Integration of Faith and Ecology
The Loka Initiative is a new education and outreach platform for faith leaders and religious institutions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Our mission is to support faith-led environmental and climate efforts locally and around the world by helping build capacity of faith leaders and culture keepers of indigenous traditions, and by creating new opportunities for projects, partnerships, and public outreach.
What Faith Leaders Are Saying
“The environmental emergency that we face is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just a political issue. It is also a moral issue and religious leaders must help lead the way forward.”
“The environmental crisis is a moral crisis, and demands a response from God’s people.”
"Green The Church taps into the unmatched power of the African-American church as a moral leader and a force for social change — one with the potential to bring millions of new people into the climate movement."
"We believe that people of faith have a great responsibility to stand up for environmental and climate justice, and to address the concerns and calamities of the poor and marginalized communities. They have the lowest ecological footprints, yet they are most impacted by natural and unnatural disasters. It is a moral issue."
“All of us, Christian or not, must recognize our responsibility and obligation to protect Creation from the catastrophic effects created by climate change.”
“As a Theravada monk, I believe it’s the duty of all monks to care for the environment.”
“We're in this exciting moment of expansion of an ethical and moral sensibility that's grounded in religion and draws on science to give us that sense of the intricacy of ecosystems.”
“We are asking that our indigenous knowledge systems be valued and integrated into climate discourse, policy development and actions. Those knowledge systems, of which elders, spiritual leaders and ancestral authorities are the custodians, are key to relearning how to care for the earth.”
In the News
American Museum of Natural History Presents: In the Spirit of Collaboration: voices from ecology, the arts, and faith-led approaches to nature conservation
Partnerships and Public Outreach
Loka works to engage, inspire, and involve the general public by hosting talks and events that showcase dialogue between senior scientists and senior faith leaders. These events, as well as Loka’s strategic goals, are developed through extensive partnerships across campus, academia, local and global faith communities, and environmental activists and professionals. Loka recently launched a bi-monthly newsletter showcasing faith and indigenous leaders who lead transformative environmental and climate work in order to help lift their voices and reach new audiences. Loka continues to expand its online community-building and information-sharing networks to support the work inspired through public outreach and convenings.
Ongoing - Summer 2020
At the request of faith leaders and climate scientists who were gathered at the first Loka Symposium this spring, we will put together a book on eco-anxiety; examining the psychological and emotional conditions faced by those on the climate frontlines, including first hand narratives, and providing spiritual, psychological and scientific resources as methods to alleviate the symptoms.
Strategic Convenings and Training Workshops
Spring 2020 - Summer 2021
Loka will provide focused training in the areas of climate change, nature protection, and sustainable living to faith leaders and communities of faith and support on strategic planning, communications and project design. Convenings will be organized by themes and in partnership with different traditions.
Non-credit online course
Fall 2020 – Fall 2022
Loka will work with the Division of Continuing Studies to build an online course, broadly available to everyone, that integrates faith, culture, environment, public health, and mental well-being and examines the role religion can play towards improving environmental, social and personal wellbeing. Subsequent courses will offer participants the opportunity to design and improve project ideas and strategy plans.
Loka will establish a biennial symposium that brings together senior faith leaders from different religious traditions, scientists, economists, academics, policy administrators, business leaders and representatives from the public sector from around the world to collaborate on solving social and environmental problems. The Symposium kicked off in May of 2019.
Dekila is the director of the Loka Initiative, a new and innovative education and outreach program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for faith leaders and religious institutions. Prior to that, founded and directed Sacred Earth, an acclaimed faith-based conservation program at the World Wildlife Fund from 2009 to 2014. Dekila serves as the environmental adviser for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
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The Meaning of Loka
"Loka" (लोकः), an ancient Sanskrit term, has many meanings but usually refers to “our world” as the basis for all life. The world evoked by Loka is a complex and interwoven one, where multiple environments, species and dimensions interact to constitute a whole. The term Loka can thus mean a “world” as large as a planet, but it can also refer to a single individual who constitutes an equally complex and interdependent “world.” Thus, each Loka or world is in a sense many worlds, overlapping and embedded within each other. Evocatively, the word Loka also means “vision,” the act of seeing that not only beholds a world but brings it into being.
History of the Initiative
The roots of the Loka Initiative lie in Dharamsala, India where in 2011, Richard Davidson, John Dunne, Dekila Chungyalpa and Jonathan Patz first met while presenting at the Mind and Life Ecology, Ethics and Interdependence conference. The Mind and Life conferences are presided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During that initial meeting, a dialogue began on how environmental protection efforts and climate action required a bridge to be built between faith leaders and scientists, scholars, policy makers and other experts in the secular world. Dekila went on to launch the Sacred Earth program at WWF, a faith-led conservation initiative working with Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, and mainline Christians in the Amazon, East Africa, the Himalayas, the Mekong and the United States.
In 2018, Richard Davidson, John Dunne and Dekila Chungyalpa reconvened several participants from that group, including His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, who visited the University of Wisconsin–Madison and participated in planning discussions around an education and capacity building platform based in UW-Madison. At that gathering, His Holiness said “science needs religious leaders to help convince people that environmental protection is an urgent moral issue and not only an economic or political one. Without science, people lack the knowledge on how to solve environmental or social problems. But if you can add religious support to scientific expertise, you are able to generate greater courage and commitment among people to address these issues. For this reason, science and religion must find ways to work together.”
At its core, Loka begins with the premise that science and religion can be sympathetic rather than adversarial in their commitment to solve environmental and social problems compassionately and effectively. Therefore, the initiative will provide opportunities for faith and indigenous leaders from all traditions and geographies to collaborate with scientists, academics, policy-makers, business leaders, students and the public in order to develop effective and robust faith-led projects that protect the environment and build climate resilience in their communities. Through Loka, faith leaders can access the programs and resources necessary to help inspire their communities to solve environmental and climate issues.
Loka is an interdisciplinary collaboration among different programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It will be housed in the Center for Healthy Minds in collaboration with:
John D. Dunne, "Mind and Life book: Ecology Ethics and Interdependence"
Justine Huxley, "Y, Spirituality, and Social Change"
Calvin B. DeWitt, "Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation"
Calvin B. DeWitt, "Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God's Handiwork"
Barry Levy, Jonathan Patz, "Climate Change and Public Health"
Ogyen Trinley Dorje Karmapa, "Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society"
Paul Robbins, John Hintz, Sarah A. Moore, "Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction"
Climate Change Information