Religious Studies | Studies in Religion: Rel, Ethics and the Global Environment
R300 | 11201 | L. Sideris

COLL A&H distribution (Critical Issues for the Religious Studies

This course focuses on three global environmental issues and
religious/ethical responses to them: climate change, destruction of
ocean environments (e.g., pollution, fisheries collapse, ocean
warming), and global food issues (e.g., food security, seed
patenting, and genetically modified crops). The course adopts a
global perspective in two related senses: first, the course deals
with environmental issues that are global in scale and/or linked to
the global economy. Second, the course examinee the impacts of, and
responses to, these problems from the perspective of particular
communities throughout the world. The primary geographical locations
to be considered as case studies (in addition to, and in comparison
with, the U.S.) include parts of the UK, regions of the Black Sea,
and India. However, given the nature of these problems, particularly
climate change, we will inevitably touch upon a variety of other
regions around the world. Because climate change is the primary
global environmental problem that confronts us, and because it
affects a multitude of other environmental issues, the ethics of
climate change will take center stage in this course. Al Gore has
characterized climate change as a problem that “challenges the moral
imagination.” We will examine what lies behind this claim, both in
terms of the practical challenges of fostering international
cooperation, as well as the unique moral and ethical dimensions of
this problem, such as concepts of intergenerational
justice/obligations to future  generations. We will also
consider “interfaith” responses to climate change that incorporate
perspectives from the major world traditions.  The section of the
course on ocean ethics explores the question of how humans can
develop an ethic toward marine environments which (unlike
terrestrial environments) remain largely alien and uninhabitable to
us. Our ethical responses must reckon with the extreme otherness of
ocean environments and life forms, many of which we never encounter
directly.  Developing an ethic toward oceans presents challenges to
the moral imagination nearly as complex as those posed by climate
change, though for different reasons. This section examines how
religious mythology and symbolism often portrays the sea as
inexhaustible and “unfathomable.” We then consider some religiously
motivated responses to seas in crisis. The third section of the
course focuses on questions of ecological justice surrounding seed
patenting and genetic modification of crops. Ethical issues here
center on the corporate ownership of regenerative natural processes—
symbolized by seed patenting—and the implications for traditional
farming cultures and food security in places like India and
throughout the globe. A final section of the course considers local
and individual initiatives for responding to global environmental
problems, with particular emphasis on the movement known as
bioregionalism, as well as virtue ethics. Course requirements may
include occasional quizzes on reading material, short analytic
papers and essay exams. Regular participation in class discussion is
expected. (note: There may also be opportunities to collaborate, in
journaling and writing assignments, with students studying similar
issues in the UK and elsewhere.)