The Banyan Tree Spirits: Using Photography to Commune with the Natural World

Symbolizing immortality and diversity, banyans are the national spiritual trees of India and Indonesia. We photographed apparent human figures embedded in banyans that served as evidence for questions concerning the origins of religion in archaic peoples and the use of art as a means of personal spiritual development. Two primary questions guided this inquiry. First, did the appearance of human forms in the banyans serve archaic peoples as a source of spirituality and religious belief? In this study, the photographs were treated as “sacred objects” for exploring possible phenomena and states of consciousness through which archaic peoples may have developed religious beliefs. Second, how can art be used to commune with nature for personal spiritual development? This study involved our suspension of disbelief in the supernatural, aesthetic criticism of each photograph, and provisional identification of the categories of spirits they might represent, including fertility and procreation, death, wisdom, and mythological animals. We compared our understanding of the identity of these deities with Hindu beliefs about the banyan, notably their depiction of gods as embedded in the trees, just as our photographs portrayed. We developed a relationship with the spirits that gave rise to spontaneous dialogues that were enlightening and stimulated our spiritual self-development. Our research motivated us to support and sustain the life of banyan trees and the protection of nature in general.

The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity

The purpose of this article is to trace the emergence of a worldwide church demographic crisis that the author calls the “Religion Singularity,” and to project its impact on the future of institutional Christianity. For nineteen centuries, Christianity experienced strong and steady growth in the total numbers of Christians, worship centers, and denominations worldwide. Since then growth in the number of Christians has continued largely unchanged. But growth in the number of denominations and worship centers turned sharply upward in recent decades, substantially exceeding the growth rate of the total Christian population. This differential is driving a concurrent decline in the size of those institutions to unsustainable levels by the end of the century. The author suggests that denominations are unlikely to survive this severe downsizing. Meanwhile, given their smaller size and more organic structure, worship centers are more likely to survive the religion singularity than their larger counterparts, but only if they are willing to become vision-guided and experimental.

Varieties of Religious Environmentalism: Understanding the Theological Foundations of Environmental Concern among Christians and Muslims in Northeast Nigeria

Current research on the connection between religion and the environment indicates that religious beliefs may provide a form of motivation for environmental stewardship and serve to rationalize environmental activism. This study used data from the profoundly religious region of northeast Nigeria to explore the various ways in which religious ideas inform pro-environmental action and to investigate whether motives for pro-environmental action differ between Christians and Muslims in the region. The study used both qualitative analysis of interviews with leaders of some selected congregations and statistical analysis of questionnaire data collected from members of those congregations to achieve these objectives. Overall, there is strong evidence that religious values contribute to three broad motives for pro-environmental action—namely, ecocentrism, anthropocentrism, and theocentrism. Although the study did not find significant variations in the religious motives for pro-environmental action among the two groups, some differences have been observed in the concepts used by the groups to explain their motives for environmental stewardship. The implications of these findings for researching religious environmentalism and environmental reform policy in religiously conservative societies are discussed.