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Abstract

Although religions are major social actors and institutions with considerable reach, relatively little social science research has focused specifically on the interaction of religious bodies and human-induced climate change. Most of the current scholarship on the topic has been theological, pastoral, or normative, and specific to particular faiths; the focus of such scholarship is to draw on resources internal to the faith in order to make the case to adherents about the duty to attend to climate change. Only recently has empirical or social scientific research sought to examine what the world's religions and their adherents are actually saying or doing about climate change. Reviewing this research is the focus of this article. An essential first step is to conceptualize the problematic term ‘religion’ and to describe the extensive diversity of the world's religions. Religion includes beliefs, worldviews, practices, and institutions that cross borders, time, and scale from the level of individuals all the way to transnational and transhistorical movements. A summary of religious engagements with climate change is followed by two case studies that show the complexity of religion and religious engagement with climate change. The Pacific Islands are used as a geographic case. Buddhism is used as a case study of a specific faith tradition. Because the world's religions and faith groups are major social institutions and sites of collection action, greater attention to them by climate-oriented social scientists is recommended. WIREs Clim Change 2014, 5:261–279. doi: 10.1002/wcc.268

Conflict of interest: The author has declared no conflicts of interest for this article.

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