'Sacred Mundane' conference explores religion, ecology

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Sept. 3, 2015

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Emory professors and doctoral students will discuss the relationships between diverse religious traditions and sustainability at “The Sacred Mundane” conference, featuring keynote speaker Bobbi Patterson, professor of pedagogy in religion. Emory Photo/Video

"The Sacred Mundane," a conference on religion and ecology, will be held Thursday, Sept. 10, and Friday, Sept. 11, in Room 102 of the Emory Center For Ethics.

The event showcases Emory scholarship, bringing together professors and doctoral students who will identify resources and obstacles that shape or stand in the way of religious commitment to care for the Earth and sustainable living.

The conference is hosted by the Center for Ethics and the Emory Culture, Religion, Ethics and the Environment (CREATE) Program. It starts Sept. 10 with opening remarks by Center for Ethics Director Paul Root Wolpe at 4 p.m., followed by keynote speaker Bobbi Patterson, professor of pedagogy in religion in Emory College. She will speak on “Earth Exercises: Generative Work for a Spiraling World.”

“No challenge today is more throttling than that emerging at the intersection of spiraling life systems — ecological, social, political, and cultural,” Patterson says.

“This conference brings religion, another life system, squarely into the mix. It asks the innovating question: How do we learn to interrelate Earth, ethics and religious practices or exercises in the ordinary, the sacred mundane?” she notes.

Religious traditions and sustainability

On Sept. 11, the conference begins at 9 a.m. with an invocation by Patterson commemorating the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Conference presentations begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue until 3:30 p.m. Ecology and sustainability will be considered within the perspectives of different theologies and religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and African religions.

The event is free; however, registration is required. Lunch will be provided free of charge to all attendees. Attempting to make this a zero-waste event, the sponsors are requesting participants to register only if they are able to attend, including specific events, and let organizers know if their plans change.

“Our enthusiasm around bringing together Emory voices on religion and ecology was fueled in good part by some of the work that we are tending to here at the Center for Ethics,” says Cory Labrecque, a conference organizer.

“On top of this, Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’, is inspiring peoples of faith to have or continue to have serious intra- and inter-religious action-oriented conversations about safeguarding the environment,” says Labrecque, who is Center for Ethics Raymond Schinazi Scholar in Bioethics and Christian Thought. “Of course, the address is meant to be for all peoples, including those who do not affiliate with a faith tradition, since the encyclical’s topic and message are global in reach.” 

Labrecque outlined multiple questions to be explored at the conference, focusing on the relationships between faith traditions and the environment:

  • What are the resources, if any, in the religious tradition of an academic focus that could support care of the Earth and sustainable living?
  • What are the obstacles in this religious tradition that stand in the way of serious commitment to care of the Earth and sustainable living?
  • How has the religion spoken on sustainability and/or environmentalism? If it has not, how could it?
  • Which resources, including sacred texts, rituals and ethical systems, that could be engaged for eco-protection or eco-exploitation do you see in the religious tradition of your academic focus?
  • What are the implications of the way religion understands “sacred space/place” for environmentalism and sustainability?
  • How does the claim that “the attitudes and values that shape people’s concepts of nature come primarily from religious worldviews and ethical practices” resonate with the religious tradition?

Diverse slate of speakers, topics

The three sessions on Friday will feature multiple speakers from departments ranging from religion to the School of Medicine.

Their presentations are divided into three general areas:

Sacred Foundations

  • “Ecology, Ethics and the Human Heart,” Lobsang Tenzin Negi, professor of the practice, Department of Religion
  • “Hinduism and Ecology: Wisdom of Ages Recognizing an Aging Wisdom," Bhagirath Majmudar, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, School of Medicine
  • “Nature from a Qur’anic Perspective,” Norah Elmagraby, Ph.D. student, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies

Material Expressions

  • “Creationism of Another Kind: Integral Corporeality in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’,” Cory Labrecque
  • “Eco-Islam: Architecture and Environmentalism in an Indonesian Islamic School,” James Hoesterey, assistant professor, Department of Religion
  • “Arboreal Wisdom? Epistemology and Ecology in Judaic Sources,” Jonathan Crane, Center for Ethics Raymond Schinazi Scholar in Bioethics and Jewish Thought

Eco-Aesthetics

  • “What Is Worth Sustaining: The Hebrew Bible and an Inconvenient Question,” Johannes Kleiner, Ph.D. student, Department of Religion
  • “Considering the Lily: Shifting Epistemologies,” Rebecca Copeland, Ph.D. student, Department of Religion
  • “In Pursuit of Polyculture: Eco-theology and the Secular Arts,” Lily Oster, Ph.D. student, Department of Religion
  • “From African Earthkeepers to Afrofuturism and Ecosophy,” Theophus Smith, associate professor, Department of Religion

For more information, click on the Events tab at Emory CREATE.