Two recent surveys queried people of faith and science about working together on joint conservation projects where their values, beliefs, and goals overlap, and how to best proceed in building these relationships. Interfaith Oceans spearheaded one survey, and a working group of the marine division of the Society of Conservation Biologists organized the other. Both surveys resulted in encouraging but challenging results.
Interfaith Oceans Faith-Marine Conservation Survey
In the fall of 2016, Interfaith Oceans approached Yun Leng Wong, a graduate research student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menonomine, WI, to head up the project: “Insights, Stereotypes, and Cooperation across the Faith-Marine Conservation Divide.” The goal was to explore the perceptions of people in faith communities about those involved in marine conservation and vice versa, and what they each thing of working together on mutual marine conservation goals and projects. The survey also wanted to determine how much credence participants place in well-known stereotypes of about the other group.
The survey was complex, with participants having to choose which track to take—either to provide their perceptions as a person of faith/spiritual or as a person of conservation activism/science, understanding that people can be both at once. It was a small, snowball study to test the waters, seeking preliminary perceptions and anecdotal responses in order to fine-tune the survey for wider release. The survey had a self-selection bias in it, because only those willing to consider working on a joint project of people of faith and conservation science were likely to take the survey.
Within participants who chose the faith track, 17.9% had worked on a joint conservation project before while 24.6% had not. Of the conservation activists/science participants, 22.9% had had a joint conservation experience, while 11.9% had not. (The total of all participants was 100%, though some participants began the survey but did not finish it.) There is no indication that the total of nearly 50% of survey respondents having had a cross cooperation experience was indicative of the general public or of an accurate representation of these groups. (In fact, it seems unlikely that the percentage is). But the responses of these participants on the values of the experiences and what they learned can still lead the way to insights.
While most were enthusiastic proponents of cooperation, one religiously self-affiliated participant stated,
“It's a possibility that has never occurred to me nor to my faith community that I am aware of. It's definitely an area that needs attention and would be one to consider for future collaboration."
The survey brought out some of the painful stereotypes held by the different groups of about the other, but also suggestions for overcoming them, particularly through working together. For a full analysis of the data of the survey, see Yun Leng Wong’s "Faith-Marine Conservation Survey Report. Participant comments have also been collated to consider their individual perspectives.
Best Practices Survey of the Society of Conservation Biology
The Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group (RCBWG) of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) conducted a survey of the full membership of the SCB for its experiences working with faith-motivated communities. This survey is part of a larger investigation into best practices for engaging faith communities in marine conservation. This led to a forum presentation of the findings at the 2016 International Congress for Conservation Biology. Dr. Jame Schaefer, a theology professor at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI), released her forum summary in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, March 14, 2017.
The article, “New Hope for the Oceans: Engaging Faith-Based Communities in Marine Conservation,” outlined the challenges and the rewards that members had experienced but also those seen on the world stage as Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Batholomew have spoken out for ocean care.
Survey participants were selected to share their best practices during a symposium at the 2017 International Congress of Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia, in July. The Congress was entitled “Insights for Sustaining Life on Earth.” Drawing from the identified best practices, the working group will establish guidelines for the most effective ways to form joint efforts, and these guidelines will be presented to the SCB Board of Governors by January 2018. If approved, they will be distributed to all members.
At the 2017 congress, the RCBWG awarded Sister Mary David Walgenbach its new Assisi Award. She is the prioress of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, WI, and though a Catholic sister, she leads the monastery as an ecumenical Benedictine community. Here, hospitality, justice, and care for the earth are woven into a shared way of life. Their monastery’s main building and guest facilities are ‘green’, and the community members and visitors tend a restored prairie.
The award recognizes individuals who exhibit selfless acts of service to life on Earth driven by spiritual motivations. The award aims to reinforce collaboration among the faith communities and with conservation groups and scientists by acknowledging organizations and individuals that demonstrate through their work that faith-based conservation contributes to the global effort of protecting our common home.