Accepted Paper:

The reform of religious identity and responsibility in response to climate change  

Author:

Lawrence Greenfield (Parliament of the World's Religions)

Paper short abstract:

How religious communities discover and reclaim elements within their traditions that reinforce both identity and responsibility and direct believers/practitioners to participate with other scientific, ethical, and political communities aids both personal and public action regarding climate change.

Paper long abstract:

Religions historically have defined “responsibility” in both broad and narrow terms for believers/practitioners according to “identity.” Religious ethics took form on the basis of what the particular religion taught with reference to belief and practice. In mono-cultural societies this connection between identify and responsibility was seamless, virtually one and the same. But as the “lived-context” became more religiously diverse, the believer/practitioner became more self-conscious of what responsible action was entailed by reference to a self-declared religious identity. Some religions (or factions of religions), for example, could guide their self-identified followers on how to responsibly treat the creation while others could leave that issue unanswered or justify exploitation of the earth. Beyond the phenomenon of diversity, the secularization of societies also contributed to a separation of religious identity from religious responsibility or the weakening of deeply held religious beliefs and their ethical consequences and the stronger adherence to secular societal norms and practices (e.g., consumption, accumulation, wealth accumulation). If religions are to contribute to meeting the challenge of climate change, they can no longer assume religious identity will lead to responsible religious responsibility; instead, religions will need to allow global responsibility to define religious identity. The challenge, it will be argued, for religious communities is to discover and reclaim elements within their traditions that allow for their reclamation and reform in both identity and responsibility in order to direct believers/practitioners to participate with other communities (e.g., scientific, ethical, and political) in both personal and public action regarding climate change.

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