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Welcome to the 2021 ISSRNC online conference - Religion and Environment: Relations and Relationality.
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Saturday, February 27 • 2:00pm - 2:45pm
Ecotheology Down Under

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(LIVE conversation with presenters. Please watch the session video beforehand.)

Christian theological reflection on human relationships with the non-human are deeply contextual. Such discourse is dependent upon land/seascape, climate, culture, which in turn shapes how biblical texts are written and embodied. The climate crisis brings a sense of urgency to these conversations in the southern hemisphere. Bushfires have always shaped the Australian landscape, but the climate crisis has resulted in catastrophic bushfires which demonstrate a break in the relationship of humans and country under colonisation. The people of Pasifika have had a close cultural relationship with the ocean, which now in the form of sea level rise threatens those relationships.

This session explores this contextuality in southern hemisphere theological discourse with scholars from Australia and Pasifika. It examines ideas of relationality to climate change related disasters, traditional cultures, and their understanding of climate change and typical texts, and ways of thinking about Sabbath as working with and relating to the non-human.

Chair: Mick Pope

Mick Pope, “Sabbath rest for the land: Mutual obligation and the agency of creation”

Western Christianity can struggle to accommodate ideas such as the personhood of the nonhuman or understand our relationship with them in other than utilitarian terms. The Holiness school of the Hebrew Bible offers a perspective from which to develop such ideas. The first creation story is an aetiological account of both the Sabbath and as such the creation of sacred time. Sabbath observance is a way of maintaining order in creation, mimetically re-enacting the initial ordering acts of God. However, Sabbath observance is not for Israelites alone. The land of Israel itself has a relationship to God prior to the covenant relationship between Israel and God. It too has its own rights and obligations to enjoy Sabbath rest. Grounded in a creation narrative, the mutual Sabbath obligations of land and people may be extended to humanity and the whole earth.

Di Rayson, “Fire in the Hills: The Australian Black Summer of Bushfires, Ritual, and Relationality”

The 2019-20 summer in Australia was characterised by fire. After several years of prolonged drought, increased winter temperatures, and poor fire prevention (such as the inability to conduct small fire burn offs to reduce fuel loads), in June 2019 the first of hundreds of fires started--fires that would grow and combine and form massive firestorms, burning much of the east coast of Australia and affecting all states, burning until May 2020. At its worst, the air quality in Australia was the worst in the world, and smoke smudged the glaciers of New Zealand before circling the globe and again darkening the Australian sky. This paper will reflect on the experience of Black Summer and examine its religious and theological implications. It utilises the theology of relationality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and insights from neuroscience and ecology, to reinterpret the place of humans in relation to other-than-human fellow creatures and landscapes. It draws on ritual and servant practices in the landscape, including shinrin-yoku and Indigenous fire practices, that might assist in re-establishing relationships and provide opportunities for healing after the trauma of the fires. Finally, it contextualises relationality in the Anthropocene and asks what Homo cosmicos citizenship might entail.

Clive Pearson, “All at sea with the Bible”

The low-lying islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu are deeply religious: they are 'Bible-conscious'. They are icons of climate change. They are all immersed in what has been described as 'the liquid continent'. In response to rising sea levels the default position has been to make use of the Noah story and the book of Job. This presentation proceeds upon the basis that this position needs to be re-examined for two reasons. The first has to do with a consideration of how these well-established textual referents are used. Is it right for sociologists and climate scientists to view the recourse to Noah, for instance, as a form of climate denial? Or does the text have a more positive dimension and effectively fulfils the role of being a counter-narrative and a protest against the alien language of climate science? The second reason has to do with the need for a broader range of biblical texts and themes to deal with the complex issues facing cultural identity, the prospect of forced displacement, and the capacity to speak into the geopolitical public domain. One aspect of this enquiry is the need to reconsider how appropriate are western-based discourses on the Bible and the sea.

Maina Talia, “Sabbath and Tuvalu Indigenous Knowledge (Muna o te Fale)”

Prior to the arrival of Christianity, the people of Tuvalu had their own traditional strategies for the caring of creation. On the island of Vaitupu  the local people observed a traditional lunar calendar determined by the faces of the moon.  These quarters, halves and full moons (in western thinking) indicate what the islanders should perform on a particular day. The island was also divided up into four main districts (the Pono o potu system) for the purpose of control and replenishment of their natural resources. There was no particular day  set aside for the island to rest; rather all activities were guided and informed by the traditional calendar. And so during the month of Fakafu (literally,  to be fertile) turtles, fish and trees begin to reproduce. This month is marked by the appearance of the star Melele at sunset at the sunset (in the east) while the star Mataliki sets. It fulfils the purpose of the Sabbath for us. It is not a specific day of rest but rather a set of informed activities outlined by the lunar calendar. This presentation examines this customary practice in the light of the biblical traditions to do with the sabbath.

avatar for Mick Pope

Mick Pope

MPhil Student, Theology; Professor in Environmental Mission, Missional University, University of Divinity

avatar for Maina Talia

Maina Talia

Researcher, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University
avatar for Di Rayson

Di Rayson

Adjunct Fellow, Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) Research Centre
avatar for Clive Pearson

Clive Pearson

Associate Professor, School of Theology, Charles Sturt University

Saturday February 27, 2021 2:00pm - 2:45pm MST
Online (Live)