Religious Responses to an Australian Natural Disaster
Keywords:Australia, environmental disasters, religion, secularism, pragmatism
Environmental disasters bring about a palpable intersection of religious, natural, and cultural forces. Following the Queensland floods of 2011, we conducted in-depth interviews with leaders from a wide range of religious traditions. We found that religious responses to the flood were more pragmatic and civic than theological or liturgical. Faced with an extreme weather event, religions offered a robust level of practical support but focused less on questions of doctrine and scripture. They viewed their work as acting for the common good rather than for traditional religious loyalties. Although environmental issues were seen as theoretically relevant to the faith traditions, the flood itself was not understood in terms of either the doctrinal teachings of a religion or the ongoing climate change debates in Australia. An unexpected foil to religious leaders’ understanding of the flood was provided by political leaders who used theologically laden language to explain the crisis. Occurring at the nexus of religion, nature, and culture, Queenslanders’ responses to the flood provide a tangible example of how civil religion is manifested in a disaster event.
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