OOS 30-2 - Stewardship: Best practices and stumbling blocks for connecting faith communities to local and global environmental issues

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 1:50 PM
14, Austin Convention Center
Gregory F. Hitzhusen, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

Faith communities are increasingly seen as vital partners for environmental education and environmental ethics, as reflected in the rise of the field of Religion and Ecology, the increase in collaborations between environmental and religious organizations, and increasing attention and understanding regarding the environmental values and beliefs of different faith communities. Particularly as the ESA moves to establish an ecologists’ speaker’s bureau for Earth stewardship outreach to faith communities in 2011, it is important to review best practices for success in extending good science to faith communities and increasing understanding of local and global environmental issues within those audiences.  This study reviewed the literature to summarize key variables that influence ecology education outreach success across a range of U.S. faith community audiences, and across a range of environmental issues.  Best practices and recommendations were drawn from peer-reviewed studies in sociology, psychology, environmental education, geography, religious studies, and the scientific study of religions.  Published recommendations for religious-environmental outreach success from secular and faith-based environmental groups were also reviewed to identify common themes. 


Many best practices recommended for outreach in faith communities parallel recommendations for other audiences regarding clarity of messages, framing in terms of resonant values, and other best communication practices.  Particular differences between faith communities, however, suggest different framing strategies depending on approaches to environmental concern resonant in those communities. In most faith communities, framing in terms of the moral and ethical relevance of environmental issues is advisable.  Some general moral concerns, such as concern for environmental justice, apply across multiple communities (e.g., Jewish, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, interfaith), but may be less suited to others (e.g., evangelical Christian).  Environmental stewardship, generally, is also a highly resonant value within American faith communities, and is particularly preferred among evangelicals. Concerns related to food and public health also connect with the religious traditions of many communities (halal in Islam, kashrut in Judaism, vegetarianism among Hindus), and create opportunities for particular attention to food and health related ecological information.  Many religious denominations have official policy statements on issues ranging from biodiversity and endangered species to climate change and carbon emissions. Many traditions encourage contemplative practices that highlight appreciation for nature and the integrity of natural systems. These and other examples begin to describe some of the opportunities for developing science-based Earth stewardship outreach that is highly tuned to supportive value structures of faith community audiences.

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