The Relation between Human and Religion that Gives Impact to Nature

13 November 2023

Written by Athanasia Safitri

Discussion about nature and the public support of the community may lead to the argument that if people recuperate from the sacred traditions, the balance between human and nature will be restored. It will later result in several concerns about whether the traditions relate to religious rituals and routines as well and if the relation has evidence. But does it have evidence? Comparative studies have not clearly explained if religion has any contribution to the public support for nature. Yet, there is also contention that what people believe in terms of religion and spirituality affects their actions toward nature.

Humans and Nature scale

In the 1990s, there were projects and inventions in the Netherlands on water management for human use.  There was a paradigm shift: people should no longer see nature as the object that we must win over but consider it as human partner. In response to these ecological challenges, researchers at Radboud University developed the Humans and Nature (HaN) scale to measure public support for care for nature. The HaN scale is an instrument to measure public support for climate change mitigation and adaptation (floods in Europe, integral river management based on co-creation of knowledge). The scale has been validated and used in more than twenty countries, but not in a country with a Muslim majority. So with a collaboration since 2019, researchers at Gadjah Mada University have been using this scale in Indonesia to seek evidence if human relations with religion can affect nature care and if there is a particular Indonesian Muslim view toward human-nature relations. Dr. Frans Wijsen, presented the team’s initial research findings in the Wednesday Forum on October 18, 2023. 

The research was conducted in ten locations, where researchers did at least 100 structured interviews with the HaN scale and ten open interviews, considering age, gender, education, domicile, profession, and income as background variables. It uses religious affiliation along with its influence and practices, and encounter with natural disasters as criteria, with a specific focus on the Muslim population to explore a unique Muslim perspective on human - nature relation. The scale consists of a gradual process that moves from multiple-choice questions to a validated list of statements that people can agree or disagree with. It categorizes people through images of human-nature relationships: humans as masters, stewards, partners, and participants.

The result shows that basically religion plays an important part in their life and affects the decision they make. With God-statement or so to say religion and spirituality related, there are four major types of people describing the relation of human and religion toward nature; religious master, religious participant, religious steward, and humanist steward. While we can expect the presence of the religious master and participant,  there is no relationship that fits what partnership describes. However, there are two types of stewardship found from the data which are religious steward and humanist steward. For religious stewards, humans are part of nature but they have the responsibility to care for nature. It goes the same with the humanist stewards, yet there is distinction that it has no religious statement that supports their agreement to care for nature. There is not much difference between the four main groups: All agree most with the humanist and religious steward, and have far lower adherence to the religious master and partner.

Does religion matter?

To conclude his presentation, Wijsen stated that overall, both religious affiliation and religious influence do not make a big difference in the human-nature relation. Muslims and Protestants have a higher agreement with the master model than Catholics and Hindus. The more religious influence, the higher agreement with the religious and humanist stewards as well as the religious master (but not with the religious participant). Religious practice, however, seems to make a difference. People who talk more about religion at home have a significantly higher agreement with the religious master, and these happen to be Muslims and Protestants. Overall, Wijsen continued that the highest agreement is with the humanist-stewardship where people agree that humans are part of nature and they need to work together with nature for a long-lasting life but it does not necessarily have to do with people’s religiosity. It seems that the relation between human and religion towards nature relies more on the human view of caring for nature itself.

We may know the era of the anthropocene when humans have had a substantial impact on our planet and human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. The preliminary result of the research suggests that the Indonesian respondents shifted from anthropocentric to ecocentric human-nature relationships. Wijsen left the audience with a question: if people nowadays start to enter the symbiocene, or period of re-integration between humans and the rest of nature? It may be a great proposal for human-nature relations of 'living together' where life on Earth isn't destroyed but instead nurtured by humans.