Dr. Rita Sherma Interview on Combatting Eco-Despair Featured in The Conversation

Authored by: 
GTU Sustainability 360

"Catastrophic wildfires across the planet, extreme weather patterns that destroy homes and histories, degraded soil, toxic air, unsafe water and the desecrated beauty of places we have loved are causing climate trauma and eco-anxiety. For those who are acutely aware of the cliff edge on which we stand as a species and as a planetary community, the despair evoked by the magnitude of the disaster is almost unbearable.

Religions, faiths, and spiritual practices can help in unique ways," says Dr. Rita Sherma, Director of the Center for Dharma Studies and Co-Chair of Sustainbility 360 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. "In this space people can find community, peaceful practices of meditation, prayer, embodied sacred actions that include rituals and liturgies, and a ‘long view’ informed by the tragedies and triumphs faced by spiritual ancestors. Faith can provide hope and resilience in the midst of crises."

Dr. Sherma was recently interviewed by online news publication The Conversation in a piece titled Can religion and faith combat eco-despair? In the piece Dr. Sherma defines Green Spirituality and explains why spiritual and religious teachings belong as part of the global conversation on the environment:

"First, 80% of the world’s population practices an established religion or a spiritual tradition that offers community, support and resources for resilience. Second, as I have written in my new book on religion and sustainability (Religion and Sustainability: Interreligious Resources, Interdisciplinary Responses forthcoming from Springer in 2022), better technology will help human communities restore ecosystems. More and better data, such as computations to forecast disasters, will also be helpful. But both are inadequate in the face of human denial and recalcitrance.

In my book, I write: 'Planetary survival is now predicated upon the alignment of our notions of both human and ecological rights with our highest principles. As such, ways of knowing that are embedded in religion, philosophy, spiritual ethics, moral traditions, and a culture that values the community and the commons – as an essential resource for the transformation necessary for environmental regeneration and renewal – are indispensable.' In other words, people on Earth need to tap into the ways of thinking from these faith traditions to address the environmental crises we face now."

Dr. Sherma is also featured in a short video "Sacred Rivers" produced by The Conversation and included in the article, where she explains the grassroots legal movement often led by faith communities that seeks to ascribe legal status and protection to rivers and other parts of the more-than-human world considered sacred by many.

"Religions may disagree on many things," says Dr. Sherma, "but each contains philosophical or theological orientations that can be interpreted and applied in ways that protect the Earth."

From The Conversation: The "rights of nature" movement wants to give sacred rivers the same rights as people, and some religious groups are leading the way. It's part of many efforts around the world to preserve nature by drawing on faith traditions.