SPC 4680 Florida Atlantic University Religious Issues Essay

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Religion can make us more
environmentally friendly – or
You might think that being religious would make you more likely to care about the
natural world. But the truth is not so simple

By Niki Rust
7 February 2017
Eight out of 10 people around the world consider themselves religious. That figure
shows that, while in many countries religion is not as dominant as it once was, it still
has a huge influence on us.
What does that mean for the environmental movement? Does a belief in God or the
supernatural make people more or less likely to take care of animals and the
It is easy to make up stories to answer this question. You might say that many
religions push the idea that the world will soon come to an end, in which case surely
they encourage a “let it burn” ethos: what does it matter if the rainforest gets cut
down, if the Rapture is next week? But just as plausibly, you might point out that
many religions are big on kindness, and some such as Jainism even forbid killing
animals. This should nudge their followers towards caring for the natural world.
But these are just stories. What does the science of human behaviour tell us?

Christianity is one of the most popular religions (Credit: Jon Bower USA/Alamy)
Let’s start with Christianity. Writing in the high-profile journal Science in 1967,
historian Lynn White proposed that Christian religions undermine wildlife
conservation by advocating a domination ethic over nature. Because the Bible talks
about “dominion” over nature, White argued that Christianity teaches its followers
that “it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends”.

This was, to say the least, controversial. Other historians
Christian fundamentalists
were less willing, and
the Bible, and that the text actually implies that we have a
and theologians have argued that White was misreading
duty of care towards nature. Perhaps more to the point,
Catholics more willing, to
financially support the
White offered no evidence about the attitudes or
behaviours of actual Christians.
In 2013, researchers tackled that question by asking
whether there was a relationship between a country’s main
religion and the number of important biodiversity areas it
contained. They found that Christian countries, particularly Catholic ones, tended to
have more areas set aside for nature than other countries.
However, this does not mean White was completely wrong. Other studies suggest
that conservative Christians really are less environmentally friendly than other
In a study published in 1993, priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley looked at how
much Americans were willing to spend on conserving the environment. He found that
Christian fundamentalists were less willing, and Catholics more willing, to financially
support the environment. This suggests that it is not whether a person is Christian,
but rather what type of Christian they are, that influences their behaviour towards
It also seems that people’s attitudes towards the environment can be affected by the
way Christianity interacts with other religions.

In Kenya, Christian converts regarded forests as evil (Credit: Anup Shah/naturepl.com)
In her PhD thesis, undertaken whilst at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK,
Emma Shepheard-Walwyn looked at how Kenyans felt about sacred sites. These
are places of biological and spiritual significance, created and maintained by
communities who adhered to a traditional faith.

Shepheard-Walwyn found that “some of the Christian
A shift away from more
traditional faiths could be
bad for nature
they are associated with the traditional faith, which they
people interviewed felt the forests should be destroyed as
believe to be evil.”
One Christian interviewed said that “tradition is now
witchcraft”. Others described the sacred sites as places
associated with demons and superstition.
This suggests that conflicts between opposing faiths could influence how people feel
about protected areas. In particular, a shift away from more traditional faiths could be
bad for nature.

People’s attitudes to lions are changeable (Credit: Wim van den Heever/naturepl.com)
In a study published in 2006, Leela Hazzah of Lion Guardians showed that Maasai
who had converted from a traditional faith to become evangelical Christians had a
higher intent to kill lions than those that kept their traditional faith. “These converted
Protestants did not have very positive attitudes towards national parks or wildlife
either,” says Hazzah.

Because the Maasai are not exposed to much television or
Christianity can play a part
in how, and indeed whether,
we think about nature
the world. If a pastor does not include positive stories
other media, they look to their pastors for information about
about nature in their sermons, the churchgoers would not
get any guidance on how to be environmentally friendly.
The evangelical churches also ran religious events,
sometimes a week long, which pastoralists were invited to
attend. That meant no one was around back at the homestead to protect the
livestock from predators. Two pastoralists lost 35 cows during one such event. When
Hazzah asked them why they left their livestock unattended for so long, one man
replied: “There is no need to return home when I am in the house of God. He will
protect my livestock from danger”.
All this suggests that Christianity can play a part in how, and indeed whether, we
think about nature. So how do other religions compare?

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey (Credit: funkyfood London/Paul Williams/Alamy)
A study published in August 2016 analysed Indian people’s attitudes towards large
carnivores. It found that Buddhists tended to have more positive attitudes towards
carnivorous animals than Muslims.
Given Buddhism’s reputation for avoiding all harm to animals, this may not come as a
surprise. However, the findings are not quite as straightforward as they first appear.

The more often a Buddhist undertook religious activities,
Religious practitioners and
leaders… have a potentially
important role in conserving
towards wolves and snow leopards. In other words, the link
the more likely it was that they had a more positive attitude
between Buddhism and pro-environment attitudes was
only apparent for the more deeply religious Buddhists.
As with the study of American Christians, the key issue is
not whether or not a person is religious, but rather the form
their religion takes: in this case, how devoted they are to it.
These findings mean that conservationists must frame their messages differently
depending on the audience, says lead author Saloni Bhatia of the Nature
Conservation Foundation in Mysore, India. “We must stress environmental
stewardship with Muslim communities and religious leaders, while the idea of humanwildlife interdependence would resonate more strongly with the Buddhist
communities and leaders.”
In other words, conservationists need to integrate their ideas into religious thinking.
“Religions, and certainly the versions of Islam and Buddhism that we have studied,
seem to have well-developed philosophies towards nature and wildlife,” says Bhatia.
“Religious practitioners and leaders therefore have a potentially important role in
conserving nature.”
But instead, conservationists and religious leaders have largely grown apart.

A fisherman collects dynamited fish (Credit: Jurgen Freund/naturepl.com)
Shepheard-Walwyn believes conservationists have mostly ignored religion because
of “the false belief that science and religion don’t mix, and that to be a good scientist
you cannot engage with religion, because they feel religious people apply less
rigorous science to their work.”
She also thinks there are problems with the ways conservationists and religious
individuals talk about nature. The two parties are not, so to speak, singing from the
same hymn sheet.

However, some groups are trying to bridge this divide.
The sheikhs spread the
information to their
community and, as devout
Muslims, the fishermen
The Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC) is a
secular body that helps faith leaders to create
environmental programs based on their faith’s core beliefs
and practices.
One of their most successful projects is based on an
island off the coast of Tanzania. Fishermen there had been
using dynamite as a quick and easy way to bring in the
day’s catch. But this method of fishing is very damaging, destroying coral and killing
immature fish and turtles.
Local conservation organisations tried to educate the fishermen on the harms of
dynamite fishing, but this fell on deaf ears. The government then banned the
practice, but again the fishermen took no notice. Then ARC stepped in.

Fishermen gave up dynamiting fish thanks to Islam (Credit: Jurgen Freund/naturepl.com)
ARC members realised that all the fishermen were Muslim, and that the local sheikhs
had a lot of influence in the community. So they showed the sheikhs passages in the
Koran that promote pro-environmental behaviour, and told them that dynamite fishing
goes against these teachings. The sheikhs spread the information to their community
and, as devout Muslims, the fishermen listened.

One local fisherman, interviewed in the Christian
In Tanzania they have
created an Islamic ecovillage for orphans
fished was destructive to the environment. This side of
Science Monitor in 2007, said: “I’ve learned that the way I
conservation isn’t from the mzungu [“white man” in
Swahili], it’s from the Koran.”
ARC was not the only organisation involved with the
fishermen. Another key party was the Islamic Foundation
for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES).
Its founder Fazlun Khalid started the organisation in the 1980s because of his
passion for nature. After studying theology at university, Khalid concluded that Islam
is intrinsically environmentalist.
But he also noticed that Muslims had lost their connection with nature, because like
so many other people they had become preoccupied with wealth. So he set up
IFEES to show Muslims the core teachings of the Koran that convey an
environmentalist ethic.

Indonesia’s forests are being chopped down (Credit: Steve O. Taylor (GHF)/naturepl.com)
In Indonesia, a country rich in biodiversity but under threat from development, IFEES
is working with schools to restore the rainforests.
Similarly, in Tanzania they have created an Islamic eco-village for orphans, where
they are establishing renewable energy plants and recycling projects. “This ecovillage was built based on the practices of the prophet on how to manage natural
resources,” says Khalid.

Khalid believes that there is a new global religious
Conservationists can learn
a lot from religion about
how to engage people and
build support
“Faith-based organisations played a key role in the recent
movement building, which is keen to embrace nature.
climate change negotiations, and IFEES were
cornerstones in the creation of the Islamic Declaration on
Climate Change,” he says.
There is some tentative evidence that this sort of approach
can work.
A 2013 study in Indonesia showed that incorporating conservation messages into
Islamic sermons increased both public awareness and levels of concern. “Since then,
Indonesia [has] issued its first fatwas [rulings on Islamic law] prohibiting illegal wildlife
trafficking and poaching,” says lead author Jeanne McKay of the University of Kent.
Beyond that, ARC argues that conservationists can learn a lot from religion about
how to engage people and build support. After all, religions are famously good at
garnering lots of followers all devoted to a common cause.

Whether elephants survive is largely up to us (Credit: Yashpal Rathore/naturepl.com)
ARC says that, first and foremost, religions are great at telling compelling stories that
can inspire and inform. They also tend to celebrate what we already have, rather
than focusing on what we have lost. Conservationists may want to heed their

When we read stories about the environment, we can be
Incorporating conservation
messages into Islamic
sermons increased both
yet another species is closer to extinction or how we
confronted with narratives of doom and gloom about how
have destroyed even more wilderness. This is all
factually correct, but research suggests that stories with a
public awareness and levels
of concern
positive framing are better at motivating people to act than
stories with a negative framing. In other words, feel-good
stories can be very powerful.
“Using faith-based approaches can prove to be a positive way forward, and indeed
has the potential to gain far-reaching benefits rather than staying confined to a
conventionally science-based approach,” says McKay.
It would be silly to downplay the environmental crisis we are facing. But in order to
solve it, conservationists may need to harness the power of hope and optimism, just
as the world’s religions do.
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SPC 4680
Min. words: 1250-1500
Essay #3: (25 points): DUE ON CANVAS 4/5 MIDNIGHT- NO LATE POSTING- Due
Date extended
In your third essay, you will critique either from a positive perspective or a negative
perspective a PUBLIC SPEECH (a heavy text-based speech). It can be in the form of either a
public appeal or commentary, a TED-style motivational speech; a tribute or acceptance
speech; a commencement speech or a controversial public statement using Fisher’s Narrative
Choice of text is yours, but you need to get it approved by the Professor.1250-1500 words
(4-5 pages)
Additional Guidelines for Essay #3
This essay intends to present YOUR rhetorical position explaining whether you consider the
artifact analyzed an effective or a non- effective piece in relation to its intended audience, and
WHY. Please ensure that you describe the artifact, you describe in DETAIL the method, and you
apply it to the artifact to explain whether it is rhetorically effective or not. It is very important to
make your statement clear about its rhetorical effectiveness and to justify your position.
One extra suggestion: look for PUBLIC OR POLITICAL TEXT (speech, motivational discourse,
political commentary, or public statement) that could be considered strongly situated to attempt
to change public attitudes, beliefs, etc. One such example can be a controversial use of language
in a political campaign.
Please consider the following as part of the format:
a. A brief description, in your own words, of the lyrics/political commentary/political
ad/ or controversial artifact selected along with the justification of your choice.
b. The description should contain also
-a description of how the text elements and the visuals [ads, pictures, videos] are
connected, if at all. (FORMAT/ARRANGEMENT)
-an explanation of language and/or visual images as language, and explain whether the
style is appropriate, do they use correct language? Does it utilize slang and/or inside
references, for people who already know the product/site/images, etc,
c. Spend some time presenting the NARRATIVE Paradigm Explain why you choose it, and
what are you expecting to demonstrate, [whether this is appropriate or whether it is not].
Remember to respond to the following questions re Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm Method in the
How is the artifact coherent or suggesting fidelity in relation to its audience?
And more importantly, in relation to its audience’s beliefs or attitudes?
Can they change for better or worse, and how?
What is the moral overall argument that is presented by telling the story (as narrative
through the lyrics or through the political ad/commentary)?
How powerful is the narrative vs. others?
How believable is it and for whom?
Narrative fidelity is the degree to which a story fits into the observer’s experience with other accounts.
How the experience of a story rings true with past stories they know to be true in their lives. Stories with
fidelity may influence their beliefs and values.
Fisher set five criteria that affect a story’s narrative fidelity.
1. The first of the requirements are the values which are embedded in the story.
2. The second of the elements is the connection between the story and the espoused value.
3. Third element is whether possible outcomes can make people believe and therefore join the values
presented in the argument.
4. Refers to the consistency of the narrative’s values with the observer’s (audience) values
5. And lastly the extent to which the story’s values represent the highest values possible in human
experience. (Wikipedia, edited)
D. show with EXAMPLES from the text how this method assists with justifying whether this
artifact works or not for the audience. Feel free to cite!
Your overall opinion whether this is a rhetorically good or rhetorically poor artifact, in terms
of its ability to influence people in their values/beliefs/interests. Good Luck!
Again, you need to add the public text/political commentary as a separate document or citation
with explanation of sources, and you are encouraged to cite from the text.
Choose a text that is important to you! Please make sure you cite correctly the sources.

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