Should environmentalism be considered a religion? When people think of major religions, they may think of Catholicism, Judaism or Islam.
Gordon Graham, a professor of philosophy and theology at Princeton University, came to SUNY New Paltz on Thursday, Oct. 22 to discuss the concept of considering environmentalism as a religion. Graham began his lecture pointing out what a typical religion consists of and what significance it has in the world. According to Graham, the characteristics of all major religions are prayer, a religious symbol, a historical narrative and a holy, sacred place.
Graham made clear that environmentalism has all of these qualities.
Industrialization and climate change act as its history and “Silent Spring,” an environmental science book by Rachel Carson and “Walden,” a tale of immersing one’s self in nature by Henry David Thoreau as its literature. We use the Earth as the symbol, the wilderness as the holy and sacred space and recycling as a ritualistic practice. Graham also discussed how religion has defined and influenced, so many aspects of human culture throughout history and around the world.
He spoke of Celtic spiritualities and Native American religious customs, claiming that humans have had a spiritual connection to the environment for generations.
Graham said that with all the change we are experiencing in the world, culturally, politically and environmentally.
“We must not forget that the fundamentals of our survival come from the environment itself,” he said.
There is such a changing and broadening definition of what a religion is Graham said. This presents the opportunity to include more people in a common cause and save the planet.
“The fundamentals of religion are environments, even in secular places,” Graham said.
Whether a land is secular or not, the surrounding environment is an absolute necessity to the society. Graham said that we must pride ourselves in protecting the environment as a sacred place, whether in a religious context or not.
Third-year English major Katie Gantley was interested by the lecture, however she does not believe that environmentalism should be considered a religion. Nonetheless, she thought that Graham brought up some important points when discussing religion and its role in today’s society.
Graham’s lecture stressed the current state of our environment. If we are to protect our environment from further damage, then we must make some major changes to ward off global warming and other issues.
According to Graham, our environment is the only home we have, and we must continue to preserve it in any and every way we can.