More seminaries offering courses on faith, environment, study finds

JERUSALEM - One in five seminaries and theological institutions in North America surveyed offer courses on faith and the environment and the number appears to be growing, a study by a Jerusalem-based interfaith environmental group found.

In a report released June 22 to coincide with Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development noted that at least 162 courses on faith and the environment were offered at 52 seminaries and religious colleges in the United States and Canada between 2007 and 2014.

Overall, 231 seminaries were reviewed to determine the diversity of the courses offered, the center reported. Most of the institutions studied were Christian, while a small number were Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, ICSD director, told Catholic News Service that administrators interviewed at the institutions explained to researchers that course offerings have been expanded over the years.

Although the number of seminaries focusing attention on the environment remains relatively small, the ICSD said it was "encouraged to see religious institutions - in particular seminaries - increasing education about the environmental crisis based on faith teachings."

"While only 22 percent of the seminaries we surveyed offered such courses, I think Pope Francis' call will help to move others to follow suit," Rabbi Neril said in a statement.

The pope expressed hope in his encyclical that seminaries "will provide an education in responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God's world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment."

The ICSD said that with thousands of seminarians enrolled in courses related to faith and the environment, it appears that part of the next generation of religious leadership will be emerging "better equipped to teach on creation care and stewardship."

Jewish, Christian and Muslim seminaries in the Holy Land could "make further efforts to increase their teaching in this area," the organization added.

The report noted that a 2014 survey by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion found that most Americans who attend religious services once or twice a month hear little from clergy about climate change. Only about one-third of respondents said their clergy leader speaks about climate change often (11 percent) or sometimes (25 percent).

The ICSD also cited a recent poll by Yale and George Mason universities in which the vast majority of Americans reported that they did not view climate change as a moral or religious issue.

As part of the organization's effort to encourage religious educational institutions to incorporate faith and ecology courses into their curricula, ICSD presented a collection of faith and ecology syllabi online, making them accessible for instructors and administrators interested in exploring and expanding faith-based environmental teaching at their institutions.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015