Environmental degradation in Nigeria caused by exploitation of crude oil.

Environmental Justice and Settler Colonialism: A Political Theology of Climate Change

Ecology

These questions of environmental justice become even more urgent in the face of our current crisis, as we see the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the same communities who suffer the most from other environmental harms.

Early paradigms of environmental ethics centered around nature-related themes, such as animal rights and pollution. In the 1970s and 1980s, the environmental justice movement has shifted its focus to the human communities who bear the greatest burdens of environmental degradation, namely, people of color and the poor. In this symposium, we bring the two notions together through the perspective of Indigenous communities who have been leaders of the struggle for environmental justice and who claim that Indigenous rights and sovereignty cannot be detached from the protection of the natural world. We will explore the lessons that can be learned from these struggles, as well as the challenges they have faced, through an interdisciplinary lens, bringing into conversation scholars of history, philosophy, religion, and law, who will reflect on environmental practices both as colonial and decolonial tools.

Netta Cohen tells the history of climate science as a colonial tool. While her focus is on the specific context of Palestine/Israel, this story repeats itself in other settler-colonial contexts. This symposium asks to think present developments that tie together struggles for environmental protection with decolonial efforts against this history. We examine specific developments, such as urban farming (Himanee Gupta-Carlson), alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in environmental activism (Willis Jenkins), the protection of Native American sacred sites as wilderness (Dana Lloyd), and the use of Indigenous epistemologies and creation stories to rethink Indigenous sovereignty as respect for Mother Earth (Natalie Avalos and Brian Burkhart). We ask whether the protection of our environment is crucial to our spiritual flourishing; whether our communities should include more than just human beings; and, ultimately, whether justice is necessarily a religious concept.

These questions become even more urgent in the face of our current crisis, as we see the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the same communities who suffer the most from other environmental harms – Indigenous and Black communities, immigrant and poor communities, and other marginalized groups. We hope to provide a broader context through which to think about the political theology of this pandemic, that is explored in a previous symposium here.

Symposium Essays

Netta Cohen

Between Ecology and Ideology: Climate Change and Forestation Sciences in Mandatory Palestine/Israel

When did the discourse on climate change begin? How was it related to colonialism? And in what way did it serve political objectives in Israel/Palestine throughout the 20th century?

Himanee Gupta-Carlson

Healing the Land, Land Healing the Self

We appear isolated. Yet, over the years that we have brought our farm into our family, I have come to see ourselves as part of a worldwide imagined community of small farmers.

Willis Jenkins

“Enemies of Humanity”: Political Theology from the Pipelines

While not often recognized as political theology proper, environmental justice movements have for decades been sites of normative creativity. Sometimes overlooked as conventional rights-based complaints against locally unwanted land uses, these movements have in fact depicted ecologies of white supremacy while deploying rights, sacralizing land, and reimagining the human in ways that would utterly reconstruct the basis of politics.

Dana Lloyd

The Coloniality of Wilderness

I am interested in exploring and critiquing the discursive implications of designating this area as wilderness, given the history of this idea and its role in dispossessing Indigenous communities.

Natalie Avalos

Indigenous Stewardship and the Death Rattle of White Supremacy

Native peoples in the Americas understand the universe as alive and sentient. All phenomena in it are understood to be a distinct expression of life force, or spirit. Since all persons – human and other-than-human – such as plants, animals, rivers, winds, and mountains are expressions of spirit, they are understood to be interconnected and contingent.

Brian Burkhart

Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land: On the Nature of the Concept

Indigenizing philosophy through the land then is more than a culturally distinct way of philosophizing… it is a process of decolonization in the form of a revitalization of the relational modes of Indigenous life grounded in land as the relational ground of kinship and human beings as grounded in and inextricably entwined with this relational kinship ground.