About the discipline
Many of the hottest debates in science, religion and ethics revolve around food production, technology, the environment and treatment of animals. These include topics of genetically altered crops, ethics of food production and religious values about food. All have ties to religious beliefs.
Ethics of food production: Is there an ethical bind over the fact that the United States has a surplus of food, while other nations have shortages? Many religions endorse the value of giving to those who have nothing and support sending surplus food to other nations. Another movement, supported by high-profile U2 frontman and Christian Bono, believes giving food will disrupt local economies more than not giving food. The Catholic Church explores moral issues of the structure of America’s agricultural workforce, reaching out to migrant workers and supporting rights for the underrepresented. Groups such as PETA advocate for the ethical treatment of animals in science and agriculture. Another ethical dilemma producers face is whether to use pesticides or other chemicals that could be harmful to the environment or humans while also trying to improve product quality and quantity. Many religions share principles of respect for animal life and teach respect and care for the natural world.
Genetically altered food: Who gets to be “God,” creating and designing food? Is there an ethical dilemma involved with distributing food whose long-term effect is not yet known? Should we let nature take its course? How far is “too far” in altering what nature does “naturally”? Scientists, producers and consumers will have to ask themselves these questions. The answers may vary, depending on one’s beliefs.
Hindus see animals as human souls in animal form, so they don’t eat animals or cloned animals, though they are not against animal cloning in general. Genetically modified plants can’t be used in religious ceremonies, but those plants can be consumed generally, Hindu leaders say. Buddhists address animal biotechnology mostly in terms of scientists’ motivation, accepting the practice if motivation is to reduce suffering.
Jewish scholars deem cloning mostly acceptable, though creation of gene-altered animals could be a violation of Talmudic prohibitions against cross-species “grafting.” Muslim scholars are concerned cloning could usurp Allah’s unique right to create, but also generally accept cloning and other alterations on the rationale that the human talents behind such work are gifts from Allah. Christian leaders largely see cloning as an act of hubris and, therefore, sin.
Religious values and food: Among issues raised by new technologies are how followers of some religions will manage their strict dietary rules if meat in stores is made by a process deemed sinful or contains genes from an organism they are not supposed to eat. A growing niche market is food produced in alliance with ethnic and religious traditions, including special butchering and food guidelines, such as halal for Muslims and kosher for Jews. Faith groups such as Hindus, Sikhs and Seventh-day Adventists primarily eat a vegetarian diet. Researchers could study the growth in niche markets, how faith traditions of farmers or scientists impact their own work, or the health impacts of particular ethnic or religious diets.
- “Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion” by John Tierney. The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2007.
- “Citing Heavenly Injunctions to Fight Earthly Warming” by Neela Banerjee. The New York Times. Oct. 16, 2006.
- “Cultural perspectives on agriculture” by Petrus Simons. The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice, 17:1 (2009): 25-31.
- “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Insights Into an Orthodox Christian Worldview” by John Chryssavgis. International Journal of Environmental Studies. 64, no. 1 (2007): 9-18.
- “Environmental Conference for Imams Challenges Israeli Muslims to Go Green.” Mideast Youth, Aug. 19, 2008.
- “Faithful Have New Food for Thought; Believers Carry Over Their Values as They Remodel Their Diets” by G. Jeffrey Macdonald. The Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2008.
- “Framing the Issue: Religion, Secular Ethics and the Case of Animal Rights Mobilization” by Marie Mika. 85, no. 2 (2006): 915-41.
- “Going green for Lent: Many use period of penance to aid environment” by Beth Daley. The Boston Globe, March 3, 2008.
- “How Confucianism could curb global warming” by James Miller. The Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 2009.
- “Mennonite Farmer Sues Claiming Animal ID System Infringes His Religious Beliefs” by Howard Friedman. Religion Clause, June 22, 2007.
- “On the Compatibility of a Conservation Ethic with Biological Science” by Mark Sagoff. Conservation Biology. 21, no. 2 (2007): 337-345.
- “People of the Corn: Teachings in Hopi Traditional Agriculture, Spirituality, and Sustainability: by Dennis Wall and Virgil Masayesva. University of Nebraska Press: American Indian Quarterly. v28 n3-4 p435-453 Sum-Fall 2004.
- “Protestantism, Anxiety and Orientations to the Environment: Sweden as a Test Case for the Ideas of Richard Sennett” by Hilary Stanworth. Worldviews: Environment Culture Religion. 10, no. 3 (2006): 295-325.
- “Public Concern with Farm-Animal Welfare: Religion, Politics, and Human Disadvantage in the Food Sector” by Danielle R. Deemer and Linda M. Lobao. Rural Sociology (2011).
- “Spirituality in Agriculture,” paper presented at The Concord School of Philosophy, Concord, MA, Oct. 8, 2005
- Sustainable Agriculture, The Link Between Agriculture and Spirituality.
- “Toward a Materialist Environmental Ethic” by Anna L. Peterson. Environmental Ethics. 28, no. 4 (2006): 375-93.
- Ecology and the Environment: Perspectives from the Humanities. Donald K. Swearer (editor). Center for the Study of World Religions, 2009.
- Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism. Jordan D. Rosenblum. Cambridge, 2011.
- Food, Farming, and Faith (SUNY Series on Religion and the Environment). Gary W. Fick. State University of New York Press, 2008.
- Foreigners and their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Law. David M. Freidenreich. University of California Press, Aug. 13, 2011.
- Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture (Culture of the Land). A. Whitney Sandford. The University Press of Kentucky, Dec. 30, 2011.
- Of the Land and the Spirit: The Essential Lord Northbourne on Ecology and Religion. Lord Northbourne World Wisdom, edition 2008.
- Rebirth of the Sacred: Science, Religion and the New Environmental Ethos. Robert Nadeau. Oxford University Press US, Nov. 2, 2012.
- Religion and Ecology in India and Southeast Asia. David Gosling. Taylor & Francis, 2002.
- Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. Ellen F. Davis. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
- Stations of the Banquet: Faith Foundations for Food Justice. Cathy C. Campbell. Liturgical Press, 2003.
- 10 Reasons Christians Should Care About What They Eat. Myrtis Smith. Kindle Edition, June 12, 2012.
- The Oxford handbook of religion and ecology. Roger S. Gottlieb. Oxford University Press US, 2006.
- This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. Roger Gottlieb. Routledge, 2003.
- Weaving the Cosmos: Science, Religion and Ecology. C. Clarke. Earth Books, 2010.
- “Harnessing social capital for agribusiness: Tse-Xin’s organic food accreditation in Taiwan” by S. Wei, C. C. Shih, F.H. Wei. Acta Horticulturae, ISHS. 699 (2006): 487-94.
- “Impacts of Religion on Environmental Worldviews: The Teton Valley Case” by M. Nils Peterson & Jianguo Liu. Society & Natural Resources: An International Journal. 21.8 (2008): 704-18.
- “Vegetation change, goats, and religion: A 2,000-year history of land use in southern Morocco” by Helen V. McGregor, Lydie Dupont, Jan-Berend W. Stuut, Holger Kuhlmann. Quaternary Science Reviews. 28.15-16 (2009): 1434-1448.
Codes of ethics
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers – Service to the Public and to the Profession
- American Society of Agronomy – Statement of Ethics
- Farmers of North America – Three Pillars & Values
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Future Farmers of America – Code of Ethics
- International Association of Culinary Professionals – Code of Ethics
- National Grain and Feed Association – Code of Ethics
- Society for Conservation Biology – Code of Ethics
- Water Quality Association
- A Source Guide on Religion and the Environment, ReligionLink
- Alliance of Religions and Conservation
- Animals and Religion: A Guide to Issues, Organizations and Experts, ReligionLink
- Faith Outreach: The Humane Society of the United States
- “Grains of Wheat: Culture, Agriculture, and Spirituality” by Anthony J. Gittins. Spirituality Today
- Religion and Dietary Practices
- Religion and the Environment: Polls Show Strong Backing for Environmental Protection Across Religious Groups, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2004)
- Religious Groups’ Support for Tougher Environmental Protection Policy, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2010)
- Religious Groups’ Views on Global Warming, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2009)
- The Evangelical Divide on Global Warming, ReligionLink
Professional associations and faith groups
- Christian Community Health Fellowship
- Evangelical Environmental Network
- Fellowship of Christian Farmers International
- National Religious Partnership for the Environment
- Bonne, Karijn; & Verbeke, Wim. “Religious values informing halal meat production and the control and delivery of halal credence quality.” Agriculture & Human Values. 25.1 (2008): 35-47.
- Chryssavgis, John. “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Insights Into an Orthodox Christian Worldview.” International Journal of Environmental Studies. 64, no. 1 (2007): 9-18.
- Peterson, Anna L. “Toward a Materialist Environmental Ethic.” Environmental Ethics. 28, no. 4 (2006): 375-93.
- Sagoff, Mark. “On the Compatibility of a Conservation Ethic with Biological Science.” Conservation Biology. 21, no. 2 (2007): 337-345.
- Stanworth, Hilary. “Protestantism, Anxiety and Orientations to the Environment: Sweden as a Test Cast for the Ideas of Richard Sennett.” Worldviews: Environment Culture Religion. 10, no. 3 (2006): 295-325.
- Breaking Bread: Religion and American Foodways. Nora Rubel, Wabash College
- Buddhism and the Environment. Sid Brown, Sewanee: University of the South.
- Diets and Deities: Food Themes in World Religions. Katherine Ulrich, DePauw University
- Religion and Food. Peter Harle, Macalester College