Bio-divinity and Biodiversity: Perspectives on Religion and Environmental Conservation in India

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Abstract

Religious environmentalists argue that religious traditions teach that the Earth is sacred and that this has traditionally served to exert control over how people interact with the natural world. However, while the recognition of "bio-divinity" is a feature of many religious traditions, including Hinduism, this is to be distinguished from religious environmentalism which involves the conscious application of religious ideas to modern concerns about the global environment. Religious environmentalism is a post-materialist environmental philosophy that has emerged from the West and has its roots in the eighteenth century European "Romantic Movement." Using the example of sacred grove preservation in India, this paper assesses the extent to which claims that Hinduism is environmentally friendly are the product of an elite middle-class environmentalist ideology and hence of little relevance to the majority of Hindus. However, the fact that discourses about sacred grove preservation have become common within discussions about the conservation of biodiversity in India might suggest that religious environmentalism does have a broader relevance. While religious institutions have, on the whole, paid little attention to environmental issues in India, one area where ecological causes have made an impact is within Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). This paper concludes with a discussion of the similarities between the historicist strategies of the Hindu Right and religious environmentalism, and discusses the anti-Tehri dam campaign where representatives of both have been involved in protest activity to protect the River Ganges.

Numen

International Review for the History of Religions

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