Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Religion and a GT"

Carolyn Raffensperger

I want to offer a very different perspective on religion given my apprenticeship to various Indigenous peoples in the United States. I am most familiar with Puebloan and Apachean religious systems.

This paragraph in Michael Karlberg’s essay is my starting point for laying out religious frameworks that are morally mature: “Similarly, if there is a transcendent spiritual reality, then it, too, must be one reality. Therefore, religion, if it is understood as the means by which we systematically investigate that reality, must be understood as one global enterprise. Stated another way, science reached a stage of relative maturity only when it began to free itself from culturally inherited biases and limitations. Why should religion be any different? And how can the transition to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable global order be possible unless and until the vast majority of human beings on this planet, who remain religious, begin to redefine their understanding of religion in this way?”

Most of the world’s religions have been separated from their place of origin. They became almost exclusively transcendent and sky-based. In contrast, the Apache and tribes like the Zuni or Hopi are place-based. Their history, their moral codes, their holy beings are tied to the land. They have worked out what I have called morally mature cultures by grounding their religions in the ecosystems of their homelands. They have a code for how to relate to each other as humans and how to relate to the land based on the limits and nature of the world around them. Their religions aren’t just sky-based, but mountain, river, scorpion, deep Earth, bear, snake and fish-based. This is not a universal spiritual reality. How could it be? The desert southwest is entirely different than the Northwest Coast rainforest or the prairies of North Dakota. The expression of religions must become place-based rather than universal. The celebrations, rights of passage, honoring of death and birth must be tailored to the living, breathing watersheds, migratory pathways, climate, and mega and micro-fauna of specific places.

Having said that, holding the world’s dominant religions accountable is an altogether other matter and a worthy task.

Carolyn Raffensperger
Carolyn Raffensperger is executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. She is best known for her work on the precautionary principle and a legal framework to assert the rights of future generations.

Cite as Carolyn Raffensperger, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Religion and a GT," Great Transition Initiative (December 2014),

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