LWF promotes religious education as a path to ecological sustainability

Students from schools in the West Bank take part in a training workshop on environmental leadership. Photo: Adrainne Gray
Students from schools in the West Bank take part in a training workshop on environmental leadership. Photo: Adrainne Gray

A Lutheran communion contribution to interdisciplinary approaches to teaching ecology

(LWI) – What do theologians, scientific researchers, faith leaders, educators, legal experts and climate activists have in common when it comes to religious and public education? They all have a role to play in equipping today’s generation to create pathways for sustainable living that requires interdisciplinary and interfaith cooperation.

Over 130 professionals including representatives of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and university students, recently met at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen, Norway, for a conference on sustainability and climate in religion to discuss the shared concern. The conference explored ways that interdisciplinary dialogue between ecotheology and discourse about sustainability can identify common approaches to fostering ecological consciousness through education.

The Western Norway University, Church of Norway, and The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway, co-organized this conference with the LWF and the Al Mowafaqa Ecumenical Institute of Theology. LWF Program Executive Rev. Dr Chad Rimmer and Dr Mary Joy Philip, professor of Lutheran Global Theology and Mission at Martin Luther University College in Canada, represented the Lutheran communion.

How sustainability informs teaching methods

In his presentation, Rimmer discussed the connections between sustainability and theological anthropology, and how they inform teaching methods. “One of the root causes of our current ecological crisis is that generations have been taught an anthropocentric view of what it means to be human. Education has been colonized by destructive narratives about human power, politics and economics that draw us away from our fundamental identity as members of the earth community.”

While pathways to sustainable living require a web of technical, economic and political approaches, a shift in consciousness and values is also needed. Rimmer said, “Religious educators have a role to play in helping our young people awaken their consciousness that they are creatures, whose first faithful calling is to care and safeguard the integrity of creation in creative ways that sustain the blessing of life as God intended.”

He continued, “Our generation is on the cusp of this ecological turn in our understanding of being human. I say turn, but it is actually a return to the biocentric definition of human being that has always been part of the worldviews of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Indigenous traditions and more.”

“We need a re-storying about the earth”

Mary Joy Philip discussed the critical role in promoting voices that are often excluded from public deliberation about sustainability. She particularly emphasized the perspective that women bring as bearers of stories that remind “us of who we are, and how we are called to sustain life giving community.” She said: “We desperately need new stories born out of an earth consciousness, a relational and embodied understanding of ourselves vis-à-vis the earth; we need a re-storying about the earth that includes our interconnectedness with the planet.”

Religious education can nurture an eco-positive self-understanding that will help children to be resilient in the face of so many economic and political narratives about limitless growth and nationalism that are disintegrating God’s beloved web of life.
LWF Program executive Rev. Dr Chad Rimmer

Rimmer referred to Christian, Jewish, Islamic and interfaith programs around the world that embed religious education in the local environment, as a few examples of how children can nurture a sense of belonging to the earth and  faithful responsibility to care for fellow creatures by safeguarding the land. “Place-based religious education can nurture an eco-positive self-understanding that will help children to be resilient in the face of so many economic and political narratives about limitless growth and nationalism that are disintegrating God’s beloved web of life.”

Seeking solutions together

Islamic lawyers, Indigenous Sami communities, the Church of Norway, Buddhist practitioners, and public-school educators also shared perspectives on sustainability. The Mayor of Bergen Marte Mjøs Persen presented the host city’s sustainable energy initiatives.

The papers from the conference will be jointly published in a volume that will be available later this year. Rimmer hopes that “it will encourage people of faith to explore the intersection between ecotheology and the sustainability agenda, to inspire imaginative and faithful solutions to preserving the integrity of the earth and the well-being of all creatures.”