Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Environment
Natalie Barbuzzi, University of Toronto
I grew up in the Catholic school system, and the extent of my knowledge of religion was based on classes in elementary and high school that scratched the surface of religious education. After high school, I thought I would never study religion again as I was entering university to study the life sciences. Throughout my four years of undergraduate studies, I took a turn in my education and shifted to environmental studies as the prominence for the field and care for the environment has exponentially grown. While picking courses for my environmental studies major, I stumbled upon environment and religion courses and thought “why not?”. I grew up in a Catholic school, so I should be able to do well in this course.
Not only were these courses nothing like I suspected, but they also opened my eyes to the field of eco-theology and the important place religion and faith play in environmental care.
When thinking of the environment, we often think of climate change and the science and statistics that follow. While these are important to consider, there are other fields that play driving forces in environmental action and care. Science may tell us what is currently happening, but the humanities and social sciences can tell us why and how these events and patterns of environmental degradation have occurred. Geography helps us understand colonization patterns related to industrialized farming and the overproduction of nature for human consumption. These patterns relate to the meat industry’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions as well as broader food system problems such as precarious labour. All these systems and institutions are related, and when it comes to the environment, they all matter. I would have never thought about the relationship between religion and nature until I took these classes and was educated on the importance.
Whatever you believe, religion and faith play a significant role in your actions and decisions.
If we look at Christianity and the idea of the creation story in Genesis, the Hebrew Bible states that “Let us make human-kind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the seas, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26). This can be interpreted in multiple ways and can dictate a relationship of domination or equality. Some could read this and understand that humans have power and hierarchy over the different life forms on earth and live their lives feeling no remorse or care for the destruction that humans cause nature.
The other interpretation can understand this as humans being placed on earth to be stewards and protectors of the other life forms. This creates a relationship of respect and equality. The second interpretation is necessary now more than ever as human greed has driven us to an anthropocentric epoch. Humans need to understand and respect the earth to care for it. This was emphasized by Pope Francis when he released Laudato Si. Laudato Si was released in 2015 and is an encyclical, which is a letter sent out by the Pope to address the Church and its members. Pope Francis gave Laudato Si the subtitle, “on care for our common home” because the letter addresses consumerism, irresponsible development, environmental degradation, and calls for action from all people. This letter can be seen as a wake-up call from the Church. It is not just about the scientists and environmentalists; it is about everyone. Every human on earth has a role to play for our common home and the home we are leaving for future generations.
Eco-theology is a field that allows us to study and understand the root causes for actions and behaviours we see today. The example of the multiple interpretations from the creation story in Genesis is just one example from one religion. By furthering my studies in eco-theology, I can help remedy understandings that have lived on for centuries that have continued to provide a basis for harmful actions towards the environment and others. Mystics from the Middle Ages have said that nature is the way we can connect to God and connect to our faith, it is the most present place to be. The current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of nature, as many people have been using it as a safe place to escape the chaos of the world.
Whether it is your place to find God or to find peace, nature plays an essential role in our lives and by properly connecting with it, we can find a deeper meaning, one that is worth protecting.
Whether it be the field of eco-theology that sparks your interest in environmental action or another, these interdisciplinary connections can be found all over. For me, it was eco-theology that brought me closer to environmental action. For you, it could be the intersection between nature and art, or nature and friendship.
Environmental action is needed in all fields, by all people. So, whatever your interests may be, use this to help care for our common home and the environment we are stewards to protect.