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Research project Dr Joram Tarusarira awarded with NWO/NWA-IDG grant

The influence of religious logics on conflicts induced by climate change
02 July 2020
Dr Joram Tarusarira

D r Joram Tarusarira , Assistant Professor in Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen, has been awarded a prestigious NWA Idea Generator grant by NWO for his research project entitled Invoking the Sacred: Towards Alternative Strategies Against Climate Conflicts. Tarusarira will be conducting research on the influence of moral, spiritual and religious orders on conflicts induced by climate change.

Closer connection between society and research

The project is awarded with 50.000 euros by NWO’s NWA Idea Generator to further investigate the idea for one year. NWO’s NWA wants to achieve a closer connection between society and research and therefore funds projects that address a societal question, that have potential for societal impact and where there is a clear collaboration between research and societal stakeholder(s) throughout the project. ‘The ambition of the NWA Idea Generator funding instrument is to positively contribute to the global knowledge society of tomorrow by creating easy knowledge flows from researcher to users, an interaction that leads to further development of research. The research is undertaken with the view to benefit the knowledge economy as well as society at large,’ Dr Tarusarira adds.

‘The role of religion in society is significant, yet underestimated’

He is delighted that this research field is getting NWO’s support: ‘I am quite excited to get the support to develop this line of research, which I believe is much needed. The role of religion in society is significant, yet underestimated. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to argue this case through investigating how moral, spiritual and religious orders influence how conflicts induced by climate change are dealt with. If anyone ever doubted that religious and cultural studies as well as sociology of religion could have anything to say about climate change related discourses, this project is your answer!’

Neglected deeper religio-spiritual mechanisms

Joram Tarusarira explains what his research project is about: ‘Climate change is fuelling violent conflicts and undermining international peace and security. Competition over access to and control of pastureland and water due to climate-induced degradation has resulted in outbreaks of bloody inter-communal violence in different parts of the world. These conflicts may be driven by economic poverty, but the role of sacred beliefs and practices in these conflicts remains understudied. Yet people take extraordinary measures, such as engaging in bloody, inter-generational conflicts, and even sacrificing their lives, to protect what they consider sacred such as land, water and cattle. This research is about how moral, spiritual and religious orders or logics influence how conflicting parties position themselves in conflicts that are induced by climate change (climate conflicts). The modern obsession with scientific, legal and economic reasoning in dealing with climate conflicts neglects the deeper religio-spiritual mechanisms that motivate and propel the conflicting parties and give such conflicts their texture.’

Finding peaceful solutions to climate-induced conflicts

Dr Tarusarira considers this research important for various reasons: ‘We are confronted with climate-induced conflicts in contexts where communities fully depend for their survival on environmental resources which they consider sacred, but we lack knowledge on how sacred beliefs and practices frame these conflicts and how that influences the peace and reconciliation strategies policymakers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) adopt. For the most part, government and NGOs intervening in these conflicts focus on either providing food to the poor or to military interventions, without considering how conflicts are embedded in sacred beliefs. I wish to make the point that dealing with climate conflicts requires more than considering positivist, technological and statistical motivations and approaches. By so doing I hope to reorient attention of researchers and policy makers to the much deeper and underlying moral, religious and spiritual orders which are often ignored, muted or misunderstood.

The sacred connection to the land and the religious blessing of conflicts raises questions of whether and how sacred beliefs and practices could also contribute to finding peaceful solutions to climate-induced conflicts, beyond food and military actions. Undertaking this research is crucial to understanding the link between climate change and conflict and developing indigenously-founded peace and reconciliation strategies which are sustainable. Pairing scientific and technical perspectives with moral, religious and spiritual logics in dealing with climate conflicts, will help stop climate conflicts from becoming “wicked conflicts”, that is conflicts that seem unsolvable and recur over and over again.’

Research in Kenya and in the Netherlands

Tarusarira will carry out his research in Kenya and here in the Netherlands. He will work with research assistants and societal partners in both countries. The official societal partner in Kenya is Osotua Le Maa – an organization working to protect East Africa’s traditional ecosystems in the face of unpredictable weather patterns and unprecedented conflict – who will also collaborate with Joram’s colleague Dr Damaris Parsitau of Egerton University (Kenya).

Last modified:02 July 2020 11.25 a.m.
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