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Current work of the RCWBG is organized through task-oriented committees, which cover different Strategic Foci.

Committees active at present are:

Capacity Building Committee

Religion and Conservation Biology Research Collaborative

Best Practice Project Committee

Capacity Building Committee

Rationale and background

To bridge the gap between ‘vision’ and ‘action’, the new Strategic Plan of the RCBWG identifies ‘strengthening the Group’ as the first Strategic Focus for the next four years. The rationale is that a larger and more structured group will be more likely to mobilize the necessary resources to realize a diverse and ambitious portfolio. In order to ensure the implementation of this pivotal Strategic Focus, we hereby propose the creation of a specific Capacity-Building Committee (CBC), which will run through 2016 or until fulfilment of its goals.

Goals & expected outputs

The Capacity-Building Committee of the RCBWG seeks to reinforce the structure of the RCBWG. This objective will be pursued through actions directed outwards, such as enlarging membership pool and increasing the Group’s visibility, as well as inwards, such as restructuring workflow procedures to enhance their effectiveness. The CBC aims to promote the RCBWG into a self-sustaining structure, capable of thriving and renewing itself independently of changes in member- and leadership over time. 

Strategies and Approaches

Consistently with mission and goals statement, the CBC will address three main Strategic Areas:

  1. Enhance group structure and procedures;
  2. Raise group visibility both within and outside SCB;
  3. Enlarge group membership both within and outside SCB.

Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative

Rationale and background

The Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative (RCRC) is a committee of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group (RCBWG) tasked with the goal of investigating, through empirical research, the role of religion in the quest for environmental conservation globally and translating results into policy action. The RCRC also proactively identifies societal problems as pertains to conservation that need policy action and through scientific research findings informs decision making and social change within the purview of religion and conservation.

In 2012, the RCRC issued a position statement on animal release in Asia. It was part of efforts by conservation scientists to seek religious support and cooperation in addressing the unsustainable practice of releasing animals as an act of compassion by religious practitioners in Asia and elsewhere. Recently, in September 2015, The Economist published a piece: "Animal Spirits - Releasing Animals into the Wild in Vogue - With Unwelcome Consequences". This news tells the conservation community that the situation in Asia is yet to be abated and probably worsening. The RCRC is therefore seeking to work with Asian colleagues and other concerned parties interested in conservation of biodiversity in Asia to heighten advocacy about this problem. However, empirical evidence is necessary to substantiate the impact of animal release on biodiversity, human health and the environment. On that backdrop, the RCRC has set up a team to look into this and collate scientific evidence on the impact of animal release to inform policy in Asia.

Priority tasks will involve:

  1. Identification and compilation of research findings on the impact of animal release on biodiversity
  2. Development of a policy brief on these findings
  3. Engaging the media, religious leaders, policy makers, intergovernmental agencies, national governments in Asia etc.

We envisage this advocacy will contribute significantly to influencing policy and legislature on the practice of animal release in Asia, attaining a balance of needs with religion and environmental conservation.

Best Practice Project Committee

Rationale and background

Compile a set of guidelines and best practices, based on the wealth of experience globally accumulated in the field, that can support scientists to hone communication with faith groups and successfully work with religious stakeholders. Promote active collaboration with other initiatives having similar goals (e.g., TNC- ARC’s SNAP Working Group, IUCN WCPA Specialist group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas).

Strategies and Approaches

  1. Immediately begin collecting, reviewing, and analyzing the existing literature and other sources on guidelines for best practices when scientists engage religious communities in projects (to include efforts underway by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (sets standards for scientific research), the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, and various sacred sites initiatives. Susan is heading this initiative, so please forward sources directly to her at your earliest possible convenience.
  2. Follow SCB staff advice on submitting a 400 word article for inclusion in the SCB blog, member newsletter, social media pages, and list-serves announcing the Best Practices Project and encouraging SCB members to take the Best Practices Survey in which they can share practices they found helpful when approaching and/or working with religious communities as well as practices they found counterproductive to achieving positive outcomes of their projects.

  3. Based on the data collected from SCB members (#2), select some for presenting their stories/best practices during a symposium we will propose for the 2017 ICCB to be held in Cartagena, Colombia.

  4. Initiate drafting best practices guidelines at a forum we will propose for an evening after the symposium (#3) is held at the 2017 ICCB.

  5. Produce draft guidelines and distribute to members of the RCBWG by September 1/World Day of Prayer or October 4/Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, 2017.

  6. Revise draft guidelines according to input (#5) and submit to the SCB Board for requesting SCB members to vote by 1 January 2018 on the proposed guidelines through a means the officers in conjunction with staff deem feasible for reaching all members.

  7. Based on SCB members’ votes, urge the SCB Board President to promulgate the guidelines for SCB researchers and practitioners to consider following when seeking the collaboration of religious communities and to establish a link to the guidelines from the SCB web site.

  8. Initiate in 2018 workshops on the guidelines at area SCB meetings and annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, the International Society for Environmental Ethics, and others for information, reflection, and discussion.

  9. Plan to hold a symposium at the 2019 ICCB featuring successful outcomes from following best practices guidelines and soliciting recommendations for revisions.

    UPDATES on Best Practice Project

    Guidelines for Interacting with Faith-Based Leaders and Communities (February 2018)

    Best Practices Survey—Promising First Step toward Developing Guidelines (December 2016)


Current Activities

March 14, 2017

Jame Schaefer published an article 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.

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


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

December 16, 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.


Congress sessions and papers, policy statements

Partnerships with other WGs of the SCB

Partnerships with other organizations

Our Board member Bas Verschuuren, as chair of Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA), is liaising with the RCBWG on partaking the events they are organising. More info in the CSVPA website.