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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

Safet stands at lectern, in foreground the conference programme is visible

The conference Being with Water OTHERWISE (April 15-16, 2024) brought together scholars, practitioners, and activists from diverse backgrounds to explore the intricate intersections of religion, water, and sustainability. Over the course of two days, participants engaged in thought-provoking discussions, presentations, and workshops that offered profound insights and lessons for addressing contemporary water challenges.

Academic convenor Dr Safet HadžiMuhamedović summarises the event—his full-length report is available to download below.

Drawing fresh insights

Day 1 focused on understanding water through sacred perspectives, challenging traditional paradigms, and reimagining human–water relations. The opening addresses called for a decolonisation of our conceptualisation of water, urging us to move beyond reductionist views and embrace sacred knowledge. They also outlined the multiplicity of projects that the Cambridge Interfaith Programme is engaged in to address the intersection of religion with different global challenges.

The first day took us on watery journeys from the Finnish and Canadian Circumpolar North, through British pilgrimage sites, Buryatia in Eastern Siberia, Northeast Australia, the Torres Strait and a Ghanian mining village, as well as on a trip around the world with a profusion of serpentine water beings across different cultural contexts. Speakers raised questions about: a) the relational nature of water, emphasising its dynamic and reciprocal interactions with humans, including various forms of kinship with water beings; b) water management dynamics in relation to indigenous knowledge systems, highlighting the need to integrate diverse perspectives into water governance strategies; c) law’s capacity to hear indigenous stories and understand markedly different relations to water, suggesting the need to expand the notion of evidence, but also think beyond law. Fittingly, given the emphasis on pilgrimage, the day ended with a punting trip on the River Cam.

Day 2 delved into practical applications and collaborations. Contributors emphasised the importance of grassroots activism, religious teachings, and community-driven initiatives in promoting sustainable water practices.

The Cambridge research

Discussion of Dr Anastasia Badder’s report, Water and/in religious relations: a Cambridge study, illuminated the necessity of incorporating diverse cultural and religious perspectives into water management strategies, urging collaboration between water industry actors and impacted communities. Responding, Mumin Islam highlighted the challenges of integrating religious values into workplace practices within the water industry, stressing the importance of leveraging religious teachings for environmental stewardship. Professor Ian Barker echoed these sentiments, advocating for a paradigm shift in how water companies engage with communities and emphasising the transformative potential of integrating religious perspectives into water management practices.

Dr Badder had also invited an array of her interlocutors to contribute: Meg Clarke addressed local water quality issues in Cambridge, advocating for community-driven initiatives to protect and restore water sources. James Murray White shared personal reflections on the impact of pollution on local chalk streams, advocating for awareness-raising and community engagement in conservation efforts through storytelling and filmmaking. Tilak Parekh offered profound insights into the symbolic significance of water within Hinduism, highlighting its central role in religious rituals and spiritual practices. Professor Tony Booth’s discussion on pressing environmental challenges facing the river Cam underscored the importance of recognising the river’s rights and advocating for sustainable water management practices grounded in values-led educational development and inclusion.

The Scriptural Reasoning workshop provided an interlude between these discussions, illustrating the power of this practice to provide an inclusive platform, fostering dialogue and mutual understanding among attendees. The water-based text pack was the same that had been used in November as part of the research process.

Key takeaways

Throughout the conference, several key lessons emerged:

Firstly, there is a pressing need for interdisciplinary collaboration and inclusive approaches to water governance that incorporate diverse cultural and religious perspectives. Secondly, building trust and empathy between stakeholders is essential for fostering greater engagement and cooperation in addressing water challenges. Thirdly, grassroots activism and community-driven initiatives play a crucial role in promoting sustainable water practices and environmental stewardship. Finally, recognising the relational nature of water and its intrinsic value beyond mere resource extraction is fundamental to reshaping human–water relations in a more sustainable direction.

In conclusion, the conference provided a valuable platform for meaningful dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge exchange, highlighting the profound significance of water in human culture and the urgent need for collective action to ensure water security and sustainability for future generations. Attendees departed with a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between religion, water, and sustainability, as well as a renewed commitment to advancing innovative solutions and practices in water governance and management.

Download the full conference report (PDF, 13 pages)

View abstracts, speaker biographies and other detailed information about this event.

Learn more about the Ofwat Innovation Fund project, Water efficiency in faith and diverse communities.

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