Integration of Faith and Ecology
The Loka Initiative at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is an education and outreach platform for faith leaders and religious institutions focusing on environmental issues.
Its mission is to support faith-led environmental efforts by helping build capacity of faith leaders and religious institutions on environmental protection, sustainable development, and global health issues, and by creating new opportunities for partnerships, public outreach, and project implementation.
Online Non-Credit Course
Broadly available to everyone, this course will integrate faith perspectives and traditional knowledge with the latest scientific findings to examine today’s most pressing environmental concerns and livable solutions that can be adopted individually, in faith communities and globally, as a response.
May 28-30, 2019
This gathering brings together senior faith leaders from different religious traditions, scientists, academics, policy-makers, economists and thought leaders from the Midwest and around the world to collaborate on solving local and global environmental problems. The symposium also includes a public forum, inviting discussions with students, attendees and the public on how to enrich and transform societal aspirations, values, and lifestyles to create more compassionate, sustainable and spiritually principled communities.
This two-semester certificate program, designed for faith leaders, will connect environmental science education with religious and traditional knowledge, and explores the ways faith-led environmental action can turn the tide. Course components will include experiential project management practices combined with internal reflections on integral ecology, creation care and interconnectedness. University students will also be able to register for the same course to learn from and collaborate with faith leaders on project design assignments.
Students spend 6 to 9 months placed with participating faith leaders and their institutions to help with new or ongoing projects. This field work may include education, communications and outreach, project management, monitoring and evaluation of project impacts and faith-led behavior change.
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.
The Meaning of Loka
"Loka" (लोक), 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