resources, and to bring pressure to bear on the business community so that business practices can be reoriented toward sustainability with a concern for future generations.

Proceedings from the Buddhism and Ecology and Confucianism and Ecology conferences have been published and are available from Harvard University Press. Christianity and Ecology will be available in Fall 1999. For more information visit the website of the Center for the Study of World Religions at: http://www.hds.harvard.edu/cswr/. For information on the Center for Respect of Life and Environment, contact: 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037. Tel.: 202-778-6133. Fax: 202-778-6138. Email: crle@aol.com. Website: www.center1.com/. The Fall 1998 issue of CRLE’s newsletter, Earth Ethics, contains articles on all ten religions featured in the conferences. —M.R.