Sustainability and the sacred: a comparative study of Indian religious environmentalism with special reference to Christian and indigenous communities in the State of Kerala
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2020
Job Retnaselvam, Paul Singh
This thesis is a study of Indian religious environmentalism with particular reference to Christian and indigenous religions in the state of Kerala, South India. Ethnographic investigations of church communities were carried out in twenty-five locations in four Dioceses of the Church of South India in Kerala. At one location a study was also conducted of an indigenous community of the Kani tribes in the Puravimala Tribal colony in Thiruvananthapuram. In Indian religious environmental discourse Christianity has been blamed as the root cause of the ecological crisis but studies of Indian environmentalism have not been able to substantiate such claims with the support of field-based studies. The Keralan Christian ecological consciousness, which is rooted in pre-Christian tradition, views nature to be sacred, and the sacredness dwells in the quality life of all living and non-living beings in the planet earth. The aim of this thesis is to determine whether Indian religions can play a significant role in the quest for a sustainable society in India, and also to establish to what extent can Indian conceptions of the sacred inform and promote ecological sustainability in India. A second aim of the thesis is to determine the ecological behaviour embedded in the rituals and practices of the Christian and indigenous communities and gather relevant resources to formulate a theology of environmental sustainability. The principal research finding of this thesis is that the concept that nature is sacred is defined within a frame of ecclesial movement by expressing nature as a worshipping community. When nature becomes a worshipping community, it is revealed that ordinary places become sacred places and the Christian rituals and sacraments offer an ecclesiological environmental activism. The second finding is that the sacredness of nature is rooted in indigenous and Christian traditions providing an ecological consciousness through the traditional practice of nature conservation and resource management as a sign of environmental sustainability. The indigenous holistic approach to environmental sustainability is the theological foundation of Indian Christian environmental theology and draws resources from environmentalism “from below.” Thirdly, Indian religious environmentalism emerges from the voices of the victims of the environmental crisis by upholding environmental justice and articulating their sufferings “from below.” It engages in local environments as a counter movement to environmentalism “from above.” The concepts of sacred and sustainability provide a theological grounding for environmental sustainability by speaking about quality environment. The doctrines of creation are redefined from the animistic and ecclesial traditions of Indian Christians which are well reflected with their understanding of sacred metaphors, to portray the wounded nature as the “othered body” and the “Christic-cosmic body,” as the cosmic body offers freedom to sustain quality environment. In religious environmentalism the sacred approach to nature defines quality environment as a sacred manifestation of environmental sustainability. The first chapter discusses the contemporary crisis of Indian religious environmentalism, which mainly focuses on the Hindu and Christian approach to the environment and it examines whether the environmentalism of the poor is properly addressed. The second chapter gives an overview about religious environmentalism in the light of ethical questions, which investigates the cosmological consciousness of communities and the discourses of the environmentalism from below. The emergence of the concept of sustainability and the sacred is a main concern of the third chapter, which explains my ethnographic study that was conducted in the ecological landscape of the four CSI dioceses in Kerala and the Kani Tribal colony in Puravimala. The fourth chapter describes the concept of the sacred from the environmental consciousness embedded in the worshipping communities and how these communities maintain environmental activism effectively. The fifth chapter discusses the ecological tradition ‘from below’ in the light of the ethnographic study of the Kani Tribal colony in Puravimala and examines how the ecological behaviour of the CSI Christians in Kerala is related to the ecological spirituality and practices of the Kani Tribal community. The sixth chapter explains how to understand and respond to environmental problems based on the concerns of Christian environmentalism ‘from below.’ The final chapter attempts to formulate a theology of environmental sustainability, based on the ecological doctrines drawn from the ethnographic locations. This points out that suffering from below and quality environment as theological categories toward environmental sustainability, and the sacred approach to nature defines quality environment as a manifestation of environmental sustainability.