Starting tomorrow, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is meeting in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth such event since 1893. It is a massive gathering of religious scholars and practitioners (and scholar-practitioners) from around the world. The overall aim of the event is to facilitate interfaith dialogue. Recent meetings have become increasingly engaged in developing interreligious responses to contemporary social and ecological challenges. This year’s meeting emphasizes issues of income inequality, climate change, hate speech, war, violence, and the human rights and dignity of women. I’m not cynical about the capacity of religious perspectives to address those issues, but I’m not exactly optimistic either, just scrupulous.
I will be at the Parliament, presenting on a panel, “Hinduism and Ecology: The Sacred Activism of Sunderlal Bahuguna.” Bahuguna is still relatively unknown in the United States, although the Chipko movement, with which he is closely affiliated, is quite well-known among US environmentalists. Another ally of the Chipko, Vandana Shiva, will be at the Parliament. Bahuguna’s perspective overlaps with Shiva’s in many ways, and one could argue that Bahuguna was a crucial predecessor of Shiva, who is about 25 years younger than Bahuguna. Politics of influence aside, Bahuguna and Shiva both contribute much to the efforts to bring Gandhian notions of swaraj (self-rule; democracy) and sarvodaya (development; universal uplift) into an ecological context.
My panel includes excellent scholars of Hinduism and ecology, George James, Christopher Chapple, and Bidisha Malik. I think I’m the only one of us who hasn’t met Bahuguna. Nonetheless, I’ll have plenty to say about the philosophical principles operating in Bahuguna’s sacred activism, specifically his integration of Gandhian principles with ecology and Indian religions. I’ll also share some examples of my experiences teaching about Bahuguna through George James’ wonderful book, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna.