Thursday, September 27, 2007

Religion and Environmental Thought Lecture Series Welcomes Michael Northcott

Religion and Environmental Thought Lecture Series Welcomes Michael Northcott

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Although it would be more comfortable to pretend otherwise, many people live with the understanding that humans are damaging the earth more now than they ever have in the past.

You don’t have to witness it yourself to regret that we annihilate mountains to mine coal in West Virginia. Or that we scour the sea floor of all life in pursuit of fish to eat. Or that we continue to destroy rainforests faster than we can name the species we’re extinguishing in the process. Or that burning fossil fuel like there’s no tomorrow may guarantee there is no tomorrow for the many species of plants and animals whose habitats are altered or wiped out altogether by climate change.

Faced with these ongoing disasters of our own making, University of Illinois professor and director of the Program for the Study of Religion, Robert McKim, thinks it essential to ask what guidance the major religious traditions can provide for living in a less damaging way.

Can religion, he asks, serve as a source of hope, optimism, creativity, and new ideas?

McKim is hopeful that it can. For starters, he observes that the changes in outlook and behavior called for by environmentalists are very much in line with the central messages of many religious traditions: to be less selfish, less greedy, less casual about assuming we deserve what we have.

Many religions, he notes, are in fact engaging new thinking about what caring for the earth requires. Some traditions are calling for more sustainable ways of life, for avoiding the destruction of other species, for reducing our carbon footprint, for restoring woodlands and prairie, for stopping the pollution of rivers and lakes with agricultural runoff, and more besides.

In order to promote further dialogue on this topic, McKim has been coordinating a series of lectures in the field of religion and environmental thought. Next week, as part of that series, Professor Michael Northcott from the University of Edinburgh will visit campus to give two lectures, which are open to the public.

On Thursday, October 4th, professor Northcott will speak about the shift in outlook he sees as necessary for a meaningful response to climate change. From Northcott’s perspective, we can’t fix our disordered relationship with the atmosphere without deep reforms in our current ways of living, which, he argues, grow out of a false picture of how humans are connected with one another and the rest of life.

Then on Friday, October 5th, Professor Northcott will speak on the present, massive wave of humanly caused extinctions in light of the first chapters of the book of Genesis. For him, the stories of Adam and Noah speak powerfully to the present human condition and the ecological crisis.

Michael Northcott’s lectures will also serve as book-signing events for the North American launch of his new book, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming.

Both talks by professor Northcott will take place in the Author's Corner at the Illini Union Bookstore and begin at 4:00 p.m. More information about the “Religion and Environmental Thought” lecture series can be found at the website for the University of Illinois Program for the Study of Religion.