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  • EcowomanismBuddhist–Christian Dialogue from a Womanist and Ecological Perspective
  • Melanie L. Harris (bio)

ecowomanism, eco-memory, justice

Ecowomanism is an approach in religion and ecology that embraces the environmental justice paradigm: a theoretical lens through which one can examine the intersections among racial, economic, gender, and sexual injustice and how these forms of oppression converge with climate injustice. For example, in the United States, communities of color living in lower socioeconomic urban environments are more likely to experience food insecurity or live in "food deserts." That is, due to an all-too-common white-supremacist perspective, the health of communities of color is not perceived as valuable, nor is their flourishing considered an important aspect to the larger society. Access to a good quality of life for persons of color is often predetermined by the realities of systemic racism and public policy that limit neighborhoods' access to affordable housing, healthy and safe work environments, fresh produce, and healthy food.1 While some may argue that ecowomanism is anthropocentric in nature and focuses only on the humans living in these neighborhoods rather than all beings, an ecowomanist lens unapologetically points the finger back to those who critique the approach and asks the question, Why it is so easy for too many religious environmental lenses to see species, but ignore the species-ness, beingness, and humanity of African Americans? Black lives matter in the work of environmental justice. Too many environmental approaches carry a hidden lens that is complicit with a logic of domination, promoting the rights of some species (all nonhuman species) while in the same breath devaluing the [End Page 123] lives, voices, and rights of darker-skinned humans. We must insist on the value and importance of race, class, and gender analysis in environmental justice work.

In this essay, I introduce ecowomanism as a multilayered approach to climate justice that can inform and be informed by Christian–Buddhist dialogue. In previous work, I have discussed the significance of an interfaith lens in the work of ecowomanism.2 Due to the drastic impact of climate change across religious groups, it is crucial to find shared language and bridge understanding about how people of various faiths and nonfaith can raise awareness and confront climate change together in the earth community. I argue that by moving through an ecowomanist method, activists and practitioners can engage comparative religious discourse about the shared and sometimes differing moral and ethical guidelines regarding care for the earth. Creating interfaith dialogue that honors the particularities of each tradition, while also respectfully building new methods that help confront climate change, can be mutually enhancing for all. Beyond learning from one another and teaching one another, this kind of comparative dialogue can also provide new sources for religious thinking and environmental activism.

The ecowomanist method offers seven steps: (1) honoring experience (centering voices), (2) critically reflecting on that experience, (3) using womanist analysis, (4) critically examining African and African American history and tradition, (5) engaging transformation, (6) sharing dialogue, and (7) taking action for climate justice. In this essay, I focus on the first two steps. After a brief introduction to ecowomanism, I take the first step in the method by speaking from experience and offering a womanist story or eco-memory for Christian–Buddhist reflection. Eco-memory is counter-memory—a corrective to the metanarrative that functions as the "true" dominant canon of what is considered religious discourse. Often, the voices of women of color—more specifically, African American women's voices—are not included in the metanarrative. An ecowomanist method brings these voices, contributions, and perspectives to the forefront. I then offer a critical reflection on that experience, noting the potential significance of feminist/womanist Christian–Buddhist dialogue to this process and recommending recourse through analysis of poetry by Maya Angelou, a critical resource in our collective efforts for climate justice.

Emerging during the 1980s from the pens of such scholars as Jacquelyn Grant, Katie G. Cannon, Delores S. Williams, and Emilie M. Townes, womanist religious thought came into being by challenging the normative male lens inherent in black liberation theological perspectives and challenging the absence of race analysis in many feminist circles. Adapting the...


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