“How does extinction impact on religious faith and spiritual practices?”

The key question for the event

On Monday 15 July Encounters hosted a group of people in Bristol in a creative conversation as part of our project with the Religion & Extinction Network exploring faith and spirituality at a time of mass global extinction.  This Creative Conversation has been crafted by Anne-Marie Culhane, working with Ruth Ben-Tovim and the two lead academics on the project Stefan Skrimshire and Jeremy Kidwell. The Creative Conversation is part of a cross-disciplinary international academic network funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The academics have been meeting through 2019 and are focused on creating a book together and the Creative Conversations includes non-academic voices as part of the Enquiry and the publication.  

Twelve participants came forward through an in-depth recruitment process across Bristol ‘s different faith and community groups.  In the room we had representatives of different spiritual practices including Christianity, Quaker, Shamanic, Buddhist, Baha’i, and people with their own individually articulated spiritual beliefs and someone working closely with refugees with different faiths. We invited Shelley Castle (Encounters Associate) as visual scribe for the day. 

Our enquiry included question such a “What role does religious faith or spirituality play in shaping our actions and responses to extinction?” and “How does extinction impact on our religious faith and spiritual practices?” 

The six-hour session included space to explore these and other related questions in small groups, pairs, individually and as a whole group using a range of methods. 

We were keen that the day would enable different forms of reflection through head, heart and hands. 

These included walking in pairs outdoors, making, drawing, painting and sculpting with different material, active listening and reflective listening inspired by Quaker Meeting methods. 

We started by inviting small groups to share their own perspectives on what they know about extinction followed by Stefan Skrimshire summarising the many different ways that extinction has been written about or articulated from an academic perspective. 

"I heard a story about disappointment and hope, anger and desire for the church to take up its mantel and act to protect the environment and the future through politics

I heard how understanding of extinction led to a deepening of faith and practice, a coming back to faith as a Baha’i and the unity of all things – that faith and science can’t exist in isolation."

From sharing stories during a walk in pairs:

"I really appreciated the overall methodology of the day's approach - it was kind, thoughtful, gentle and went deep. The moment we shut our eyes I felt safe enough to allow tears to enter my eyes. The artistic approach, the walking, the sharing and listening, the quietness, all of it helped me consider some unexpected questions, such as 'how does your activism affect your spiritual beliefs?' - I had to really think about that. "

A subsequent response to the Creative Conversation by email.

We are now reflecting on how we can distil the learning and some of the essential ingredients from this day so that we can create and share a simple document with other groups to support and encourage them to try something similar in their communities. 

One key learning point for me was around the flow of energy during such a deeply contemplative session. I noticed that in the afternoon a shift in focus and energy could have been useful, perhaps a moment of doing something energising to stir or shake us up.  I think this would have better enabled people to fully synthesise their experiences, share remaining questions and resonant moment and struggles from throughout the day.  

In the evening we were invited by Extinction Rebellion (XR) Bristol to hold a one hour workshop session as part of the XR workshop zone on Bristol Bridge in the Summer Rebellion. This was a dynamic session where twelve participants worked in groups of three to explore two of our Creative Conversation questions and reflect back to the wider group through words or image on a blackboard. 

Participants were warm, generous, open and  engaged. Reflecting on “how do you relate to the global extinction crisis from your faith or spiritual perspective “ in a single phrase or drawing some of the responses included : “here I am to worship” “Can faith/sprituality help people accept that this is a thing and accept the need for radical change” “regret – why do we value life over death?” “spaciousness” “inspiration overcoming nihilism”

 For more information contact

Anne-Marie Culhane, Creative Associate.

More information on Stefan Skrimshire and his work.

More information on Dr. Jeremy Kidwell and his work.