The scientific approach to nature and the environment is a clear one, rooted in measurement, observation, and data. Religion's connection to the natural world is more fluid; just how the environment fits into a faith depends on teachings and interpretations, both formal and personal.
Science is the factual authority on the environment. But increasingly, religious leaders and people of faith are serving as the moral authority on environmental issues, climate change in particular.
That evolving dynamic is at the heart of an upcoming conference at Nazareth College, organized by the school's Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, along with Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Department of Religious Studies. The conference, Sacred Texts and Human Contexts: Nature and Environment in World Religions, will take place May 23 through May 25.
"I think this is a very good combination, not only scientific review but religious review from the sacred texts," says Muhammad Shafiq, the Hickey Center's executive director. "And also how these sacred texts have been seen by the religious communities throughout the ages and how they were integrated as far as the environment is concerned."
Professors of science, religion, and law have submitted papers, which they will present in panels during the conference. The presenters come from across the United States, as well as from Canada, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Mexico, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Turkey.
The papers focus on a variety of topics, regions, and faiths. One presenter's work focuses on the impacts of climate change on rainfall in a Pakistan province, for example. Several papers explore Pope Francis's statements on climate change or the ecological and environmental messages of the Quran.
The conference has an academic bent, but Shafiq says that he hopes that the papers will be used in colleges, churches, and other places for education. He says that he also hopes that by giving religious leaders and the faithful a better understanding of scientific and sacred views on the environment and climate change, they'll take an active part in protection efforts.
"We need to look big: what is right, what is not right," Shafiq says.
The Hickey Center has organized similar conferences in the past, but focused on different topics. The first conference dealt with interfaith understanding and the second, which was held in Turkey, focused on wealth and poverty. The center has published a book of the papers from the first conference and expects to publish a book of the second conference's papers this year, possibly by the end of May, Shafiq says. It plans to publish the papers from this year's conference, also.
More information on the conference, including a schedule and list of speakers, is available at naz.edu/interfaith. Anyone interested in attending the conference can call the Hickey Center at (585) 389-2383 or (585) 389-2963.