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Yale University

East Asian Religions & Ecology

Yale University via Coursera


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At first glance the fields of religion and ecology may seem and unlikely pairing, but a deeper consideration reveals the two have a great deal to contribute to one another and are indeed inextricably linked. Religions recognize the unity and interdependence of humans with nature. Ecological sciences affirm this deep interconnection with the natural world. This partnership can inspire work for the wellbeing of the Earth community There is a need for broader literacy and deeper knowledge of the world’s religions and their ecological contributions. This specialization, "Religions and Ecology: Restoring the Earth Community", contributes such a perspective. Each course celebrates the vitality of religiously-informed action for the Earth and recognizes the longstanding contributions of Indigenous peoples in offering visions and practices for ecological flourishing. This course is part 4 of 5 of the "Religions and Ecology: Restoring the Earth Community" specialization that focuses on the ecological dimensions of religious traditions throughout the world. The course you are about to begin is designed as a gateway to these aspects of the East Asian religions, philosophies, and practices of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Shamanism. So much has emerged in the last several decades in this area, as you will see. While we have taught this course at Yale, we have adapted it for learners from a wide range of backgrounds. This course is for lifelong learners curious to know more about world religions and ecology, environmental professionals eager to deepen the discourse of environmental protection and conservation, those working with non-profit organizations and NGOs on issues of ecological justice, and religion leaders and laity who wish to know how they can contribute to interreligious dialogue on environmental projects.


  • MODULE 1: Course Introduction
  • MODULE 2: Overview of Contemporary Ecological Issues and Religious Environmentalism
    • This module explores historical and contemporary ecological challenges in China arising from industrialization and modernization. Because of these environmental pressures, various sectors of Chinese society, including the government, are promoting the concept of “ecological civilization”, which we highlight here. We then explore the intersections of religion and ecology and its promises for East Asia.
  • MODULE 3: Introduction and Overview: Confucianism and Ecology
    • We encounter key ideas of Confucianism regarding the interconnection of self, society, education, politics, nature, and the cosmos. We focus on the Analects of Confucius and other significant Confucian texts to explore their ecological dimensions.
  • MODULE 4: Confucianism and Ecology into the Present
    • After a period of suppression during the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism has revived in China and has important cultural and spiritual influences today. This is seen by many Chinese as valuable for grounding humans in communitarian social and ecological ethics for the common good. We conclude this module with an exploration of selected Confucian perspectives on food, animals, and biodiversity.
  • MODULE 5: Introduction and Overview: Daoism and Ecology
    • Daoism is a tradition with a rich sensibility regarding nature and the mutuality of human-Earth relations. We explore the ecological significance of the term Dao, or Way, as well as the idea of detachment and effortless action (wu-wei). We then reflect on Daoist practices that cultivate the inner landscape of the human in relation to the outer landscape of the natural world.
  • MODULE 6: Daoism and Ecology into the Present
    • We explore environmental ideas and practices embedded in schools of Daoism historically and at present. We examine the cultivation of esoteric practices in Daoism related to outer landscapes and the inner organs of the body, as well as contemporary issues of ecology and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
  • MODULE 7: Buddhism and Ecology: The Interdependence of Reality
    • This module explores the basic teachings of Buddhism and their relevance to the environment. We discuss the life of the Buddha and his key insight regarding the interdependence of all reality. In particular, we explore the ecological significance embedded in the “three refuges” vow: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We then trace the spread of Buddhism across Asia and its diverse expressions in art and culture. We conclude with an examination of environmental teachings in various schools of Buddhism throughout East Asia.
  • MODULE 8: East Asian Buddhism: Engaged Ecological Leadership
    • We explore the emergence of the bodhisattva ideal in Mahayana Buddhism of practicing wisdom and compassion for all living beings. We then consider the ecological dimensions of engaged Buddhism within Mahayana and Vajrayana (Tibetan) traditions. Finally, we examine Buddhist teachings on sentient life in relation to food, animals, and biodiversity.
  • MODULE 9: Ecological Rituals in Japanese Shinto and Korean Shamanism
    • We begin with a description of Japanese Shinto teachings and rituals and illustrate their ecological and cosmological dimensions. Next, we examine Korean shamanism as ecstatic ritual practices for restoring well being and health to the human and natural communities. We consider how these primordial religious practices offer rich insights from a living Earth with ongoing relevance to contemporary ecological challenges.
  • MODULE 10: Course Conclusion

Taught by

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim


4.9 rating at Coursera based on 13 ratings

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