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Religion and Conservation Biology

The SCB Religion and Conservation Biology (RCB) Working Group unites academics, practitioners, and other professionals from around the world. It was established in 2007 by Tom Baugh with aims to strengthen the collaboration between faith traditions and conservation, and promote awareness of the importance of this collaboration within SCB and the conservation community, based on empirical evidence.


To join the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group you must be an active member of the Society for Conservation Biology. If you are an SCB member, simply log into your member profile webpage and follow the “My Society Involvement” link on the right-hand-side of the page to add the RCB to your groups.

If you would like to formally join the Working Group and you are not a member, you can start here

Non-members can still view and join the discussions on the RCB public listserv and follow our Twitter account.

For any further questions, and if you would like to become more closely involved, do not hesitate to contact us.



28 July 2017

Society for Conservation Biology’s 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology

ICCB 2017: “Insights for Sustaining Life on Earth”

Cartagena, Colombia

Holy Wisdom Monastery of Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, received the inaugural Assisi Award at the 28th International Congress of Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Assisi Award acknowledges organizations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth.

Fabrizio Frascaroli, RCBWG president, said, “The Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology is truly delighted to present this award in Cartagena, in front of a diverse audience of conservation scientists, indigenous representatives and policy-makers.”

The Holy Wisdom Monastery is an ecumenical Benedictine community located near Madison, Wisconsin, with a mission to weave prayer, hospitality, justice and care for the earth into a shared way of life. Their community setting includes restored prairie, a retreat and guest house and a ‘green’ monastery building. 

Sister Mary David Walgenbach, prioress of Holy Wisdom Monastery, said, “The Sisters and the women and men who support the Holy Wisdom Monastery are deeply honored to receive the Assisi Award. The Sisters and Holy Wisdom Monastery inherit the 1500 year-old Benedictine tradition of caring for creation. This heritage is lived today in collaboration with environmentalists and scientists in our building, the highest rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) nc 2.2 Platinum certified building in the U.S. Our Wisdom Prairie Project improves the water quality of Madison lakes, streams and wetlands.”

The name of the Assisi Award celebrates a historic 1986 meeting where leaders of all major world religions made public declarations to protect the environment. The meeting was an initiative of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, President of WWF International at the time.

The town of Assisi was chosen as the meeting site due to its connection to St. Francis, a saint ecumenically admired and also respected by non-Christians in virtue of his reverence for nature and close bond with the natural world.

The Assisi Award recognizes initiatives from around the world conceived in the context of major world religions as well as indigenous spiritual traditions.

Frascaroli said, “We hope the award will highlight how the drive to protect the biosphere is not the prerogative of a single philosophy, but rather stems from a variety of worldviews, values and knowledge systems.”

Holy Wisdom Monastery was not the only religious entity to be acknowledged at the opening ceremony of ICCB. A Franciscan missionary, Fr. Hermann Borg, received the SCB Distinguished Service Award for his exemplary work in Kenya, which showcases the true meaning of Stewardship,.

Father Borg explained, “We started to plant trees in Subukia 30 years ago. We did not know what we would achieve, we just started to do it. These 1 million trees have now grown tall and have changed the climate and improved the livelihoods of the people.”

Father Borg hopes that his efforts can contribute to inspiring others and spreading the message of the Holy Father concerning the environment. He commented, “As the Catholic Church is the most globally spread institution, we should not underestimate its potential for influencing people regarding the respect for nature. I think this is a realization of the teachings of Laudato Si’, which motivates so many local, regional and global actions.”

The importance of faith-based approaches to conservation is gaining recognition. On June 19th, religious and indigenous leaders from 21 countries convened in Oslo for the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, supported by Norway’s King Harald V. Last September, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC) passed Resolution 33, which stated that “effective and equitable approaches to the design, governance and management of protected or conserved areas need to be grounded not only in science but also in cultures, religions, worldviews and co-existing customary practices relating to nature.”

At the ICCB, the RCBWG is hosting a symposium and workshop for its Best Practices Project, compiling a set of guidelines and best practices to support scientists to hone communication and successfully work with faith groups. ICCB sessions relevant to faiths and conservation can be found on the RCBWG website:

Left to Right: Father Hermann Borg, Fabrizio Frascaroli, Sister Joanne Kollasch, Sister Mary David Walgenbach


This Franciscan missionary's been planting trees in Kenya for 30 years

24 July 2017

Article in Business Standard on SCB Distinguished Service Award recipient Fr. Hermann Borg of Mother Earth Network

ICCB 23-27 July 2017 in Cartagena, Colombia

The RCBWG will contribute to an exciting line-up of events at the ICCB that focus on faith-based conservation.

Come meet the enthusiastic members of our working group and celebrate the Assisi Award and SCB Distinguished Service Award recipients with us!

New Hope for the Oceans: Engaging Faith-Based Communities in Marine Conservation

14 March 2017

An article by Jame Schaefer was published in Frontiers in Marine Science on the New Hope for the Oceans Forum at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Newfoundland/Labrador on 31 July 2016 featuring the Best Practices Project of the RCBWG.


Science alone cannot protect the oceans and their biological diversity. Whereas, scientists can identify problems and empirical steps toward their resolution, support for research, problem solving, and implementation of solutions must come from societal sources. Among the most promising are religious communities whose members are motivated by their faith to collaborate with marine scientists in achieving shared goals. Many reasons prevail for engaging faith communities in mitigating assaults on the oceans and protecting them from threats to their functioning. Participants in the open forum convened by the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology during the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress shared their insights on (1) why and how marine researchers and conservation practitioners can best involve faith communities, (2) actions and attitudes that deter constructive engagement with faith communities, and (3) ways forward that the SCB should consider facilitating. Among ways forward identified are the Best Practices Project initiated recently by the RCBWG, adding cultural values and ethics as disciplines SCB members should probe when addressing conservation problems, regularly including cultural values and ethics in panels with other disciplines at international and regional SCB congresses, and appointing an associate editor of SCB publications who will assure the inclusion of articles in which religious and spiritual worldviews, values, and ethics are integrated with the conservation sciences.

Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group Releases Summation of Best Practices Survey on Engaging Faith Communities

16 December 2016

A summation of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group's (RCBWG) Best Practices Survey of SCB members on engaging faith communities is now available. Conducted on behalf of RCBWG from May 31-September 10, the survey results underscore the benefits to conserving biological diversity when researchers and practitioners relate positively to faith leaders and communities. 

Respondents to the survey also shared their approaches to engaging leaders and members of faith communities in ways that might be helpful to other SCB members. Societal support for conservation has become increasingly vital for approval, collaboration, and advocacy of scientific solutions aimed at mitigating threats to the loss of biological diversity on the land and in the water. Results of the survey point to religious and native faith communities as allies in this quest. 

Prepared by Jame Schaefer (Marquette University) and Susan Higgins (Center for Large Landscape Conservation) who serve on the RCBWG Board, “Best Practices Survey—Promising First Step toward Developing Guidelines” provides an overview of the responses to ten questions submitted by thirty-nine SCB members who have engaged leaders and members of faith communities in conservation projects. The faith communities represent the major world religions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism--and a diversity of native spiritualities including Australian Aborigine and Native American. 

The projects on which SCB members reported occurred on all continents except Antarctica. Among the foci are aging polar bears, bison, climate change, coral rehabilitation, fish, iguana, kangaroo, rattlesnakes, terrestrial vertebrates, wildlife used for bush meat, forest management and restoration, restoration of rivers, and protective management of shrines and sacred places. 

The Best Practices Survey was launched by the RCBWG as the first step of the three-year Best Practices Project aimed at producing guidelines for SCB members to consider when planning and conducting conservation research and application. During the second step proposed for ICCB 2017, the successful practices of some SCB members who participated in the survey will be highlighted in a symposium followed by a workshop during which best practices guidelines will be drafted. They will be refined subsequently, processed through several iterations, and presented to the SCB Board of Governors for recommending to SCB members. 

Contact Jame Schaefer and/or Sue Higgins for additional information about the Best Practices Project.

The RCB Board of Directors is excited to welcome four new board members!

The following members began their two-year terms of service on the board in January 2017:

Fabrizio Frascaroli (President)
Giulia Sajeva (Vice President)
Ashley Massey (Secretary)
Chantal Elkin (Treasurer) 

New RCBWG President Fabrizio Frascaroli is excited to build on progress the Working Group has gained in recent years under the leadership of Stephen Awoyemi.   

"I am truly honored to have been elected president of such an impressive board," Frascaroli said. "The atmosphere within the RCBWG has been one of increasing enthusiasm and motivation over the last few years. I am sure the new board members will be able to contribute new ideas and skills to further the group’s activities, while confirmed members will guarantee the needed continuity with the positive work done in past years."

"I can only express all of my gratitude to outgoing board member Allen Ottaro for his stimulating inputs, and especially to outgoing president Stephen Awoyemi who has spent so much energy for the RCBWG, making it an established reality within SCB,“ he said. 

The Working Group is grateful for all candidates who participated in the election: Fabrizio Frascaroli, Aluri Jacob Solomon Raju, Giulia Sajeva, Ashley Massey, Vania Rebeca Olmos Lau, and Chantal Elkin. We greatly appreciate everyone's willingness to serve and we look forward to all candidates' continued participation in the RCB Working Group.  

We thank everyone who cast votes in this election!  

Finally, we'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all RCB members for being a part of our working group. Your support and participation is critical to our ability to strengthen the dialogue between faith traditions and conservation and to promote awareness of the importance of this dialogue within SCB and the conservation community. 


 August 2017

  August 2017

 August 2016

 July 2016

Older Posts

Prayer Animal Release Can Embody Conservation Principles


The RCB Working Group has become aware of practices in which religious communities engage that are causing havoc in biotic communities. Among these problematic practices is the widespread aberration of the Buddhist ritual of releasing animals that was originally intended to show compassion but has since fallen short of this objective. One of the Committees of the RCB Working Group, the Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative (RCRC), was formed to research this problem and to recommend the adoption of policies that appear in a brief endorsed by the Global Policy Committee of the SCB titled "Prayer Animal Release Can Embody Conservation Principles: A Call to Action." 

Thus far, religious communities have reacted positively when made aware of scientific facts that point to deleterious effects of their practices. Some ideas for native species to be released in appropriate areas have been shared by Buddhists when interacting with scientists. These collaborative efforts initiated by the SCB to resolve problems bode well for biological conservation, the well-being of people who are involved, and the flourishing of Earth.  

Media and others seeking additional inforation may contact Stephen Awoyemi, president of the Society for Conservation Africa Section and SCB's Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group. Kit Magellan at the University of Hong Kong is available for media outlets in Asia.

‘Assisi Award’ for Faith-based Conservation

RCBWG launches ‘Assisi Award’ for Faith-based Conservation

Applications for 2016 award are currently under consideration

The award is meant to acknowledge organizations and individuals from around the world that demonstrate outstanding successes in conserving the Earth’s biological diversity based on their faith and spiritual understanding. The award will target initiatives conceived in the context of both mainstream religious groups and indigenous traditions, and will be assigned based on evidence of conservation achievements and coherence with the spiritual values that drove conservation efforts. This award will help to strengthen the dialogue between faiths and conservation, and permit to collect important information about faith-based conservation efforts around the world.

More details at

See also

Download the nomination form here.