How did you become interested in the connection between faith and sustainability?
Recently Hope for Creation communications assistant Tanai Dawson sat down with Cybelle Shattuck, WMU faculty and author of Faith, Hope, and Sustainability: The Greening of US Faith Communities, to learn more about her story. Cybelle is an Associate Professor with a joint position in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University. We'll share segments of her interview over the next few days, in anticipation of her talk on February 18.
For years, I taught in religious studies. My fields were Hinduism and Judaism, which were traditions I was interested in. Partly because I figured if you're going to study religion, you might as well study the original religions that many other religions were related to. So, if you study Judaism then you can also understand Christianity and Islam, and if you study Hinduism you can also understand Buddhism. My career was essentially teaching religious studies, but I had grown up backpacking and hiking. My father was one of those people who every weekend would say, “Let’s clean the apartment and then go for a hike.” While teaching religious studies, I started picking up some of the books that were being written by people of faith who were talking about environmental issues. Father Thomas Barry has a lovely book, The Dream of the Earth. Then there's Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener’s book, Claiming Earth as Common Ground, which talks about working together across different religious traditions in order to take care of the world around us. She started that book with the story about being in the hospital and giving birth to her child. While she's in the hospital, with this newborn baby in the bassinet next to her bed, she hears this report about air pollution and wonders, “What kind of world have I brought this child into?”
I had grown up during the Cold War when we were always worried about growing up into this world of conflict. My 12-year-old friends and I were all saying “We'll never have children because the world is such a mess.” But by the time I had a degree in religious studies and was teaching, the real issues facing us were environmental. We did not blow up the world with a nuclear weapon, the Cold War ended better than we expected. The new things that were affecting the world were environmental crises, even before climate change was really the dominant issue. It was more biodiversity loss, over exploitation of resources, all that damage. I had this background in religion, looking at how religions were responding to the world, now I was really thinking about the environmental stuff. There was this new field of literature coming out that I got interested in reading. Books like The Dream of the Earth that talk about environmental ethics and why people of faith should work to reduce harm to nature are beautiful, but then there's a point where I would start saying “OK this is really beautiful, but is it actually affecting what people do? Is it making any difference?” And that became the question. The ideas are lovely, we're saying there are moral codes that should affect people's behavior and whole groups of people who are supposed to follow these moral codes. Do they do it? Does it make any difference? That's what I got interested in.
Find out more from Cybelle Shattuck in her compelling interview on faith and sustainability daily in anticipation for her event on February 18th!