The environmental challenges facing the world today are serious and complex. Problems caused by issues such as global climate change, habitat destruction, over-fishing and farming, western consumption patterns and pollution affect the lives of millions of people worldwide, with the poorest and most marginalised usually suffering the most. Yet people, whether individuals, communities or nations, seem reluctant to seriously engage with these issues and to make the changes needed for a better and more sustainable world. Environmental scientists and campaigners have struggled to make a convincing case based on science alone and are increasingly recognising that moral and spiritual values are important drivers in motivating people for environmental concern. Over 85% of the world’s population self-identify as members of a religious group and most of the world’s major religions have clearly articulated statements on the need to care responsibly for our planet. The challenge is translating this into action and creating solutions at local levels that address issues of poverty and injustice at the same time as protecting and preserving the richness and diversity of the natural world.
Our Big Idea
Our big idea seeks to address this challenge by harnessing the passion and creativity of young faith leaders to solve seemingly intractable environmental problems in their communities, and in so doing to build active bridges of lasting friendship and support between people of different faiths. Young faith leaders from across the globe will be invited to participate in a residential workshop to learn together and to develop practical solutions to specific issues. They will be selected for their ability to influence wide networks in their own community, and their capacity to initiate locally-led campaigns and practical projects that bring together young people across communal divides around a shared commitment to environmental stewardship. The residential nature of programmes is a key feature, in which transformational learning occurs both in and outside formal workshops, including around the meal tables and during shared leisure activities. Learning alongside those with very different ideologies, expectations and approaches to environmental responsibility deepens the learning outcomes for all participants, challenging stereotypical responses and encouraging new and collaborative solutions.
In more detail…
The project will run three residential workshops per year, to which emerging young leaders (aged under 35) in Judaism, Islam and Christianity from around the world will be invited. This age group is acutely aware that environmental challenges urgently need to be faced, yet often feel powerless to do anything about them. They may not have made much connection between their concerns about the health of the planet and their own faith. And they almost certainly do not realise how much common ground exists between the Abrahamic faiths when it comes to caring for planet and people. The workshops will address these issues by enabling participants to explore together in study sessions and practical activity how their religious traditions and scriptures might offer a response to key environmental questions. The morning study sessions will offer guided discussion and reflection, Scriptural Reasoning sessions, and informal debate and interaction. Participants will learn about the issues facing our planet and faith-based responses to them from invited speakers, from their joint study of the three Scriptural traditions, and from one another’s experience and practice. Afternoons will be devoted to more practical activities. Each participant will be asked to bring to the workshop a problem or difficult scenario affecting people and planet from their own community or country. They will work in groups to address these problems and create solutions that can be enacted or adapted for use at a local level.
The workshops will take place in carefully chosen locations in areas of natural beauty where the attendees can experience the wonders of the natural world for themselves. This will include Rose Castle itself, located in the stunning scenery of the Northern Lake District, and other venues with a relaxed and hospitable atmosphere. Our experience in other contexts has shown that living and eating together promotes good, honest conversation, and enables the creation of strong, long-lasting friendships that transcend differences. Another means of building positive relationships is by working together to address a local environmental challenge. Workshops will include a carefully chosen programme of outdoor activities that will include guided exploration of local habitats facilitated by environmental specialists and undertaking practical conservation projects in the gardens or grounds.
The workshop planning and delivery will draw on the expertise and practical support of a number of organisations in the UK that work towards faith-based responses to environmental challenges, such as A Rocha (Christian), the Noah Project (Jewish) and IFEES (Muslim). Rose Castle Foundation will partner with these and other organisations for the delivery of the workshops. The concept of residential workshops for young faith leaders has been piloted by Sarah Snyder through the Cambridge Summer Schools programme over the previous 7 years, and is now being developed in a new direction as a core activity of Rose Castle Foundation over the next 3 years.
The beneficiaries of this project will be both the young leaders who participate in the workshops and also the communities they represent. The participants will experience learning and working together on shared issues that affect their own lives and futures. As well as growing in their own faith, they will gain understanding of other religious traditions and will build deep and long-lasting relationships across religious and cultural divides. They will develop leadership skills as they work on problem-solving and creating practical responses to environmental challenges. They will become bridge-builders who are committed to positive cooperation between different faiths. All these experiences will directly impact the communities to which they return, who will benefit from their leadership, their new understanding of other faiths and their commitment to building bridges across communal divides in pursuit of a more sustainable planet for all. Ongoing support for alumni is built in to the Rose Castle Foundation model of engagement, and participants are encouraged to continue to be part of an online community, encouraging one another and sharing ideas.
Why is this unique?
Other faith-based organisations run workshops on environmental challenges (Christian examples in the UK include The Faraday Institute and A Rocha). Rose Castle Foundation is unique in bringing together members of the three Abrahamic faiths. As well as responding to the pressing global issue of care for the planet, the project will build bridges across faith divides and equip leaders to continue this emphasis within their own communities.
Other organisations have run workshops for Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders (UK examples include Cambridge Interfaith Programme’s Summer Schools and the Faith in Leadership Programme). The Rose Castle model is unique in assembling faith leaders to address specific global challenges. Participants learn both in and outside formal workshops, combining practical action with in-depth study.
Our skills and experience
Rose Castle Foundation is well placed to implement this idea because members of the Foundation have engaged in delivery of faith and reconciliation programmes for Abrahamic young leaders since 2005, mostly through their work with the Cambridge Interfaith Programme based at the University of Cambridge in the UK. They founded Rose Castle Foundation to expand the provision of public and community-based reconciliation programmes outside of a purely academic setting. Three of the team have first-hand experience as key leaders in the examples cited above: Chair, Professor David Ford and Director, Sarah Snyder (Cambridge Interfaith Programme and Faith in Leadership), and Trustee, Dr Hilary Marlow (Faraday Institute and A Rocha).