Religions in Transformation to Sustainability – the Role of the Sacred in Human Flourishing

Evelyn De Morgan, Study of arms for "The Cadence of Autumn" (1905). Graphite and pastel on brown paper. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 2018.

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Religions in Transformation to Sustainability – the Role of the Sacred in Human Flourishing

We are excited to host this workshop at THE NEW INSTITUTE from June 12-13, 2024 and honored to have former President of Ireland Mary McAleese as the keynote speaker for the event.


The climate crisis, in conjunction with other ecological crises, species extinction, authoritarian populism, destabilizing levels of inequality, rising geopolitical tensions, wars, and a zeitgeist of exclusion, prejudice, and blame, has led to the realization that modern societies require fundamental transformation. While the dominant global narratives focus on technological solutions to global problems in the form of green technologies and sustainable growth, it is evident that the systemic changes in society necessary to avoid environmental and ecological catastrophe extend beyond technology. An emerging discourse is therefore arguing for the importance of broader cultural factors, including religion, as essential factors in the transition to environmental sustainability and a global society supportive of justice and human flourishing.

Religions influence the worldviews and cosmologies of their adherents, and the moral authority of religion can influence global debate and policy.

However, while religions are repositories of morality, ethics, and values that are essential in addressing the major global challenges we face, religions are also, unfortunately, the vessels of dangerous, regressive, reactionary, and oppressive ideas and values. These include patriarchy, dominion over the Earth, chosen people and their manifest destinies, apocalyptic eschatologies, and holy wars.

The challenge for religious traditions is to reconcile their deep moral traditions with the need to disavow their own cultural histories of abuses of power. This is necessary if they are to contribute to the transformation of the ideational landscape of Industrial Modernity. To fulfil this vital function, however, a fundamental re-imagining of religion is needed so that it fosters rather than hinders ethical transformations.


This workshop aims to explore the capacity of religions to overcome their own self-referential dogmatism and sectarian certainties and to engage in open discovery with other religious and secular actors on the basis of a common ethical foundation of care, love and respect.

The workshop will consist of three sessions: The first session will address the challenge posed by Durkheim and Habermas to "salvage" the essential moral ideas of religion by exploring examples of how this is currently being done in the contexts of war, oppression, and climate change and environmental degradation. The second session will discuss the changing narratives of transformation towards sustainability and the increasing centrality of religions within these changing discourses, particularly on human flourishing. The third session will be an exploratory workshop aimed at co-creating desired collective futures and the positive roles that religions could play in such a reimagining.


This workshop is open for external attendees. Due to a very limited capacity, we can only guarantee a certain number of spots. If you would like to register, please provide your name, affiliation, and the reason for your interest, to Victoria Sukhomlinova until June 4th, and she will confirm your attendance. It is also possible to join the first and second sessions via Zoom, with the opportunity to ask a question in the chat. Press inquiries can be made here.

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