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Title: Religion and the environment in Northeast Nigeria : dominion, stewardship, fatalism and agency
Author: Shehu, Muazu Usman
ISNI:       0000 0004 5366 4759
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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This study examines religious influence on both environmental concern and behaviour, and perceptions and strategies of adaptation to environmental degradation in Northeast Nigeria. A good understanding of both dimensions of religion-environment connection is critical to theorising on the role of religion in current environmental crisis. The region provides a strong opportunity for study due to the severity of environmental degradation and the powerful role religion continues to play in all spheres of individual and community life. Drawing on sociological perspectives, the study combines statistical analysis with qualitative techniques to achieve its goals. Lynn White's hypothesis, which proposes that religion predisposes individuals to engage in negative environmental behaviours, was used as a starting point to explore the links between religion and environmental attitudes and behaviour. While the hypothesis as formulated refers to patterns of behaviour in the Judeo-Christian west, it has been widely used in both western and non-western contexts to explore the connections between religion and the environment. This proposition was explored within the study population by using qualitative analysis of interviews with congregation leaders and statistical analysis of self-reported environmental attitudes and behaviour data, obtained via questionnaires administered to members of selected Christian and Muslim congregations. The study also analyses interviews with leaders of the participating congregations and environmental protection officials to explore how faith communities understand and respond to environmental change. In partial support for White's thesis, analysis found endorsement of 'dominance-over-nature' theologies among both Christian and Muslim participants. However, there is no evidence to support White's thesis that Christians are more likely than non-Christians to believe in human dominion-over-nature when the principals are applied to this study context. Although dominion-over-nature was strongly endorsed in the questionnaire data and widely reported in the narratives of the clergy, its majority interpretation as an ethical responsibility and command to 'look after' the rest of nature casts doubt on the assumption that the dominion belief predisposes religious individuals to devalue and destroy nature in all contexts. Furthermore, the findings suggest that, contrary to the binary relationship speculated in White's hypothesis, and supported in the wider literature, dominion-over-nature involves a complex set of religious principles/beliefs that are interpreted both as 'divine authority' over nature and stewardship of nature. Moreover, analysis reveals strong evidence of three distinct motivations for pro-environmental actions, namely 'ecocentrism', 'anthropocentrism' and 'theocentrism', and a discrepancy between the principles and practices of religious environmentalism. The study then moves on from White's hypothesis to explore the broader factors affecting religious environmentalism. The study found religious environmentalism to be dependent on and constrained by additional factors, such as lack of material resources (poverty), lack of knowledge of religious and environmental principles and the social conditions under which environmental issues are prioritised. Participants' understandings of the causes of environmental change include narratives that accept scientific accounts of anthropogenic environmental problems and point to institutional failures and social conditions as the underlying causes of environmental decline. Also salient are discourses that interpret environmental change from a purely theological standpoint, where environmental change is framed either as God's way of punishing humanity's wrong deeds or as a fulfilment of 'end times' prophesies. These different and conflicting understandings of environmental change have produced different narratives on the strategies of adaptation that range from activism to fatalism, adopted by different religious groups. The study concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings on theory and research, and environmental reform policies in the region and beyond.
Supervisor: Molyneux-Hodgson, Susan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available