Religion and Sustainability in Global Civil Society

Posted: 30.05.2015
Updated on: 02.07.2015

Some Basic Findings from Rio+20[1]


This paper presents basic empirical research about the role of religion and religious actors in the global politics of sustainability. Drawing on insights from three overlapping fields of study - environmental politics, religious transnationalism, and religion and ecology - this study analyzes data gathered through ethnographic interviews with representatives of religious non-governmental organizations at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20. These interviews asked respondents to discuss their understanding of the meaning, role, and position of religion within civil society efforts to address sustainability concerns. Content analysis of interview responses suggests that religious actors hold divergent views about the salience of religion to global sustainability politics. The central finding is that the boundary between religious and secular civil society groups is a permeable one.

1 Introduction

At the outset of the twenty-first century, the social, political, and moral challenges we face are ever more global in nature: climate change, food scarcity, human rights, pandemic diseases, religious and ethnic violence, fisheries depletion, biodiversity, and extreme poverty, to name but a few. It is becoming more and more apparent that the state-based institutions the international community has developed to grapple with such shared problems are limited in the ways they can effectively imagine, articulate, and implement responses appropriate to the transnational character of these complex issues. Increasing global interdependence around issues like these has fomented a massive increase in the number, scope, and influence of non-governmental organizations (ngos), which has established a flourishing civil society at the global scale. Scholars engaged with questions of globalization, development, ecology, justice, and peace have established a burgeoning conversation about the meaning, potential, and limits of global civil society. Organizations operating in this sphere have often been effective in addressing problems that states have been unable or unwilling to tackle. However, the social and political landscapes of global civil society are quite fluid and continue to evolve as we move into the twenty-first century. It remains unclear to what degree civil society operates in reciprocity with governments and to what extend the expansion of civil society is a response to the increasingly precarious position of sovereign states (Haynes 2001). Political scientists, sociologists, and scholars of international development are actively seeking to understand how various kinds of actors within civil society relate to one another in their efforts to address connected problems (De Temple 2013).

One pressing question about the composition of the shifting landscape of civil society concerns the expansion of religious engagement in areas perceived as the domain of secular organizations like economic development, public health, etc. (Barnett and Stein 2012). Do religious and secular organizations tend towards cooperation or do they operate independent of one another or perhaps even conflictually? This paper focuses on how religious and secular organizations share the civic space related to sustainable development. An inquiry about the position of religious organizations in global civil society sustainability efforts can serve as a compelling case study about the position of religion in global civil society more broadly. Working in response to three disciplinary bodies of literature on this topic, this paper takes as its primary object for empirical analysis the way that representatives of religious organizations understand the composition of civil society efforts to address sustainability.

The first of these literatures inquires about the ways in which civil society has become an instrumental force in global environmental politics. Scholars of environmental politics have amply treated civil society institutions and other transnational actors; however, their analyses infrequently attend to religious organizations as a distinct type (Lipschutz 1996; Pricen and Finger 1994; Wapner 1996). This is likely symptomatic of a broader tendency in international relations to overlook religion, perhaps because religion "is one of the hardest variables to measure" and because empirical analyses of religion and international politics are often "relatively crude" (Fox 2001: 58). Scholars trained in political science tend to have absorbed the secular disposition of a discipline still closely aligned with its Enlightenment foundations (Falk 2002). Where religious organizations are taken up as an object of study in international relations, it is usually in those places where religious radicalism animates conflicts or exacerbates political rivalries (Bush 2007). Analyses specific to global civil society occasionally reference religious groups but often describe the activities of religious NGOs as being engaged with "secular" global affairs, like human rights, environmental issues, or economic development (Beyer and Beaman 2007). Such an approach both reifies and obscures the very distinction between secular and religious phenomena and only contributes to an understanding of organizations whose funding and activities are manifestly religious. Recent scholarship has endeavored to amend this oversight and address this lack of theoretical clarity (Boehle 2010; Barnett and Stein 2012; Thaut 2009), but given that the number of religious NGOs globally is in the tens of thousands and growing, this remains a compelling area for research (Religion Counts 2002).

The second thread inquires about the place of religion in global civil society. The importance of transnational religious organizations as political actors is a relatively new interest among scholars of globalization and global governance, despite the fact that such organizations - notably the Holy See of Rome, the Baha'i Faith, and the Religious Society of Friends - have been active and visible participants in the international arena throughout the twentieth century (De Kadt 2009). A renewed attention to religion as a critical element in international affairs can be traced to a wave of publications from the 1980s and early 1990s, which attempted to respond to the cotemporaneous events of the Iranian revolution and the rise to prominence of the Moral Majority and other conservative Christian groups in United States electoral politics (Toft et al 2012). Coupled with the growing scholarly engagement with transnationalism more broadly, research on transnational religious networks has been a prominent feature in the field of religion and politics since the mid-1990s (Rudolph and Piscatori 1997). The primary foci within this literature have been diaspora networks and the rise of organizations opposed to state instantiations of "secularmodernity."[2] The religious character of many civil society groups has attracted scholarly attention and the religious trend in global civil society appears to merit a shift away from more traditional areas of inquiry: "among the estimated several million NGOs in existence today, an increasingly visible number of organizations are defining themselves in religious terms" (Berger 2003:16). Researchers have already demonstrated that religious organizations account for a significant portion of the growth of global civil society and are rapidly becoming key contributors to global governance (Jones and Juul Petersen 2010; Thaut 2009).

The third thread comes from scholars in religious studies whose attention to the relationship between religion and ecological issues has probed deeply into the bearing of religion and religious thought on environmental ethics. Research in this area, however, has only occasionally looked to empirical modes of analysis and has paid limited consideration to the position of religion in environmental politics. This is especially true at the international scale, where only a few studies explicitly treat the contribution of religious organizations to the global conversation about climate change and other important environmental questions (Taylor 2011). The still emerging subfield of religion and ecology has done much to provide historical analyses of the shortcomings of religious thought for an environmental ethic (Toynbee 1976; White 1967) to document the rise of ecotheology (Gottlieb 2009; Tucker 2003) and to analyze numerous local instantiations of religiously motivated sustainability efforts (Taylor 2005). The scant research on international religious environmentalism has largely kept with the trajectory of the discipline, focusing on the ways that religious activism is animated by theological orientations and on the evolving theological positions of major religious institutions with respect to the important ecological issues of our time (Gardner 2006; Gottlieb 2006; Tucker 2003). Publication in this area remains predominately humanistic, interpretive, and is often either implicitly or explicitly normative. Although some religion and ecology scholarship employs empirical social scientific methodologies, this has generally been limited to ethnographies unconstrained by methodological rigor (Bloch 2008, Taylor 2011). Sociologists of religion have generated complimentary work that does utilize empirical methods in examining the role of religion and religious belief in stimulating environmentally positive attitudes and behaviors, but this work has focused almost exclusively on the United States and Western Europe (Boyd 1999; Olofsson and Ohman 2006; Sherkat and Ellison 2007). Further, the quantitatively oriented research on religion and the environment has accumulated around individualistic variables (i.e. personal choices, ideas, and actions) and has leftunaddressed questions pertaining to groups, institutions, and polities (Djupe and Gwiasta 2010; Hunt 2007).

The rise of religious international and transnational non-government organizations over the past three decades (or perhaps more modestly, the growing awareness of such organizations among scholars during that period of time) prompts new questions about the composition of global political discourse. Contrary to the assumptions made by earlier theorists of globalization, the persistence and significance of religious institutions in contemporary global politics makes it clear that religion has a place in the international political apparatus (Beyer 1994). This is especially true with respect to sustainability issues, which are frequently treated by scholars of international relations in predominately technocratic terms, often ignoring the social and cultural dimensions of sustainability. Such presuppositions of a secular global polity, however, are giving way to a more careful appraisal of the various ways that religion animates our collective life at the broadest scale. Such a pragmatic "recognition of [the] limits of a purely secular approach to the solution of the world's economic, environmental, and social ills" offers a measure of skepticism about the degree to which "the emerging global order will be a purely secular one" (Berger 2003: 17). Scrutiny of this type necessitates empirical analyses that gauge the composition and trajectory of the global public sphere as it enters its post-secular phase.

Taking the three aforementioned threads as points of departure, this paper investigates the position of religious organizations in global civil society sustainability efforts. Following scholars of religion who have developed a variety of methods to think about the importance of religion for both the successes and failures of environmental movements, this study attempts to remain mindful of political and institutional concerns. Following the robust analysis of political scientists and international relations theorists as they map the global politics of sustainability, this article aims to offer the theoretical insights of religion and ecology as a means to accord religion and religious organizations more than a peripheral position in that mapping (Bush 2007). Working in conversation with these literatures, the present study aims to advance knowledge in two areas: first, regarding the contribution of religious organizations to global sustainability efforts, and second, regarding the way that representatives of religious NGOs understand their position in relation to their secular peers.

2 Methods

In its attempt to offer some basic observations about the role of religious organizations in the global politics of sustainability, this study applies simple quantitative methods to ethnographic interviews. The research presented here was originally intended as a more narrow examination of the role played by religious NGOs in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc), but the 2012 United Nations Convention on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (called "Rio+20") afforded an unparalleled research opportunity. Billed as the largest ever United Nations event, Rio+20 gathered together approximately 45,000 participants during June 2012.

The script for interviews was loosely based on Helen La Kelly Hunt's research on spirituality and feminism at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 (Hunt 1999). Although Hunt's interview questions were developed with a normative aim in mind (facilitating greater cooperation between spiritual and secular feminists), her straightforward phrasing affords a concrete means of establishing a coherent conversation with interviewees: "how would you describe the relationship between women who work from a more secular feminist tradition and those who self-define as faith-based feminist activists?" (Hunt 1999:108). The interview questions mirrored this explicit logic: respondents were asked to voice their thoughts concerning the relationship between secular and religious organizations involved with sustainability efforts. Interview questions were plastic enough to allow respondents to direct the conversation, but two basic elements anchored a trajectory for participant remarks. Interviews began by requesting general information about a respondent's organization and then moved to more open-ended discussion by asking, first, about the differences between secular and religious approaches to sustainability work; and, second, about the relationships between secular and religious organizations (see Appendix a).

The premise of gathering ethnographic data about religious NGOs is that, "in attempting to discern whether an organization is religious or not" is a matter of "self-identity rather than an independent measure" (Berger 2003: 21). Accordingly, the terms "religious" and "secular" in this study are not tied to any fixed definition, rather they are deployed as flexible categories that respondents were invited to use as ways of positioning themselves within a dynamic social landscape. In order to identify interview candidates, the list of organizations granted either General or Special Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council was filtered to select only groups with explicitly religious names or explicit religious references in their mission statements. The resultant list of almost 200 organizations was compared against a similar list produced by scholars of religion and development at Georgetown University and reduced only to those organizations with active websites; publicly available email addresses for contact; and direct references to religious commitments, ideas, or institutions in their mission statements (Berkeley Center 2012). This process yielded about 150 organizational representatives who were invited to participate in interviews at the Rio+20 Conference. Approximately twenty percent of the individuals contacted responded to the invitation, and about fifteen percent were willing to participate in the interview. Given the challenge of organizing in person interviews at an international event with tens of thousands of participants, it was not possible to interview every willing participant, though the study did yield eleven interviews with a total of sixteen individuals representing ten different religious non-government organizations. With the exception of one telephone interview, this research was conducted at two sites in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The first was the formal venue for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at RioCentro, more than twenty miles from the city center and open only to individuals with official United Nations accreditation. The second site was the People's Summit, a public event organized by a consortium of progressive international foundations and held at a park near the city center.

The recorded interviews were transcribed and examined according to an elementary content analysis method. Interviews were coded in order to quantify the various types of organizations, their locations, their missions, their religious affiliation, and primary field of activism. More importantly, participant responses to questions about the relation between religious and secular sus-tainability organizations were coded according to a heuristically developed system (see Appendix b). Based on an initial analysis of the interviews and tally of frequently used words and phrases, responses to the question about whether religious and secular organizations' engagements with sustainability were categorized as "same" or "different" and the variety of reasons for such claims were classified by reference to "ethics," "role," "motive," or "strength." These tendencies will be further described in the results section. A similar coding structure was developed to organize responses to the question about the relationship between secular and religious organizations, where remarks were categorized as "collaborative," "complimentary," "parallel," "separate," or "necessary."

The size of this data set is appropriately served by content analysis; more rigorous quantitative methods would not yield significant results. The sample size adequately indicates the presence of a variety of perspectives about the role of religious NGOs operative in discourse around global sustainability and is intended to help orient future research in the area. The primary purpose of this paper is to address and advance a gap in scholarly knowledge that has arisen of the disjuncture between religious studies and political science, and, as such, it concentrates more on identifying viable opportunities and theoretical frameworks than on elaborating an exhaustive data set. Coding analysis provides a systematic and transparent mechanism for presenting and comparing the dominant tendencies within respondents' statements. The methodology employed here aims at discourse analysis and as such is more concerned with the specificity of utterances than with an aggregation of any one respondent's remarks (Le Compte and Schensul 1999). A cursory analysis of the variety of utterances about relations between religious and secular organizations provides the framework and sets limiting conditions for extra-textual observations about the place of religious NGOs at the Rio+20 proceedings.

3 Results

The interview data from this study does not fully capture the diverse landscape of religious NGOs. They are, however, drawn from a range of religious traditions and from organizations with diverse approaches to sustainability. Among those interviewed were representatives from five Christian groups (two Protestant, two Catholic, and one ecumenical), one Hindu organization, one Baha'i orga nization, and three interfaith groups.

  • Christian Aid
  • The International Sisters of Presentation
  • Development and Peace
  • The World Christian Student Federation
  • The United Church of Canada
  • Brahma Kumaris
  • Baha'i International
  • The National Religious Partnership on the Environment
  • United Religions Initiative
  • The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance

Most interviewees were confessionally affiliated with the tradition of their organization, though at least one respondent declaimed the significance of their religious identity and two respondents claimed to belong to different religious traditions than the organization they represented.

There was significant variation among the orientations and approaches employed by these organizations: some groups emphasized the importance of securing human rights as a means to sustainability, some focused on poverty alleviation and social justice advocacy, and still others took a more abstract approach, seeing their role as stewards of values discourse in international proceedings or as facilitators of broad-scale cooperation among civil society groups. A breadth of approaches is not unique to religious NGOs; their secular counterparts are hardly a monolithic group. Cutting across, and to some degree accounting for, the variety of approaches to sustainability were a diversity of views about what is the proper role of religious organizations in global civil society.

Representatives of religious NGOs are not of one mind about the role that religion has to play in the global movement towards a more sustainable future. This is true even within the context of individual interviews, where several respondents expressed a multiplicity of ideas about the contribution of religious NGOs. The coding system employed here helps establish a general typology for classifying respondent comments. Remarks about the role of religious NGOs can be grouped into four basic categories, presented here in order of increasing dissimilarity to secular organizations.

The first, and most widely espoused, claim was that religious and secular groups working on sustainability issues are different only in terms of their "orientation" or "motive," not in terms of the actual work they do. Eleven utterances of this kind appeared in interviews with representatives from seven different organizations. For example, one respondent stated that everyone involved with sustainability work is "in many ways singing the same song;" another claimed that even though their organization was "motivated by Christian values" they were not "overtly Christian in every interaction." In statements of this type, respondents often backed away from the notion that religion dictates or defines the character of religious sustainability work, as when another respondent described how "a faith perspective... informs our work, but it's not the be all and end all." This perspective suggests that there is some difference between religious and secular civil society organizations, but minimizes the significance of this difference. Distinctions between the motives of secular and religious civil society actors are differences of degree and not differences of kind. Within the community of secular sustainability organizations there is also tremendous variation as to what animates and orients activists and aid workers: people in such groups might even be compelled to their work by private religious reasons.

The second most common claim about the sustainability efforts of religious NGOs seizes on the question of constituency, arguing that religion plays a distinct role in mobilizing groups that are already organized, ethically attuned, and necessary to the political success of global sustainability. At the core of this assertion is the claim that religion is the deepest vehicle for ethical values in societies around the world and that religious institutions are the most effective mechanisms for mobilizing these values. This claim was made six times across interviews with persons from four different organizations. The basis of this sentiment is that "the extent to which religion and religious life and religious expression and religious engagement are woven into peoples' lives... has to mean that [religious sustainability] work is different... and it's not just the enormity of the scale [of religious institutions], it's the intimacy." Several respondents remarked that religion was particularly important in advancing the cause of sustainability in that it affords a conduit for access to government leaders. Religion is distinctive here because of a social and cultural gravitas: "1 think faith-based communities have a strength... faith leaders are well-respected within their governments and have that easy access to their governments." The notional boundary between religious and secular organizations implied by this view is a fairly permeable one: the broad constituencies to which religious NGOs claim to have special access are by no means solely motivated by religious concerns. The emphasis of remarks of this type is that religious NGOs are critical players in the global politics of sustainability only because they are better positioned to reach out to large, already well-organized groups of people who share common languages, values, and beliefs.

The third type of role that respondents assigned to religious NGOs asserts a more normative appraisal of the importance of religious values, suggesting that religious NGOs situate sustainability concerns within a broader moral framework. This position champions religious forms of sustainability work that present a comprehensive vision of goodness and pursue sustainability ends accordingly. This claim was made three times by representatives of two different organizations. In this vein, respondents espoused the view that religious NGOs are "different because genetically our organizations are not, our religious bodies are not, single-issue." The argument made here is that religious engagement with environmental problems is part of a broader worldly engagement that does not begin or end with disaster relief or humanitarian crisis: religious organizations are not "humanitarian aid agencies that come in and out only in times of crisis. It's, it is the community. It's life of the community." Although it is not a condemnatory perspective, the notion that sustainability work is better when it is subordinate to a comprehensive moral vision is clearly an assertion of normative difference.

The fourth and final type of claim made about the contribution of religion to the politics of global sustainability offers a more radical view of difference between religious and secular groups. Utterances of this type reflect a constellation of positions that assign some special role to religious organizations. From this perspective, religious NGOs serve a prophetic role, carry out uniquely spiritual forms of activism, like consciousness transformation, or act as a kind of ethical vanguard. There were six utterances of this type, across interviews with individuals from three organizations. One respondent cited a passage from Jeremiah, arguing that religious groups are called to "fill the breach" and to serve as witnesses and prophetic voices about a range of problems from climate change to poverty. Statements in this category assert that religion uniquely connects values and actions: "everybody's talked about the value that we need to have, but again, it's only through spirituality that we're able to connect with our own inner core values in such a deep way that we're actually able to use them in our life." The view that religious groups have distinctive forms of agency that differentiate them from their secular counterparts is not a surprising position, though it was hardly ubiquitous in this data.

Respondents also described a range of views about the relationship between religious and secular organizations engaged in sustainability work. Claims about the relationship between religious and secular civil society groups fell into three types, presented here as points along a continuum running from cooperation to separation.

The first type of characterization of relations among secular and religious NGOs is an embrace of cooperation and an assertion of the necessity of collaboration between all agents involved with sustainability issues. This characterization was mentioned seven times in five interviews. This line of thinking is typified by the remark that, "we work to change systems, we're working in collaboration with other people. Because we don't think it's a value to do it alone anyway." Some respondents invoked the deliberative process of the United Nations, favoring sustainability work that emerges from a "process of these diverse viewpoints being expressed in a detached manner, [that] can arrive at a solution that works best for everybody."
The second notion of relations emphasizes the situational, shifting, and complicated nature of cooperation between religious and secular groups. Utterances of this variety were expressed four times in interviews with persons from two organizations. One respondent indicated that religious groups worked with secular groups "when and where appropriate" but that such instances of cooperation are not necessarily systematic or coordinated. Another voiced the skepticism about the depth of collaborative endeavors, stating that relationships between religious and secular actors are sometimes unequal partnerships, and that cooperative endeavors are plagued by long-standing prejudices between religious and secular agents: "1 suspect for the different partner communities there are... core convictions and values rooted in each of the different partner traditions... that would mean that they can't... join on certain things."

The final category of relation points to a complementarity between religious and secular modes of engagement and activism. Assertions of separateness and complementarity were raised two times by two different interviewees. One respondent stated that, "essentially, we believe that something that the faith communities can offer the whole subject of sustainability is a change of heart, a change of attitude, a change of consciousness." Although this was not a dominant perspective across multiple interviews, it was strongly held by at least two respondents.

4 Discussion

Interviews with representatives of religious NGOs at Rio+20 suggest that the question concerning the position of religious NGOs in the broader milieu of global civil society overlaps significantly with the question about how religious NGOs might or might not uniquely contribute to global sustainability efforts. A basic finding of this research is that, for many representatives of religious NGOs, the immediate salience of religion is limited. The majority of respon­dents expressed the view that there are significant areas of overlap between religious and secular groups engaged with sustainability issues. These respon­dents tended to claim either that broad cooperation between religious and secular groups is necessary to further shared goals, or that faith serves a limited role as a motivating factor and does not dictate the shape that religious sus­tainability work takes on the ground. Although this view was the most widely held perspective, there was also a weak, but discernible, polarization among religious NGOs with respect to the question about the role of religion.

On the one end of this polarity is the widely held view that the differ­ences between religious and secular groups are rather thin and superficial. This perspective is further attended by an agreement that religious groups can and should partner with secular ones whenever possible or appropriate. This finding is interesting in itself in that it suggests that some measurable por­tion of individuals positioned in religious NGOs think of faith as being of only marginal importance. On the other end of the polarity, is the view that reli­gious groups are fundamentally differentiated by their religiosity, theological particularity, or transcendental mode of spiritual reflection. Such an empha­sis on the uniqueness of religious approaches to sustainability conceptually correlates with the notion that religious and secular groups can and should operate independently. Stephen Jay Gould's notion of "non-overlapping magisterium," which posits religion and science as operating in separate cultural spheres, comes to mind (Gould 1999). According to this view, religious and secular organizations work according to different logics, along parallel, nonoverlapping trajectories. Only a few respondents took a view of this type, but the idea that religions and religious organizations have a unique role to play at the global political scale was present in numerous utterances, and confirms a tendency in the scholarly literature in this area. From Lynn White's 1967 essay "The Historic Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" to the current day, many schol­ars working at the intersection of religion and the environment operate under the assumption that religious traditions have some special access to the pro­duction, articulation, and implementation of values, and that they have some distinctive role to play in the reformation of industrial society (White 1967 and Berry 2013).

These polar positions are ideal types and do not directly reflect the personal convictions of the individuals interviewed for this study. In aggregating and abstracting their particular statements, however, a clearer view of the positions of religion within the landscape of global civil society is possible. This polarity is particularly useful as explanation for a dynamic specific to the Rio+20 proceed­ings: the ethical distinction between the discourse at the two research sites, the uncsd Rio+20 at RioCentro and People's Summit at Attero Park. The pro­ceedings at RioCentro were heavily securitized and difficult to access. There were a significant number of sessions and panels devoted to and organized by religious NGOs, and most of these events could be construed as attempts to bend the course of international diplomacy towards more explicitly nor­mative, values-oriented modes of engaging sustainability. The proceedings at the People's Summit were more festive and disputative, with people selling crafts and snacks alongside small groups of activists exchanging information and email addresses. The difference between the place of religion at these two events is a matter of audience: at RioCentro, religious NGOs were attempting to affect change by a mode of spiritually inflected lobbying, while at Attero Park, religious NGOs were working to affect change primarily by deepening and expanding their networks in ways designed to improve their capacity to help individuals, communities, and ecosystems around the world. Surely this dual dynamic indicates that religious NGOs operate differently, with different aims and assumptions, at different scales of civil society.

Although the sample size of the ethnographic data presented here is limited, the findings suggest that the bearing of religion on sustainability politics may be more ambivalent than religious apologists suggest. Likewise, the place of religion in the global civic order hardly seems certain. Scholars of religious orga­nizations have argued that religion occupies a paradoxical position in global governance structures: religious groups are clearly flourishing, yet oftentimes their particular interests are subverted and redeployed to support broader collective interests, international institutions, and economic norms (Carrette 2013). The elemental data supplied here supports this line of analysis. Discussions about the relationships between religious and secular organizations in global civil society were often non-starters for interview participants, primarily because such relationships between groups were predominately tactical, rather than strategic. Many of the organizations represented in these interviews oper­ate under the assumption that clearly shared goals always merit cooperation, and that when goals are not symmetrical, working separately is an adequate arrangement. The prevalence of this assumption suggests that the distinction between religious and secular NGOs is not premised on a fixed and immutable boundary; rather, it is a somewhat arbitrary difference that religious actors negotiate on an ad hoc, conditional basis. As some scholars have suggested, the category "religious" may be too narrow to adequately account for the variety of "religious identities" among civil society organizations (Carrette 2013:39).

The indication of this research, perhaps more an invitation to further re­search more than a conclusion, is a confirmation of Juul Petersen's insistence that, "if we want to understand religious organizations we cannot merely char­acterise [sic] them as religious, based on a prejudiced conception of the signifi­cance of religion, and leave it at that. Instead we have to examine how, when and why these actors are religious" (Juul-Petersen 2010). The data presented here adds a layer of depth to this question of when: under what conditions, for what reasons, and in what circumstances are religious NGOs primarily religious? In what moments do religious identities and orientations recede into the back­ground? Who are the agents of such movements?

Further research in this area might proceed by applying a theory of polit­ical liberalism to global civil society, articulating a Rawlsian account of the gap between public and private reasons. It appears that global civil society operates according to a liberal political model wherein religious convictions merely establish "private reasons" for political action and need to be further justified on "public grounds" (Rawls 2005). A critical appraisal of this distinc­tion between public and private reasons and a closer scrutiny of the subtle mechanisms by which individuals move from one mode to the other seems a promising avenue for further research. Peter Berger's recent work points to a basis for such an approach, especially his suggestion that the institutional differentiation of religion and the secular have necessary "correlates in con­sciousness" (Berger 2012: 315). In contrast to his earlier work on religion and modernity, this theoretical orientation imagines modernity as a social space in which differentiation shapes individual experience at the everyday level, allowing persons to fluidly move back and forth between religious and secu­lar modalities. On this view, supernaturalism and economic rationalism exist side by side as vocabularies suitable for particular encounters, creatively nego­tiated by modern religious individuals. When the "radical eschatological vision of... a spirituality for the long haul," as one respondent put it, enters into public discourse at the global scale, it becomes as but one of many values bringing peo­ple to the fight for a more sustainable world. What discursive practices guide this demarcation between private and public values? (Butler et al 2011; Herbert 2003). Answering this question would provide a clearer sense of what Emma Tomalin identifies as the meaning and limits of "religious environmentalism" as it comes to play in the complex, uneven, and shifting landscape of global civil society (Taylor 2011; Tomalin 2009).


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Appendix A: Interview Script

  1. Tell me about your organization's sustainability efforts.
    1. What have you achieved and accomplished in the past several years? What do you hope to achieve in the coming years?
    2. Do you think these efforts are similar to or different from that of other civil society institutions involved in the UNCSD?
  2. The UNCSD provides an open forum for participation by civil society institutions like universities, not-for-profit organizations, business coalitions, and religious institutions. Do you think that each of these kinds of participants in the uncsd operates differently?
    1. If so, how would you characterize the role of religious organizations?
    2. Would you say that your organization typically works in coalition with, in parallel to, or in opposition to secular participants in the uncsd? How so?
    3. Can you make any generalizations about the relationship between religious and secular participants in the uncsd?
    4. What variables cause this relationship? Is there a potential for secular and faith-based organizations to work in greater harmony? If so, how could this be achieved?
  3. What do you think is the responsibility of religious organizations to "global questions" - issues that effect all peoples everywhere, not only climate change and environmental sustainability, but also economic globalization, migration, terrorism, human rights, etc.?
    1. What is the religious impetus to respond to climate change? Is that why your organization is involved in the uncsd?
    2. Do you believe these kinds of issues are inherently religious ones?
    3. Does your organization understand its task as representing the needs and interests of members of your faith, or does it concern itself with humanity more broadly?
    4. Is your organization involved with other global issues other than climate change? How so?


Appendix B: Coding Structure

Organization's Religious Affiliation [27]

Religion.Catholic [7] Religion.Protestant [7] Religion.Jewish [3] Religion.Hindu [3] Religion.Baha'i [2] Religion.Islam [2] Religion.Evangelical [2] Religion.Anglican [1]

Organization's Geographic Location [22]

Region.North America [8] Region.Latin America [5] Region.Europe [5] Region.South Asia [2] Region.Asia [1] Region.Middle East [1]

Organizational Focus [93]

Perspective.SocialJustice [20] Perspective.Sustainablity [11] Perspective.HumanRights [10] Perspective.Development [9] Perspective.Ecumenical [9] Perspective.Humanitarian [8] Perspective.Education [8] Perspective.EnvironmentalJustice [7] Perspective.Advocacy [6] Perspective.Accountability [5]

Relationship between Religious and Secular Sustainability Efforts [35]

Relationship.Collaboration [11] Relationship.Necessary [9] Relationship.Separate [6] Relationship.Complementary [5] Relationship.Parallel [4]

Comparison of Religious and Secular Sustainability Organizations [94]

Different.Strength[32] DifferentMotive [16] Different.Role [13] Different.Ethics [16] Same.Goal [5] Same.Ethics [4] Same.Motive [4] Versus.Same.Role [4]

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