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Yale University

Indigenous Religions & Ecology

Yale University via Coursera


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 is course 2 of 5 in the "Religions and Ecology: Restoring the Earth Community" specialization that focuses on the ecological dimensions of religious traditions throughout the world. The course is designed as a gateway to the significant contributions of Indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Pacific Regions for environmental understanding. The diversity of Indigenous communities around the planet makes selective coverage necessary, but shared patterns of resilience manifest themselves worldwide. So much has emerged in the last several decades in understanding traditional environmental knowledge, as you will see. 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: Introduction to the Study of Indigenous Religions and Ecology
    • We explore terms and themes in the study of Indigenous religions and ecology. Terms such as Indigeneity, sovereignty, lifeway, cosmovision and cosmopolitics are examined. Underlying themes such as responsibilities, rights and reciprocities with the Earth are highlighted by Native spokespersons. There is an inherent call for interweaving environmental and social justice often referred to as integral ecology.
  • MODULE 3: From Decolonization to Restoration in Indigenous Communities
    • Settlers and nation-states have used stereotypes to demean, subjugate, and exploit Indigenous peoples, communities, and lands. “Decolonization” is the recognition of this historical distortion and the racism that continues into the present. In light of this reality, “Indigeneity” may be seen as a call to self-discovery necessary for restoring Indigenous voices and sovereignty in decision-making.
  • MODULE 4: Native North Americans
    • Native worldviews and cultural values were undermined by dominant societies. Yet these losses did not fully erase the resilience that has led to recovery of lifeways and traditional knowledge, as described by a Hopi elder. Native peoples in North America have restored relationships with land and seeds, lakes and rivers, animals and biodiversity. This is expressed in ritual revivals among the Crow and Salish peoples as well as ecosystem restoration by Pacific Northwest peoples. We see resilience among Arctic Inuit peoples struggling with climate emergencies, and Gwich’in peoples resisting oil development in caribou calving grounds.
  • MODULE 5: Native Peoples in Meso-America and South America
    • We examine Indigenous peoples from Meso-America through the Amazon Basin and South America. In diverse ways their cosmovisions draw on traditional values and practices providing resilience in the face of present challenges. As Indigenous peoples reintegrate their social and spiritual visions they mount creative modes of resistance to exploitation. These contemporary expressions of environmental activism directly relate to their struggles to establish the rights of nature as expressed in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
  • MODULE 6: Native Peoples of Africa
    • We open with Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize winning environmentalist and founder of the Greenbelt Movement for reforestation led by women. Then we explore local Native groups in Africa touching on their environmental challenges after centuries of colonization. Forest conservation and climate challenges provide themes for exploring ways in which traditional African societies bring religious worldviews and ethics to bear on these issues.
  • MODULE 7: Indigenous Peoples in Asia
    • We examine regions in Asia where Indigenous peoples continue to experience global and national challenges to their cultural integrity. These include projects such as dams, deforestation, and industrial extraction in which environmental resistance provides rallying points for Indigenous cultural survival. We explore the practices of these Indigenous peoples as they ritually interact with land and biodiversity, which also includes the revival of diverse forms of shamanism.
  • MODULE 8: First Nations in Australia
    • We examine diverse groups of Indigenous-Aboriginal peoples who for over 50,000 years have inhabited the land mass now called Australia. Cosmovisions, law, and cultural practices find expressions in Dreaming and Songlines, as well as social and eco-justice movements. We hear elders narrate how mythic stories ground fire regimes that keep forested areas cleared. We see how restoration projects bring traditional knowledge forward for renewal of peoples and ecosystems. Many of these ancient custodial relations are now beginning to inform mainstream societies’ ecological practices.
  • MODULE 9: Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific
    • The relations of Indigenous peoples to oceans, islands, rivers, and biodiversity are the focus of this module on the Pacific region. Interactive themes such as cosmovisions, transoceanic voyages, food sovereignty, and climate emergencies frame these discussions. Ancient Māori and Hawaiian aspirations toward ecological wellbeing surfaces in the renewal of Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices leading to responsibility for our planet. This also finds expression in the quest for rights of nature.
  • MODULE 10: Course Conclusion

Taught by

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim


4.8 rating at Coursera based on 33 ratings

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