At what point do the connections between religion and nature provide a basis for religious ecology—that is, an awareness of the interdependency between people and nature? In a provocative and controversial article in 1967, the historian Lynn White Jr. argued that Judeo-Christian views played a part in contributing to the world’s ecological problems because certain biblical scriptures emphasized people’s dominion over the Earth. Given the extent of environmental change the world over, it is clear that it is not possible to lay the blame for ecological problems on a speciﬁc religion. Nevertheless, the greater legacy of White’s article may be that it drew attention to the relationship between religion and the environment, and speciﬁcally the fact that religion can affect how people perceive and use the environment. Indeed, many scholars ﬁrmly agree with White (1967, p. 1204) on one point—namely, that “what people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them.” Today a number of Christians emphasize environmental stewardship—the idea that they should be responsible managers of the Earth and its resources; many other faiths incorporate environmental ethics as well (}ÕÀiÊx°£Ç).
Religion and Landscape Buildings constructed for religious uses make some of the most distinctive cultural landscapes. These buildings serve important practical and symbolic purposes. The concept of the church varies in Christianity. For Protestants, the church building is not sacred, but it serves as a place for adherents to gather and worship together. For Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, however, the church is a sacred place— the house of God. Mosques are the gathering places for congregational worship in Islam, and Muslims do not consider mosques sacred. Rather, they are buildings where the Muslim community assembles to hear a sermon and to pray. Buddhists and Hindus generally do not gather for congregational worship on a speciﬁc day of the week as do Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Rather, worship tends to be more individual, though some Buddhist temples do have large halls used for instruction or other special events. Hindu temples are considered sacred space and, more speciﬁcally, an architectural expression of God. Devout Hindus usually visit a temple once a week; however, most Hindus keep a shrine in their homes for daily worship or puja (}ÕÀiÊx°£n). Since customs associated with the disposal of the dead vary from one religion to another, an interesting and sometimes more subtle landscape expression of religion involves deathscapes. For example, many Christians share
the practice of aligning the graves on an east-to-west axis. Some Buddhists also bury the dead in cemeteries and select speciﬁc grave sites based on their feng shui, how well they harmonize with the cosmic forces. Although some Christians and Muslims construct mausoleums—large tombs built to accommodate above-ground burials—Judaism requires in-ground burial of the dead. Theravada Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs normally cremate the deceased. As traditionally practiced in India, cremation involves placing the body on a pyre, a large wooden structure that is set on ﬁre. Two of the ghats—the steps down to the Ganges River in Varanasi—are used for cremation. Hindus believe that to be cremated so close to the Ganges brings moksha, release from the cycle of death and rebirth. For illustrations of some deathscapes, see What a Geographer Sees on the next page.
`ÕÊÌi«iÊ ÊUÊ }ÕÀiÊx°£n This is an exceptional example of a Hindu temple in India’s Tamil Nadu state. The innermost sanctuary contains a shrine to Lord Vishnu, the god who preserves the universe.