Ecologist dialogue and outreach with faith communities: Lessons from experience and study in the Ecological Society of America
For a decade, members of ESA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Section have been exploring and studying prospects and best practices for effective ecology outreach and dialogue in faith communities. Since many justice efforts originated or continue in faith communities, solid partnerships have lasting benefit to furthering EJ. Additionally, there is a growing embracing of earth stewardship and environmental concerns in the breadth of faith communities on issues of climate change, biodiversity, and environmental degradation, and faith communities name scientists among their most trusted messengers of environmental information. Meeting presentations and discussions have surfaced ecologists who are also members of faith communities or justice organizations, those working at faith-based institutions, HBCU, or other diverse or minority-serving institutions who are explicitly addressing justice issues, and those who have been invited to give presentations to faith and justice audiences. Several (such as N. Nadkarni) have also reached out to faith communities other than their own and developed best practices for effective ecology outreach that respects the needs of the local community. A broad survey was sent out to all ESA members in spring 2013, asking about interest in a speakers bureau that would explicitly reach out to faith communities. We also surveyed the felt needs for training, support and networking. Through periodic conference calls and in-person workshops at the past three ESA annual meetings, the network has developed with an aim to be of service to the mutual concerns of earth stewardship and EJ.
Findings from past studies and best practices for ecology outreach to faith communities gleaned from practitioners show a growing interest. A relatively large number of ESA members (30%) responded to the survey, with the majority expressing interest in receiving further information or training to prepare for effective outreach to groups other than their own. Best practices include: presenting the sound science in understandable terms; increasing religious literacy by learning about the tradition one is going to visit; cultural sensitivity - the importance of respecting the culture of the tradition that one is serving; and focusing on areas of commonality rather than controversial issues. ESA members are preparing to respond to Pope Francis’ encyclical and provide the sound science to faith community efforts regarding climate change and resource scarcity concerns. Partnerships with similar efforts in other science and religious organizations will help ecologists and ESA reach our goals of accessible ecological science in the service of earth stewardship.