Climate crisis and religious change in Sub-Saharan Africa

01.01.2022 - 31.12.2025

Project

This anthropological research project explores the relationship between religion and the climate crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. Understanding and mitigating anthropogenic climate change requires holistic and interdisciplinary research. Religion influences people’s attitudes and behaviours towards the environment, and hence the study of religion is an essential part of climate research. Sub-Saharan Africa is among the world’s regions hardest hit by climate change and it is simultaneously undergoing major religious transformations. In this context, religious institutions wield power in society, and religion offers many people an intellectual and moral lens through which to understand and respond to disrupted weather patterns and livelihoods. The research will be based on data collected by ethnographic methods on three locations: Ghana (West Africa), Cameroon (Central Africa), and Madagascar (East Africa). It will involve the major religious groups on the continent (Christianity, Islam, Indigenous religions).

Funder(s)

Main funder

Kone Foundation

Climate crisis and religious change in Sub-Saharan Africa funder logo

Organization

School of Theology, Philosophical Faculty

Understanding and mitigating anthropogenic climate change requires holistic and interdisciplinary research. This anthropological
research project responds to this call by focusing on the complex role of religion in confronting the climate crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa is
among the world’s regions hardest hit by climate change. Simultaneously, it is undergoing major religious transformations. In this
context, religious institutions wield power in society, and religion offers many people a lens through which to understand and respond
to disrupted weather patterns and livelihoods. The study advances a novel model for analysing climate change and religion,
conceptualizing climate change as both actualised crisis and crisis discourse, and religion as both institution and lived practice. The
study asks four interrelated research questions:

1. Does the on-going environmental crisis affect the policies and actions of local religious institutions and/or people’s religious
practices?
2. How are local crises conceptualized, and to what extent are they seen as climate-related?
3. What broader sociocultural, political, and economic dynamics influence religious (non-)responses to climate change?
4. How do discourses of climate crisis reflect and contribute to dynamics of religious change?

The research will be based on data collected by ethnographic methods on three locations belonging to different ecological areas:
transitional zone between savannah and forest in Ghana (West Africa), humid savannah in Cameroon (Central Africa), and tropical
forest belt in Madagascar (East Africa). All three areas are facing crises related to global warming and local environmental destruction.
The research will involve the major religious groups on the continent (Christianity, Islam, Indigenous religions).

We expect to see different adaptations to climate change and locally constructed crisis discourses, but also foresee the emergence of
patterns: a) climate change to be increasingly spoken of and dealt with by religious actors; b) divisions to appear between climate-
conscious and sceptical factions; c) environmental destruction to inspire popular calls for religious responses; d) theological
explanations for the crisis to emerge; and e) the increase in climate-related development funding.

The study will produce diverse and place-based knowledge for dialogue with religious actors on how to develop new ways of life that
are ecologically sustainable and globally just.

Keywords

Time period

01.01.2022 - 31.12.2025

Group members - UEF

Other group members

  • Tea Virtanen, yliopistotutkija
    Tea Virtanen, yliopistotutkija tea.virtanen@helsinki.fi

Cooperation partners