Urban Green Religions? The Roles of Religion in Sustainable Change

A summary of the most important results is available here

Religion possibly plays a central role in processes of ecologically sustainable change. Despite secularization tendencies, religion enjoys a high popularity and perceptibility and shapes the everyday life of large population groups. At the same time, religious actors are increasingly positioning themselves to the ecological challenges and trying to contribute to sustainable change, as can be seen prominently from the encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis. On the other hand, religion can also have a dampening effect on sustainable change or even contribute to environmental problems. This is the case, for example, when religious cosmologies regard a climatic apocalypse as a necessary step on the way to divine promise.    

The research project investigates the role of religion in ecological-sustainable change by comparing medium-sized cities (one in Switzerland and three in Germany). In doing so, the project combines approaches from sustainability research, sociological theory and the scientific debate on religion and ecology. There are two possible ways in which religion can be integrated into the ecological sustainability process: On the one hand, religious actors (e.g. Christian churches, but also non-institutionalized forms of religiosity such as eco-spirituality) can play an active role and make specific contributions to sustainable change. They are able to, for example, do public relations work in this area and exert influence on decision-makers, initiate concrete socio-technological projects (installation of solar collectors on church buildings) or spread environmentally friendly worldviews and values (e.g. through sermons or religious instruction). Furthermore, religion can also have an impact on "non-religious" actors, as when politicians refer in public statements to the "protection of creation" or environmentally committed entrepreneurs speak of the "sanctity of nature". We examine both religious and "non-religious" actors to determine what role religion plays in the sustainable urban transformation of the two cities. The project thus makes an important empirical contribution to the scientific and theological debate on religion and ecology. On the other hand, it expands the scientific sustainability debate to include the dimension of religion, which has so far been neglected.

The project is led by Prof. Dr. Jens Köhrsen at the Centre for Religion, Economy and Politics (ZRWP) at the University of Basel. The team consists of Dr. Julia Blanc,Fabian Huber,Vera Mira Schaffer, Anabel Da Pra, Nadine Brühwiler and Vanessa Kopplin.


Relevant texts for the project

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