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Edible Praxis: Sustainable Food and Religion

Just as man does not live by bread alone, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and participants in any of the world’s religions have to eat. Moreover, they have to make decisions about what and how they eat, and resolve those decisions with their religious beliefs. Sarah Robinson, a CGU doctoral candidate in religion with a concentration in women’s studies in religion, is examining how religious communities are digesting this dilemma in the era of sustainable food.

Her dissertation, titled “Refreshing Religions with Edible Ethics: Local Agriculture and Sustainable Food in Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist Projects in the US,” focuses on three local-scale religious communities that are urging their laity to consume consciously. Specifically, Robinson is studying a Catholic community near New York City, a Buddhist community near San Francisco, and a Muslim community in Chicago, each trying to dress religious teachings with a sustainable eating ethos.

“I argue that they are doing praxis, combining religious concepts with consumption practices,” said Robinson. “I’m interested in the way this fusion happens. We have this global sustainable food movement that values local producers, reducing packaging, reducing the role of middle men, minimizing the industrialization of food production and distribution, and shortening the mileage food travels between where it’s produced and consumed; and its finding traction in some local religious communities. So how is a sense of religiosity being tied to sustainability, and then practically applied in relation to local food and agriculture?”

To find an answer, Robinson has visited these communities and conducted interviews with their leaders, trying to divine what aspects of the sustainable food movement are being expressed. What she has found is that though their approaches are unique (one focuses on sustainable meat distribution, while the other two are agriculturally based), there are some striking similarities.

“All three of the communities have public education aspects, both about their religion and a type of sustainable practice. They all produce educational materials that identify the confluence of their religious values with sustainability,” said Robinson. “They sow the seeds of a hopeful, community-based, local-scale agricultural model. They also place their work within dynamic religious perspectives and contexts of meaning.”

Helping Robinson in her efforts is the CGU Transdisciplinary Studies Dissertation Grant she received last year. “T-Grants,” as they are sometimes called, are awarded annually by the Transdisciplinary Studies Program to students who undertake dissertation research that involves three or more disciplines.

“The grant has been very supportive and so helpful,” said Robinson. “The majority of religion dissertations don’t include interviews and qualitative research methods; that whole process has been very much supported by the dissertation grant.”

Now that Robinson has compiled most of her data, she has begun the arduous process of tying it all together, and placing the work of each community group within the context of academic literature written on religion and ecology. When complete, Robinson hopes her dissertation will help illuminate how “religious and environmental movements overlap, how these projects define the importance of food and farming, and how they relate to each other cross-culturally and inter-religiously in the US,” offering a generous helping of soul food for thought.


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