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Norway Process | Norway Conference: Details of the sessions

Norway Conference: Details of the sessions

Soria Moria Hotel, Oslo

Download all the papers from the Oslo meeting here.

Session 1: The relationship between perceptions of nature, values and management of natural resources

The aim is to examine the relationship between perceptions of nature, values and management of natural resources. It is to discuss and contrast the nature, and consequences, of such relationships among religious groups and secular bodies. The objective is to highlight the way in which distinct, underlying values and ideologies inform practices that have an effect on the environment.

Some observers hold that religious teachings and practices have a particularly beneficial effect on environmental management; religious groups possess unique knowledge and also often resources for protecting the environment. In academic circles, much debate has centred on the connection between religious faith and environmental attitudes and practices. On the secular side, international development agencies have since the late 1980s, increasingly emphasised integrating environmental issues within their policies and projects. Here, one of the major challenges is that the people living in a given environment and those who set the environmental and developmental agenda do not necessarily share the same values, perceptions of nature, or goals for development (we return to development in Session 2).

Generally, the relation between attitudes and actions is complex. Values – as expressed in religious scriptures and practices and secular policies – do not necessarily or directly affect the way people actually behave. Such values are themselves contested, negotiated and linked to power and identity. For example, ’protecting the environment’ may bear different meaning (and have different consequences) to different groups.

1. ’Religion’ is understood as ’world religion’. We recognise that religious teachings and practices develop particular local forms and that world religions and local belief systems tend to be closely interconnected. The basic focus will nevertheless be on religious groups at local, national or international levels who define themselves as parts of world religions.

2. For 'sustainable development' we follow Our Common Future (UN, 1987) which stated that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The notion includes both environmental considerations and development/poverty reduction.
That being said, given that protecting the environment is a common human value, how does this relate to what people actually do? It has frequently been argued, both by religious practitioners and – more recently – by environmental advocates, that religious teachings have a particular impact on how people behave in relation to the environment. The assumption of much contemporary environmental debate is that religions are important bearers of moral attitudes, and that such attitudes have a distinct impact on the management of natural resources. Hence religions are increasingly being seen as creators of moral foundations in environmental campaigns. Likewise, the environmental commitment of religious organisations is increasingly valued by both secular and religious environmentalists.

Religions may also affect resource management and ecological praxis in other ways than through shaping moral attitudes or defining some areas as sacred. The economic, social and educational role of religious groups as investors, consumers and educators is significant.

This session will present case studies and more general analyses of religious and secular values, teachings and practices that have an effect on the management of natural resources in developing contexts.

The first session will address the following questions:

1. In which ways do perceptions of nature influence the management of natural resources? How do such perceptions vary among religions and among development agencies and governments, and what are the consequences? In what ways can religious teachings be a source of ecological wisdom, and how may such teachings be transformed into praxis?

2. What challenges – if any - are faced by programmes which involve the teachings of particular religious traditions to form the basis of environmental campaigns and projects? How may possible problems be avoided?

3. Compared to other locally based groups of actors (e.g. local politicians, bureaucrats, secular NGOs), do religious groups possess a unique kind of knowledge/resource for protecting the environment? For example, in what way does the participation of religious groups challenge or support the ideal of local management?

Session 2: The relationship between conservation and development: insights into key development and environment issues

This session is about how religious groups relate to the tension between conservation and development.

The Brundtland report acknowledged the need to combat poverty and, at the same time avoid environmental degradation. The report’s scenario of sustainable development suggested a win-win situation for both the poor and the environment. This assumption has, however, often proven problematic, as the notion of ‘sustainable use’ of natural resources may imply that a given population is excluded from using the resources in question. Hence, the idea of ‘conserving’ or ‘preserving’ natural resources may contradict the ambition of ‘achieving development’. In practice, such tensions have often resulted in problems related to unequal power relations and even open clashes between distinct groups of actors.

Evidently, one of the reasons for such antagonism lies in the fact that different actors have distinct and sometimes incommensurable interests. A person who depends for a living on harvesting or farming a given piece of land is likely to observe the prospect of strict conservation differently than a person who is not engaged in such activities. The importance of positioning is no less relevant in the case of organisations, institutions and enterprises, whose agendas may also represent conflicting interests across the globe.

With the growing global concern for the environment and development, the relationships between the various interests and values at play become rather complex. One axis of significance is the philosophically elaborated distinction between anthropocentric versus bio- or eco-centric worldviews. While the concept of sustainable development tends to be taken as anthropocentric in that it emphasises the need to combat poverty as a primary, global objective, an eco-centric perspective, by contrast, places emphasis on ecological sustainability and tends to disapprove of measures for economic development. The notion of ‘conservation’ is often associated with this perspective, in that the goal explicitly implies preservation of (the natural) status quo.

Any system - natural or social - is dynamic. Therefore, evaluations of sustainable use and the need for conservation not only depend on one’s interests and values as referred to above; judgements are also informed by the way we regard the relationship between changes as such (or evolution) and the consequences of particular human action. In short, there is always an aspect of judgement involved in the discourse about conservation, development, and sustainability.

With these arguments as background, the session will discuss of ways in which religious groups relate to the tension between conservation and development – where development is taken to mean social, material and political improvements of poor people’s lives.

We ask:

1. How, and to what extent do religious teachings explicitly address the tensions between development and considerations for the environment? Do religious groups have particular advantages – or disadvantages – when addressing such complex matters?

2. Given the historical record of religious groups’ involvement both in activities intended to provide development and in sustainable management of natural resources, what has been the motivation underlying such involvement? To what extent have the two objectives been combined?

3. Given that development and management of natural resources is a political field, whose interests are represented when religiously founded policies are used for promoting development and/or protecting the environment? Do some groups not have their voices represented and what may be the consequences?

Session 3: The potential for partnerships between development agencies and religious groups

This session explores the present and potential role of religious groups in development, with particular emphasis on the criteria involved. Delegates will assess the structural relationship between development agencies, governments and religious groups and other local actors and how this may be modified so as to take steps towards sustainable development which more systematically includes the involvement of religious groups.

The conditions for religious participation in development policy and practice will be discussed, particularly in the light of the three sets of criteria for partnerships provided by ARC and their associates (see the conference material). Delegates will also look at the potential effects of increased religious participation; for example, discussing whether this will make it easier, or more difficult, for local management to take place. Religious groups tend to be locally based. They often have considerable amounts of natural resources at their disposal and they have a specific focus on the weak and vulnerable. Some would also argue that faith groups have a particular legitimacy due to their local presence, historical roots and the nature of their teachings.

The purpose of this session is not to raise a general debate concerning religious groups’ inclusion in development work. Rather, keeping in mind the analyses and viewpoints presented in Sessions 1 and 2, including the values, power relations and practices involved, we wish to focus on how religious groups, given the range of potentials and challenges their engagement represents, could find - or be given – an increased constructive role within the network of states, development agencies and local actors.

This session focuses on the potential for creating new partnerships. We ask:

1. What is the status of the cooperation between religious groups, NGOs, governments and development agencies? As seen from the point of view of religious groups, development agencies and governments in the North and the South: how is the development industry set up in terms of conditions for and consequences of current regulations for fund raising?

2. What are the challenges and potentials of including religious groups at the global, national and local level in setting the terms of development cooperation? On what criteria should the selection of local partners be based? How does one ensure that such inclusion does not contribute to increasing tension between religions, both locally and globally?

3. Is it possible, or desirable, to develop a general structural model of the operational relationship between religious groups, NGOs, governments and development agencies? If so, what would such a model look like?

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