Religion, Nature, Environmentalism, Culture and Ecology
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    The International Society for the Study of
    Religion, Nature & Culture

    Conferences

    The ISSRNC has held conferences in Florida, Mexico, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and California, and is currently working toward additional conferences. Please stay in contact through our Twitter or Facebook pages to ensure you are among the first to learn about our next conference.

    Upcoming Conferences

    ISSRNC is currently planning conferences in Erfurt, Germany and Kathmandu, Nepal, and at Wake Forest University and the University of Florida, among other venues. We will announce details about these events in the near future.

    Previous Conferences

    The inaugural conference of the ISSRNC, with the theme "Exploring Religion, Nature, & Culture," was held at the University of Florida in April 2006. A great success, the event drew more than 150 presenters and 200 registrants from over two dozen nations, and included keynote presentations from Carolyn Merchant, Stephen Kellert, and founding ISSRNC President Bron Taylor. The event is described in the Society's June 2006 newsletter, vol. 1, #2. The quality and range of scholarship is clear from the Florida Conference Program.


    In 2007, the Society held another, tremendously successful international conference, with the theme "The Re-Enchantment of Nature across Disciplines: Critical Intersections of Science, Ethics, and Metaphysics," in Morelia, Mexico, in January 2008. The conference was co-sponsored by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, and again, had approximately 150 presenters from nearly two dozen countries, and it included keynotes from David Carrasco, Holmes Rolston, and Kocku von Stuckrad, who would soon become the second ISSRNC president. The richness of the conference is reflected in the Morelia Conference Program.

     

    Subsequent conferences are linked below.

    “Religion, Ecology, and the Environment in Africa and the African Diaspora”
    July 31- August 2, 2014 held in Cape Town, South Africa

    Cape Town’s stunning coastlines and mountains, museums, historic neighbors, and flavorful food and drink made South Africa the perfect setting for The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and the African Association for the Studies of Religions, co-hosted conference entitled “Religion, Ecology, and the Environment in Africa and the African Diaspora” in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of July 31 through August 2, 2014. Over 100 presenters and participants gathered from more than 15 countries to present interdisciplinary research on the conference theme. Student volunteers from University of Cape Town reinforced the conference’s organization and success throughout the event.

     

    Papers drew attention to a range of topics, including ritual, pedagogy, development and modernity, texts, and psychology with incisive discussions ensued after each panel. Several ISSRNC members participated. The ISSRNC’s founding president, Bron Taylor, gave a keynote providing a global tour of the field. He provided the audience with a number of case studies from his fieldwork in Africa. On the morning of August 1, ISSRNC members of the Africa Panel presented their work. This panel included Dr. Bella Mukonyora (Western Kentucky University,) whose paper “Displacement and Search for a Green Africa” looked at one good example of a nature centered ecological religious response to colonialism by the popular African Initiated Church called, Masowe or “Wilderness” Apostles; Dr. Dale Wallace from the University of KwaZulu-Natal represented the ISSRNC with a paper called “Harvesting in Nature's Dispensary: Traditional Healers, the muthi trade and the intractable relationship with witchcraft in South Africa today”; and Dianna Bell used her unique scholarship on Islam in North Africa to present a paper called, “Soothing ‘God’s Fight’: Ritual during the 1968-1974 Sahelian Famine in Mali, West Africa”.

     

    Near the end of this special international conference on Religion and Ecology in Africa and the Diaspora, Rosalind Hackett (University of Tennessee) and Gabrielle Cappai (University of Bayreuth) gave a plenary session that reminded attendees of the importance of organized methodology in field research – a core issue for all subgroups of religious studies. Bron Taylor and Jan Platvoet offered concluding remarks on the importance of religion and ecology as a field of research now and the future. AASR agreed to publish the proceedings of this conference in early 2015.

     

    This report was produced by ISSRNC Board Member Bella Mukonyora PhD teaching at Western Kentucky University, USA) and fellow members of the Africa panel, Dianna Bell PhD teaching at Vanderbilt University, USA) and Dale Wallace PhD teaching University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

    “Nature & the Popular Imagination,”
    The Fifth International Conference of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
    August 8-11, 2012 at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California

    “Nature & the Popular Imagination,” The Fifth International Conference of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, was held on August 8-11, 2012 at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (USA). This conference was jointly sponsored by Pepperdine University and the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.

     

    The conference directors were Chris Doran (Pepperdine University) and ISSRNC Board member Sarah M. Pike (California State University, Chico). It examined the complex intersections of religion, nature and popular culture. Sessions focused on broad cultural and geographic areas and included sessions on “Eden and Apocalypse,” “Technoculture: Zombies, Psychedelics and Digital Nature,” “Teaching Religion, Nature and Culture,” “The Therapeutic Ecology of Rivers,” “Imagining the Land and Landscapes,” “Avatar,” and “The Legacy of Aldo Leopold.” Some general areas of presentation included nature in Malibu and Hollywood, literary discourses of nature, theology and nature, ethics, popular representations of animals, urban nature and religion, cinematic representations of nature, activist communities. The conference was held on Pepperdine’s beautiful campus of wide-open spaces and ocean views. It also offered unique opportunities to visit Malibu’s famous beaches and the greater Los Angeles area, and included a “Secret Beaches” guided tour by local writer/scholar Jenny Price.

     

    Conference participants came from 24 states in the USA as well as from 13 countries, including Canada, India, Lithuania, Russia, Germany, Italy, Guyana, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Bosnia, the United Kingdom and Australia. As always, the conference made possible enriching conversations across the disciplines of literature, biology, religious studies, anthropology, history and other areas. Keynote speakers included one of the most prolific comedy directors in Hollywood, Tom Shadyac, The Hon. (Dr.) Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and three scholars who are well known for their contributions to the study of religion, nature and culture: Adrian Ivakhiv (University of Vermont), Candace Slater (University of California, Berkeley), and ISSRNC President, Laura Hobgood-Oster (Southwestern University).


    For more information about this wonderful event, see the Final Program.

    ‘Religion, Nature and Art’
    Sponsored and in Cooperation with the Vatican Museums
    13-14 October 2011, Vatican Museums (Vatican City State)

    This conference was jointly sponsored by the Ethnological Museum of the Vatican Museums, headed by prof. Nicola Mapelli, and the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. It examined the complex intersections of religion, nature and art. Sessions focused on broad cultural and geographic areas: “Asian Religions, Nature and Art,” “Renaissance Art, Religion and Nature,” “Indigenous Religions, Nature and Art,” “Spirituality-based Environmental Activism, Nature and Art”. Some general areas of presentation included: art symbolizing religious aspects of nature, nature itself as religious art, nature-themed religious art, art that expresses religious-based resistance to environmental destruction.

     

    The conference also included unique opportunities to view art in the Vatican Museums, and of course, to enjoy Rome, Italy's surrounding environment, with its own ancient treasures and historical legacies.

     

    As part of the conference itself, at the Vatican Museums, we visited the exhibit “Rituals of Life: the culture and spirituality of aboriginal Australians” with the curator, Professor Nicola Mapelli (conference co-director along with Laura Hobgood-Oster), and co-curator, Professor Katherine Aigner, and on the concluding night we toured the Vatican Museums, without the usual crowds. The two-day conference provided wonderful opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. Speakers included Professors Bron Taylor, Kocku von Stuckrad, Laura Hobgood-Oster, Rick Stepp, Arnold Nesselrath, Nicolla Mapelli, and Katherine Aigner.


    For more information about this wonderful event, see the Final Program.

    ‘Living on the Edge’
    the Fourth International Conference of the ISSRNC
    was held at the University of Western Australia (UWA-Perth)
    from 16-19 December 2010

    Initial Report by Sylvie Shaw, The University of Queensland

    (Winter Solstice, 21 December 2010).

     

    The conference opened on a warm sunny afternoon at the most beautiful King’s Park on the edge of Perth city. We were welcomed to country by Dr Richard Whalley, a Nyoongar man, and Director of Aboriginal Productions and Promotions, and were introduced to the city by the Mayor of Fremantle, Dr Brad Pettitt, previously Dean of Sustainability at Murdoch University.

     

    As we sat encircled within a natural amphitheatre and surrounded by glorious eucalypts and magpie birds feeding their young, Dr Freya Mathews from Latrobe University addressed conference delegates about, in part, the need for a diversity of new stories to counter the current overriding approach of scientific discourse. The theme of the paper was: Over the edge: extinctions and the limit of ethics. Freya proposed that a ‘universal story which can be seen to subtend all religions and all ethics, and is in fact the very ground of meaning, is coming into view…It is none other than the life-story of the earth.

     

    The keynote speaker the next morning was Professor Clive Hamilton from the Australian National University. His focus was ‘The metaphysical ethics of geoengineering.’ Clive provided a glimpse into the future as inventors and venturists in our time contemplate the expansion of technologies to solve the planet’s problems -- once relegated to the imagination of science fiction. Using a range of philosophical ideas and practical applications to counter the rising tide of environmental devastation, Clive journeyed between pessimism and hope and asked ‘whether climate change and geoengineering represent not just a dangerous stage in the evolution of human society but a change in the nature of the Earth itself, so that the destiny of the Earth and if its human inhabitants form a unity.

     

    Ideas overflowed throughout the conference with keynotes and papers that addressed not only the interconnection of religion, nature and culture, but framed this field, in large part, within an interdisciplinary framework. This was aptly demonstrated by two keynote presentations, one by Dr Mary Zeiss Stange from Skidmore College (in the US) who addressed the very edgy topic, ‘Hunting the edges: the intersection between hunter-conservationism and green environmentalism.’ She argued that ‘the idea of the hunter is more relevant than ever’ in view of the combination of serious issues affecting both humanity and the planet including climate change and childhood obesity. She further observed that hunters are becoming increasingly involved in environmental education and activism.

     

    The second keynote paper of the late afternoon session was presented by Professor Jan Boersema, from the University of Amsterdam on: ‘Easter Island: If no collapse, what else? Cultural adaptations while living on the edge.’ He shed new light on the deafforestation of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and questioned the earlier theorizing of the decline of the population there. Perhaps there is a message, he suggested, from this isolated Pacific island for ‘the present day debate on sustainability, quality and the role of religion.

     

    Each day opened and closed with such thought-provoking keynotes, beautifully delivered, developed and debated. On the conference’s third day we were blessed with two powerful presentations. The morning began with Prof. David Tacey from La Trobe University revealing the intricate philosophical, psychological and spiritual layers in a presentation titled, ‘At the edge of a new animism: Australian spirituality, ecopsychology and the animation of the world.’ He outlined the influences in his own thinking about the nature are the ecopsychology of Carl Jung and James Hillman, and the animistic cosmology of Aboriginal Australian cultures. He described the process for reenchanting the world though a return of sacredness and the recognition of ‘the survival value of animism as a way of nurturing the human soul and protecting the soul of the world.

     

    Following a jam-packed day of discussion, conversation and great food for thought, the day closed with an inspirational performance of a new opera composed by Professor Anne Boyd from Sydney University/the Conservatorium of Sydney. A masterful addition to our conference, the performance was the premier of the opera Kabbarli at Ooldea (where Kabbarli refers to ‘Dreamtime, wise-woman or grandmother’). Delegates were treated to an emotionally strong and evocative rendition of the central aria of the opera. The opera is based on the life of Daisy Bates, an enigmatic and ‘contested’ character in Australia’s history. Anne told the story of the opera’s musical composition, while libretto author, Emeritus Professor Bob Reece from Murdoch University, told the story of Daisy Bates’ eccentric life in the Western Australian desert supporting Aboriginal people whom she imagined were a dying race. Isolated at the historic waterhole of Ooldea, Bates’ home was a tent where she lived for 16 years between 1919 and 1935.

     

    The addition of this ground-breaking event was not only inspired, it demonstrated the creativity and ingenuity of conference director Yamini Narayanan. Yamini’s work was the heart of the conference. Her organisation and care enabled a harmonious melding of delegates’ ideas, discussions and workshops, at once congenial and relaxed, but also at the cutting edge of scholarly and transdisciplinary discourse. She orchestrated a stimulating range of thought, theory, practical endeavour and social connections which resonated among all participants.

     

    The leafy luscious grounds of the University of Western Australia, and its location on the edge of the Swan River, provided the backdrop for the conference and the place also played a role in building an enharmonied social-ecological cohesion among the conference delegates.

     

    Thank you to all who participated, and especially to the president of ISSRNC, Kocku van Stuckrad for his excellent leadership and to conference director, Yamini Narayanan who brought everything together with magic.

    The FINAL CONFERENCE PROGRAM is still available, as is the original Conference Call for Papers.

    2009 ISSRNC Conference in Amsterdam

    The Society's Third International Conference with the theme "Religion, Nature, and Progress" was held at the University of Amsterdam 23-26 July 2009.

     

    More than 100 scholars from over two dozen countries and from various disciplines participated in sessions such as: Responding to Climate Change: Religion and Southern Perspectives on 'Light' Development; Nature, Ecosystems and Ethics; Sacred Sites and Sense of Place; Farm Gardens / Forests / Water and Spiritual Progress; Notions of Progress in the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution; Christianity / Islam / Eastern Traditions / Indigenous Traditions and Progress; Intercultural Contacts, Animism, Pantheism and Paganism; and Philosophical, Political, Methodological & Historical Considerations. The final Program Book (complete with introduction, program, abstracts, and list of presenters) remains available. Podcasts from a few sessions will be posted here in August.

     

    Featured speakers included Odeh Rashid Al-Jayyousi (World Conservation Union IUCN, Amman); Jonathan Benthall (University College London); Jan Boersema (Free University, Amsterdam); Colin Campbell (University of York); Bron Taylor (University of Florida); Donald Worster (University of Kansas); David Haberman (Indiana University); William Newman (Indiana University); John Barry (Queen's University, Belfast); Eric M. Katz (New Jersey's Science and Technology University); Nina Witoszek (University of Oslo); and many others.

    2009 Conference Podcasts

    Podcast“John Muir and the Religion of Nature”

    Presented by Donald Worster, Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Prof. of U.S. History and Environmental Studies, the University of Kansas, USA, keynote presentation, 3rd International ISSSRNC Conference, Amsterdam, 27 July 2009.

    Donald WorsterDescription: John Muir (1838–1914) was the founder of nature conservation in his adopted home the United States and the prophet of a new religion. As a young man he turned away from his family Scottish Protestant tradition and embraced science and the divinity of the natural world. Although he was not alone in that move, he became a Moses-like figure for the new religion, which found its institutional home in groups like the Sierra Club of California. What is not well understood or appreciated is the deep connection between that nature religion and the rise of modern liberalism and democracy. Later critics would charge that nature preservation has been elitist, not democratic, but Muir’s life can help us see how closely intertwined the new religion was with revolutionary social and political ideals.

    The lecture was introduced by ISSRNC President Bron Taylor, and was preceded by two other presentations, to which he refers. We expect to eventually add these and other lectures from the conference at this location.

    Other Conferences

    The Society's second major international meeting with the theme “The Re-Enchantment of Nature across Disciplines: Critical Intersections of Science, Ethics, and Metaphysics,” was in Morelia, Mexico, 17-20 January 2008.

     

    It was co-hosted by by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  Over 150 scholars attended and there was great enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary and international discussions that were engaged.  More than a few scholars felt it was the best, most energizing conference they had ever attended.  A sense of its richness can be gained by reviewing the final program.

    A conference with the theme "Religious Studies and Theology Exploring Sustainable Development: Challenges for Higher Education," which was organized by the Centre for Sustainable Management of Resources of Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands) was held 27-28 September 2007, and co-sponsored by the ISSRNC. See its Call for Papers for its thematic interests, and its Sustainability Projects for more on the conference.
    A conference entitled "Faith, Spirituality and Social Change," focusing on exploring inter-faith dialogue and multi-faith action for social change, was held at the University of Winchester (UK), 14-15 April 2007, and was co-sponsored by the ISSRNC.

    The Society's inaugural conference, with the theme "Exploring Religion, Nature, & Culture," was held 6-9 April 2006 at the University of Florida.

     

    Descriptions of the event, which was a tremendous success, with over 150 scholars and nearly 200 registrants, can be found in the Society's June 2006 newsletter, vol. 1, #2 and by perusing the final conference program, which includes abstracts, an index, and a list of the many financial sponsors and institutional co-sponsors.

    Awards

    ISSRNC is pleased to offer a number of awards at each conference, including an award for the best graduate student conference paper and an award for the best journal article published since the previous ISSRNC conference. Details on nominations and the selections process will soon be announced for 2014.

     

    Additional awards, such as conference travel awards for students and international scholars may also be awarded periodically.

     

    Details will be announced here.