Climate vulnerability linked to religion, study indicates

African communities’ food production assessed in context of beliefs and climate change

People were interviewed at Bolero in Malawi and Monze in Zambia, where Christianity and traditional beliefs co-exist. How the  holding of multiple belief systems influences these communities in producing food and adapting to changing climate was assessed. File photograph: Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg

People were interviewed at Bolero in Malawi and Monze in Zambia, where Christianity and traditional beliefs co-exist. How the holding of multiple belief systems influences these communities in producing food and adapting to changing climate was assessed. File photograph: Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg

 

Vulnerability to climate change tends to be greatest in parts of the world where religion is most important, new research has established.

Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, it found that traditional beliefs and ecological knowledge rooted in an ancestral spirit-world system continues to influence day-to-day lives, particularly in rural communities.

Dr Conor Murphy of the Department of Geography at Maynooth University said “religious beliefs are an important element of culture, but are not always static. Shifting belief systems influence how people respond and adapt to important issues such as the challenges relating to climate change.”

An interdisciplinary research team from universities in Malawi, Zambia and Ireland interviewed two communities in rural Malawi and Zambia to assess how well they adapt the production of food within the context of shifting belief systems and climate change.

They interviewed people at Bolero in Malawi and Monze in Zambia, where Christianity and traditional beliefs co-exist, and assessed how holding multiple belief systems influences these communities in producing food and adapting to changing climate.

Smooth co-existence

In Bolero they found a smooth co-existence between traditional and Christian beliefs and practices, and that faith-based organisations helped people to better understand what causes climate variability in their area, whereas in the past many saw the effects of climate change as punishment by ancestral spirits.

In Monze, however, there was tension where decisions were made based on rain rituals. Traditional practices and worshipping of ancestral spirits were seen as evil by Christian adherents, while local elders blamed failure of rainfall on a lack of adherence to traditional beliefs by younger generations.

Dr Murphy said experts should note local knowledge and beliefs when making plans about helping people in vulnerable regions to cope with climate change.

He advised that avoiding mistakes “will require giving attention to the complexity and dynamism of such changing religious landscapes”.

Meanwhile, Dublin’s Balally parish is hosting a national conference on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, this Friday and Saturday at the local community centre.

Speakers will include Columban priest Fr Seán McDonagh, who had input into Laudato Si, Prof John Fitzgerald, chair of the Government’s advisory committee on the environment, and Dr Lorna Gold of Trócaire.

Public representatives expected to attend will include Minister for Communications Alex White and former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The conference is being organised by Msgr Dermot Lane, parish priest at Balally and former president of Dublin’s Mater Dei Institute.