Over 300 people from across the country gathered at the Yale Divinity School over the weekend for the “Renewing Hope: Pathways for Religious Environmentalism” conference, which sought to forge connections between religion and ecology and to inspire student environmental activism.
The inspiration for the conference, which ran from Thursday night to Sunday and was collaboratively organized by the Divinity School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, came from a new documentary about America’s emerging religious environmental movement, called “Renewal,” according to John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, who organized the event with the help of 46 graduate-student volunteers. Both the filmmakers — Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller — and the directors aimed to showcase the movie to inspire hope about the future of environmental activism.
But the conference was about more than a film screening; it also offered participants discussions, workshops and panels, Grim said.
“You go to a conference, and you think, ‘Oh, gosh, it’s really interesting,’ but still you can’t wait to go out and get a coffee,” Grim joked. “But [at “Renewing Hope”], the energy was so high! I’m getting e-mails now and calls from students in Environmental Studies.”
The conference opened Thursday night with a talk by Sally McFague DIV ’59 GRD ’64, who has written for many years on the subject of religion and the environment. Her talk addressed global warming through theology.
Saturday, academicians and non-academicians alike led workshops, discussing the varying environmental beliefs and applications of religions ranging from Islam to Catholicism. Grim himself led a workshop on indigenous religions and their environmental tenets.
The afternoon featured themed workshops with titles such as “Eco-design,” “Eco-feminism,” “Water” and “Youth Education.”
Martha Smith FES ’00, director of the Center for Coastal and Watershed Systems at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, served as one of three leaders of the “Water” workshop. She said communication is key to bridge the gap between environmentalism and religion.
“People in communities and churches don’t understand the scientific standpoint, and in the environmental community, we can’t hear what the religious people are saying. … It is important that we speak a language everyone can understand.”
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Dean Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69 delivered the conference’s keynote address Sunday, speaking on how the collaboration of religious communities, scientists and politicians can help create an optimistic, sustainable future.
Tucker and Grim said they think the conference successfully promoted awareness of and interest in environmental and religious activism.
“We have not as a country addressed the issue nearly as forcefully and as directly as we need,” Grim said. “Hopefully with the new administration, there will be governmental leadership in environmentalism, but until then, there will be a groundswell from the bottom up, and religion is now part of that groundswell.”
Matthew Riley DIV ’08, a student coordinator, said he was inspired by the variety of fields that came together at the conference. Riley, who is working toward his doctorate, said he hopes to bridge the gap between academia and real-life church work, especially with respect to environmental activism.
“To me, what is inspiring is the students who know the environmental statistics and what is happening, but they’re still willing to try and get the training and to make a difference,” Tucker said.