LSE Faith Centre
In Michaelmas Term 2019 the LSE Faith Centre launched a new leadership programme: ‘Faith and Climate Action’. Given the central importance of the climate crisis for our time, we looked at how religious perspectives and faith communities are contributing to climate action, both in terms of the theological inspiration they bring to the conversation and the social capital they can harness to affect change amongst the 80% of the global population who hold a faith.
This initiative was made possible with help from the Eden Fund for Strategic Innovation and Change (SIC).
Our target audience was LSE students of different faiths and no faith, both undergraduate and graduate students from across departments consisting of:
Current climate activists who wanted to incorporate religious perspectives and other learning into their action.
Students interested in being more active on environmental issues, who need confidence and skills to do so.
Students of faith who are sympathetic to action but are not yet highly active on the issue of environmental care and are less aware of the climate and ecological crisis.
This project sought to bring LSE students of faith wholeheartedly into climate action, influencing their activities and decisions throughout their future careers in diplomacy, government, law, business, investment, non-governmental and charity organisations.
The programme had four core learning objectives:
To give participants a better understanding of the urgency and severity of the current climate crisis.
To enable an appreciation of the depth and wisdom that their own faith and other faith traditions can contribute to the climate narrative.
To give a better awareness of the extent of existing faith based climate action across diverse contexts locally and globally.
To improve understanding of the complex economic and political global systems that contribute to the climate crisis and begin to explore imaginative alternatives inspired by faith.
As an extracurricular programme with no preparatory reading or final assessment, the programme ran on six Wednesday evenings throughout Michaelmas, excluding Reading Week. We had a day of Saturday sessions and workshops at the end of the programme, where we focused on learning practical skills and project delivery for climate action. Every session was interactive, enabling students to reflect, analyse and share faith-based solutions to the crisis.
To follow is a short description of each session.
1) Introduction: Faith and the Climate Emergency
This session was an introduction to the whole programme. Why are we running it? Why this topic specifically? What is the state of the climate today according to the major scientific outlets and why are faith communities getting involved in this?
Dr. Michal Nachmany, of LSE Grantham Research Institute, offered an overview of the climate emergency based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) categories of land, sea and air. Since 2013 Dr. Nachmany has been leading the Grantham Research Institute’s Climate Change Laws of the World project, based on a decade of data collation and analysis. Dr James Walters, Faith Centre Director, looked at why faith communities are getting involved in the climate emergency.
2) Where is Faith in this? A Theological Underpinning
This session’s focus was to learn from the depth and wisdom of faith traditions, from eminent faith leaders. As a flexible alternative to a panel discussion, we pre-recorded short videos of around 6 minutes each, for faith leaders to reflect on how their faith traditions address the environment and discussed the theological underpinnings of climate action. We then offered questions to start discussions on each video, including similarities and differences across faith traditions.
The contributions were offered by:
1) Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, on the Islamic tradition
2) Rt Revd & Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury, on the Christian tradition
3) Dr Shivali Fulchand, Medical doctor and Editorial Registrar at the British Medical Journal, on the Hindu tradition
4) Jaskiran Kaur Bhogal, PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at LSE, on Sikhi
5) Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi of the New North London Synagogue, on the Jewish tradition
3) Where is Faith in this? Local and Global Faith-Based Action
We explored how faith equips us to act in tackling the climate crisis. We looked at the extent of faith-based climate action, both globally and locally.
The students were asked to research in advance a number of case studies of global faith based climate activism. Each group was assigned a continent where their case study had to originate from, to ensure the group’s research has a global reach. Groups then presented what they found in an interactive showcase. We invited a number of UK faith-based activists to attend the showcase and share information about their work and motivation with the students.
The activists attending were:
1) Georgina Bye, Mitzvah Day
2) Prubhjyot Singh, EcoSikh
3) Anya Ramamurthy, Quaker Climate Activist
4) Sheila Chauhan, Green Karma for a Blue Planet
4) Contributive Systems: The Role and Impact of Global Political Economy on the Environment
This session explored how the global political economy contributes to the climate crisis and the correlations between finance, economy and the ecosystem. We offered an alternative vision inspired by faith concepts. Ann Pettifor, Economist and Director of Prime (Policy Research on Policy Research In Macroeconomics) offered an overview of how the current global economy has contributed to climate change and what has brought us to where we are today. She introduced the case for the Green New Deal, a radical proposal on alternative economic models that could be implemented to help with the climate crisis. She illustrated how the campaign Jubilee 2000 had successfully used a faith concept to underpin a hugely successfully global campaign resulting in significant economic and structural change.
5) Faith-Inspired Alternatives
This session looked at how faith can inspire a new relationship with our natural world and how the structural changes can be inspired by faith concepts. The Faith Centre Team took some of the proposed changes that are discussed in the UK Green New Deal and linked these to teachings from some of the major world faith. This included:
Debt relief for climate swap and its analogy with Christian values
A labour intensive economy and its analogy with the values of Sikhi
Limited needs and not limitless wants and its analogy with Jainism
Public borrowing and spending, fiscal interdependence and transparency and the its link to Islamic finance
6) Training day- Saturday 23 November
The full training day provided practical skills for climate action and supported students to think about their own ideas for action in their context. Contributors were:
Communications workshop, by Katherine Maxwell - Rose, Communication manager writer and activist
Team Working with a focus on the Belbin framework, by the Faith Centre Team
Engaging Communities, by Claire Doran, South East Area Fellowship Manager, RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)
Evaluation, Learning and Adaptation in project delivery, by Ross Palmer, Banker at EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)
Final Hackathon, where brainstorming potential next steps and ideas in small flexible groups with sections on
- Blue Sky thinking: Bold, creative ideas. Quantity not quality
- Honing: Which ideas excite you? Which ideas have most potential? Which ideas have most impact?
- Building: What would the idea look like in practice? Who leads? How soon can this start? Who needs to buy in? What are the costs? What are the obstacles? What does success look like?
7) Final Celebrations and Closing
The final session saw pitching some of the Hackathon projects and ideas. This included a proposal from a student to involve community and religious leaders in a common project to stop bush burnings in Nigeria, his home country. While this practice is still very common in Nigeria and it’s used to make hunting easier, it is extremely damaging for the environment. He believes that the intervention of prominent faith leaders could actually end or significantly reduce the practice, illustrating the social capital of faith communities in changing habits. The programme concluded with food and presenting certificates of attendance.
Addressing climate change has been a focus of the LSE Faith Centre’s mission from the beginning. Our opening event was a dialogue on the theme of Religion and the Environment in which French philosopher Bruno Latour remarked that, in a university that had done much to foster economic models of ownership and consumption, we would need to draw on the wisdom of religious traditions to recover more sustainable patterns of human society.
Faith communities have increasingly contributed to these debates, most notably Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si. Contributions on this topic were received from the Christian, Muslim and Sikh traditions at the Faith Centre’s Religious Imaginations and Global Transitions conference in 2017 and subsequently published in Religious Imaginations: How Narratives of Faith are Shaping Today’s World (Walters, 2018).
In the academic year 2019-2020 we brought this topic to the forefront of the Faith Centre’s work with a new programme inviting students across faith traditions to engage their beliefs and values in learning and action that will develop their leadership in addressing climate change. Our aspiration is to develop a new generation of faith-inspired activists, leading across religious difference to address this major issue of our time.
The climate crisis is one of the major issues of our time and the LSE has long contributed its expertise to global policy in this area through the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Faith and Climate Action grounded participants in the reality of the climate crisis, explored faith perspectives as an imaginative resource and developed faith-inspired initiatives across religious differences. We also highlighted how faith communities have increasingly contributed to the debates related to the environment and the enormous potential that their deeper involvement in climate action could bring for the movement and the world.
The evaluation forms distributed at the end of the programme showed that:
90% of students said they understand the climate crisis better now
85% of students said that faith traditions can positively contribute to the climate conversation
95% of students said that faith and climate action enabled them to build meaningful relationships across different faiths and beliefs
100% of students would recommend Faith and Climate Action to a friend or classmate
We are looking at running the programme again in the next academic year, and pursuing conversations with the Geography Department about what this could look like. A number of options might include seminars, providing case studies or examples of how faith communities can inspire the climate action movement. We would like to continue this work into future years as this conversation will only become more urgent.
We would advise others to:
Consider the student pattern of the student year when planning both marketing and programme dates. We planned the programme too early in the academic year. Some students missed the application deadline and others were too busy to apply in the week after Welcome. In the future we would either run the programme from the second half of Michaelmas through the first half of Lent Term, or in the Lent Term.
Use the breadth of LSE communications channels. We are particularly grateful to the Social Media Team who spread the word on main School channels, Student Hub and also Dr Thomas Smith from the Geography Department who advertised the opportunity to students at the end of a lecture.
Plan the programme flow. Ask what the learning journey is for students. Where do you want them to get to at the end of the programme and what are the most effective sessions to get them there in a relatively short space of time. This clarity of direction helps to make critical decisions about what to take out and leave in. Take more time than you think you need to do this, preferably outside term or teaching time and outside the office.
Share the programme flow with students at the start of the programme. Ensure learning objectives for each session are clear. This allows students to critically engage with each module and offer continuous feedback throughout.
Explore cross-School collaboration. There is a wealth of knowledge across the LSE. Think about opportunities for drawing links across disciplines. We are grateful for the collaboration with GRI and Dr Michal Nachmany on this programme.
It doesn’t always have to be lectures or seminars. Don’t be afraid to deviate from these traditional teaching methods. Use videos, showcases, residentials, or interactive group collaborations to embed learning.
Record, record, record. Whether that is through evaluation forms, informal student feedback, or ongoing staff reflections throughout the programme. Make sure you take high quality photographs. These are all incredibly valuable for refining delivery and dissemination learning.
Students across different programmes, fields and faith backgrounds connected across difference and in a way they would not have done otherwise, and students continued to meet after the programme had come to a close. During the last sessions a few students discussed the next steps they would like to take together when it comes to their climate action. It also benefitted us as staff and a team, because it allowed us to monitor a new way of running programmes, through a more interactive and interdisciplinary approach.
We know from the testimonies of our alumni that we meet our students at a point in their lives that can influence their faiths, worldviews and decisions thereafter. We are therefore in an exceptional position to influence tomorrow’s leaders of the world to think about climate change and its consequences on our future. All programme participants become part of our Alumni Network and remain connected to our events, opportunities and resources.
The Faith Centre team was able to pilot a new climate-specific programme and trial fresh, practical and inter-disciplinary ways of interactive teaching which can be embedded in future programmes. It gave a Graduate Intern member of staff an opportunity to coordinate a student programme, plan, deliver and evaluate sessions, and summarise the programme through a blog and evaluation report.
The programme enabled staff contribution to the LSE Religion and Global Society blog, ensuring direct links between research and practice. This laid the foundation of knowledge exchange between the new Faith Centre Interdepartmental Research Unit and the Faith Centre Programmes.
The programme also enabled ongoing collaborations across the LSE, with the Eden Centre, Geography Department and GRI which can be developed further for the next academic year.
The Faith Centre was contacted by a climate- focused BBC Journalist who plans to use the Faith and Climate Action as a case study to illustrate the potential of faith communities to contribute to climate action. Faiths Forum for London recorded a podcast with two of our students, Safiyya and Alex, reflecting on ‘How can faith help tackle climate change.’ Listen to the podcast here.
These benefits could be shared widely across departments, particularly those focusing module teaching on climate action, in order to include faith in the conversation. The Eden Centre can share this as an example of interaction extracurricular programming, and we can also work with the Communications Team and the Eden Centre on sharing the video and podcast resources produced through the programme. We would welcome a further conversation with the Eden Centre team on other ideas for dissemination.
Please find the video resources produced by the programme here:
Faiths Forum for London podcast ‘How can faith help tackle climate change’ with two Faith and Climate Action students: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5Tluv0ZYN6QVWsoQs3Uvee?si=R10F_B1XRpmdN47rD0DTPg
Faith Centre Research and Global Society Blog Posts:
‘The Climate Crisis: Faith, hope and change’, Angharad Thain, Faith Centre Programmes Manager
‘The Future is Now: Faith-based reponses to the climate crisis’, Eliana Abdo, Faith and Climate Action Coordinator