in an age of pluralism and ecology
with gratitude to Harvard's Pluralism Project and Religious Literacy Project
and The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale
Two Challenges: Pluralism and Ecology
The many religions of the world are not static. They are not fully defined by what they have been; they are also defined -- or perhaps better, not yet defined -- by possibilities for what they can become given the needs of the world. The good news is that they are evolving over time. Perhaps they can help.
Two of the challenges their advocates face today are (1) how to cultivate attitudes and practices that encourage friendship between their respective proponents; and (2) how to encourage ways of thinking and action that lend themselves to what the Earth Charter calls “respect and care for the community of life."
Pope Francis has taken a lead on this with his Laudato Si, addressed not only to Catholic Christians but to people of all religions and people without religion. He shows how caring for our earth as a common home can bring people together. The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology is the best source available for understanding what each religion might bring to the global conversation on pluralism and ecology.
And in the United States the Interfaith Youth Core, based in Chicago, has taken a lead on showing how interfaith cooperation, in acts of service and storytelling, goes a long way toward helping religiously minded people befriend one another.
But when we say all religions what do we mean? And what is religion, anyway? Here we can thank the Harvard Divinity School and the Pluralism Project at Harvard for giving us an overview and helping us avoid misunderstandings of religion. The Pluralism Project speaks of seventeen religious communities in the United States alone, and offers us an overview of each. And the Harvard Divinity School now offers an online course where we can learn about five of them in depth.
Online Resources from Harvard's
Pluralism Project and Divinity School
for learning about religion and pluralism
What is Religion, Anyway?
Three misunderstandings of religion
Some more misunderstandings
4. Religions are the primary cause of war and violence. The truth is that most wars have multiple causes and that in recent times nationalism has been a primary cause. See Challenging the Bias Against Religion: Karen Armstrong on the Causes of Violence.
5. Religions are always about supernatural realities. The truth is that the very idea of "supernatural" is a western notion, working upon a dichotomy between the natural and the spiritual, and that many religions are naturalistic in that they have a cosmic orientation: e.g. Daoism. If they carry within them an idea of divine reality they understand that reality as ultra-natural -- part of the nature of nature -- rather than supernatural.
6. Religions are primarily about beliefs. Ninian Smart, a well known scholar of religion, proposed that religions have seven dimensions:core experiences, ethical codes, shared stories, a sense of community, shared rituals, commonly held beliefs, and materials. In many religious communities shared rituals and community are more important than formal beliefs.
8. All the religions are already in existence; no new religions are emerging. Almost all introductory textbooks on the world's religions have have chapters on new religious movements (NRM's). All existing religions were new religious movements in their origins.
9 There is a single definition of religion upon which all scholars agree. Not at all. One religious scholar, Ira Chernus, speaks of two basic approaches to defining religion: one emphasizing inner experience and the other seeing religion as a social and cultural system.
Some scholars define religion in terms of a particular kind of experience, a "religious experience." They use words like sacred, holy, ultimate, infinite, and transcendent to describe that experience.
Ecotheology, Process Theology,