> AR Interviews
Making the Ground Holy
An Interview With Mary Evelyn Tucker
From May 1996 to July 1998, a series of ten conferences was
held at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University.
These conferences, also sponsored by the Center for the Respect of Life
and Environment (CRLE) and Bucknell University, focused on the ecological
traditions of each of the major world religions: Judaism, Christianity,
Shintoism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, and
Indigenous Traditions. There were three culminating conferences. The first
was at Harvard, followed by a press conference and symposium at the United
Nations on October 20th and a final general conference at the American
Museum of Natural History in New York City on October 21st [see report].
One of the prime movers of the conferences was Mary Evelyn Tucker
who, with her husband John Grim, teaches religion at Bucknell
University. Satya asked Professor
Tucker to comment on the conferences and assess their
Q: What was the purpose of the ten conferences
and the three culminating conferences?
A: Clearly, religions
need to be involved with the development of a more comprehensive worldview
and ethics to assist in reversing industrial pollution, resource
depletion, the widespread destruction of species and the unrelenting loss
of habitat. The conferences on Religions of the World and Ecology held at
Harvard had six aims. The first was to reconceptualize attitudes toward
nature by examining perceptions from religions of the world with attention
to the complexity of history and culture. The second was to contribute to
the articulation of environmental ethics grounded in religious traditions
and inspired by broad ecological perspectives. The third was to identify
the institutional grounds for systematic changes within religious
traditions to transform attitudes towards the environment. The fourth was
to stimulate the interest and concern of religious leaders and students
and professors in religion in the environment. The fifth aim was to link
the transformative efforts of the world’s religions to the larger
international movements involved, and the sixth was to join with
ecologists, public policymakers, economists, business-people, health
professionals, educators and others wishing to reinvent industrial
Q: What was the most interesting and/or challenging
information that came out from the conferences?
A: The most
positive dimension of the conferences was the overwhelming sense of
interest and concern that they generated. There was a remarkable sense of
solidarity among the scholars who participated along with healthy
discussion and disagreement. The finest aspect was the high level of
commitment that the conferences tapped into so that personal ego was
overridden by eco-concerns. In other words, the sense of the challenge of
the crisis caused the scholarly community to respond with a deep sense of
concern, commitment, and excellent scholarship that modeled cooperative
learning not competitive scholarship for personal self aggrandizement.
This has resulted in a call to keep alive this network of public
intellectuals who were involved in the series.
Q: How best
should environmentalists and those with those religious concerns proceed
from the conferences?
A: We have announced an ongoing forum on
religion and ecology which will continue with conferences and lectures
etc. We would invite the participation of interested individuals and
groups in this work as we begin to design the forum. Our focus will be on
research, education, and outreach.
Q: So many conferences are
full of high rhetoric and few plans of action. What programs do you feel
can be implemented or supported by attendees to the conferences?
There is a great deal of work to be done to activate religious communities
to the size and scale of the environmental crisis and to the importance of
responding with a new set of values: to live within limits, to reduce
consumption and overpopulation, to help renew, not exploit, resources, and
to bring pressure to bear on the business community so that business
practices can be reoriented toward sustainability with a concern for
Proceedings from the Buddhism and Ecology
and Confucianism and Ecology conferences have been published and are
available from Harvard University Press. Christianity and Ecology will be
available in Fall 1999. For more information visit the website of the
Center for the Study of World Religions at:
http://www.hds.harvard.edu/cswr/. For information on the
Center for Respect of Life and Environment, contact: 2100 L Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20037. Tel.: 202-778-6133. Fax: 202-778-6138. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.center1.com/. The Fall 1998 issue of CRLE’s
newsletter, Earth Ethics, contains articles on all ten religions
featured in the conferences. —M.R.