Conservation of nature and natural resources has been a much challenging task in the present state of affairs where economy prevails over ecology. International treaties and conventions are signed and policies, laws and Acts have been enacted by the countries across the world, however, hostilities remain while applying the protected area policies which largely deprive indigenous communities from their traditional rights.
It hurts their feelings and hence changes their behaviour, which impacts the objective, negatively. Historically, religion being a product of feelings and beliefs has been used as a powerful tool for nature conservation. Making age-old religious entities such as sacred landscapes, sacred groves and sacred species by various cultural groups are the live manifestations of historical, cultural and emotional attachment of human beings with nature and natural resources.
The philosophy of religion can continue to be used as a powerful tool for mitigating negative impacts of current anthropogenic pressures on the nature and its resources. With this background, the present review aims to analyse various practices of nature and natural resource conservation as embedded in the religions.
Feelings and desires are the motivational forces behind all human endeavours and human creation, and the similar forces are believed to evolve the process of nature conservation. Religion being a product of feelings and beliefs, historically this instrument is used as a powerful tool for nature conservation. The sense of belonging in nature has been created by performing various rituals, and many of them are still practiced today by various religious sects.
The diverse components of nature, whether living or non-living, have been attracting human curiosities since time immemorial that is reflected in the religious symbols of such components. Being a source of joy and inspiration for inquisitive minds, from poets to philosophers and knowledge-seekers to knowledge-providers, the nature’s components have been defined in different perspectives.
National Geographic points to ample examples which indicate that not only plant and animal species but also water, air and land represent various gods and goddesses, apart from their materialistic uses. In traditional landscape, the sacred areas act as de facto protected areas. However, it is felt that the religious norms and ways of nature conservation have often been neglected, misunderstood, or purposefully misrepresented with due course of time.
The increasing disconnection from nature due to urbanization and exponential growth of human-induced stresses on natural ecosystems cause severe environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. The ongoing climate change related impacts on various ecosystems are also the subject of grave concern when the nature is already reeling under various stresses. The philosophy of religion and its belief system that helped in saving the world in the past can continue to be used as a powerful tool for mitigating the negative impacts of current anthropogenic pressures.
There are reports which indicate that cultural and religious values are often more acceptable to the society in comparison to the legislations or regulations. The growing interests among society in spiritual ecology, which focuses on the interrelationship between religions and environment, may help to address various environmental issues and problems within the realm of religion.
The Atlantic writes that Nature worship as a predominant form of religion is not yet studied well with respect to conservation of natural resources. The concept of nature conservation is embedded in many religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. In the era of climate change and degradation of nature and natural resources due to several reasons, predominately anthropogenic, it is necessary to explore ways for their conservation for posterity. Besides, the long-established belief systems need to be critically analysed for their better understanding and applications across the board.
With this background, the present study aims to analyse various practices of nature and natural resource conservation as embedded in the religions. The study further focuses on the ways to simulate the biodiversity conservation model institutionalized on the religious philosophies.
The importance of sacred groves, sacred landscapes and sacred species should not be viewed merely in the economic and livelihood perspectives but these entities need to be respected as the historical evidence of human relationship with nature and its components. At present, many causes of biodiversity loss are discovered, which include increasing disconnection of urban population from nature. Revitalizing traditional human connections with the natural world is a need of hour in view of respecting and conserving nature.
Since religion changes and influences fundamental values of human beings, it has been supporting nature conservation since antiquity. As Albert Einstein believed that the serious scientific workers are profoundly religious people in the present materialistic age, the religion-based belief system can save our planet from the ongoing degradation. The spiritual context of nature conservation, which is ignored in satisfying human needs and quality of life, must be recognized without further delay.
There are numerous temples, gurudwaras, churches and mosques across the countries in the planet earth. A large number of devotees visit these sacred places every day to pay homage. If the priests, clerics, granthi (sikh priest), molvi (Muslim cleric) and Dalai Lama issue decrees to their respective devotees for nature conservation, it is expected that the outcome will be fruitful.
The religion-based conservation models need to be developed. In the present era of global warming and anthropogenic climate change the values of religion, if injected wisely, can help to resolve the problems and facilitate in maintaining the nature and natural resources.