Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative

Getting to know us (Part II) Stephen M. Awoyemi

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In this series of ‘Getting to know us’, we present the people behind the RCRC group, their motivations and inspirations to bridge the gap between religion and conservation biology.

“Religion has been an intricate part of my life since about the age of eight. As with many people in Africa, it was the social construct with which I used to put my life in context. Growing up in Benin City southwestern Nigeria, my adolescent years coincided with the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in the country. With little or no option available to finding meaning, I embraced Pentecostalism wholeheartedly. I carried this worldview for several years and inadvertently ended up studying Zoology in the University of Ibadan. During these years in the university, the rational side of my mind was taking form and I questioned my beliefs but was too afraid and ignorant to discard them. However, my stretching the boundaries of my beliefs to find reality resulted in triggering an otherwise dormant illness, Schizophrenia.

 The traumatic experience paved way to a paradigm shift, a new reality that broadened my vista to exploring self knowledge through the study of philosophy, psychology and wisdom in a variety of religious traditions. I no longer had a parochial view of Pentecostalism. In 2002, during my National Youth Service, I was awarded a Tropical Biology Association (TBA) Scholarship to participate in a field course in tropical ecology and conservation on the East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. Conservation to me was appealing as it connected with my idealist personality and desire to contribute to society – a new and transcendent spirituality I was beginning to develop. On that mountain in Tanzania, I made my decision to follow the career path conservation biology and TBA helped make it a reality by sponsoring my membership of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). I have served as a volunteer in the SCB for a decade working for half of the time in the Africa Section of SCB. In 2007, I met Tom Baugh founding President of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group (RCBWG) when he made a call for volunteers to help him build the RCBWG. It was a timely opportunity as I was already nurturing the idea of how religion could play a role in conservation in Africa. So that when I joined the RCBWG as founding board member, I published an editorial in the Conservation Biology Journal titled “The Role of Religion in the HIV/AIDS Intervention in Africa: A Possible Model for Conservation Biology”. In 2012, inspired by Bron Taylor’s 2011 article “Toward a Robust Scientific Investigation of the ‘Religion’ variable in the Quest for Sustainability” published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, I helped to create the RCRC in collaboration with a team of dedicated volunteers including Jame Schaefer, Andrew Gosler, Tom Baugh, Janice Lee, Kwek Yan Chong, Eric Landen, LoraKim Joyner, Martin Nganje, Matt Berg, Anke Weisheit and others. The RCRC was created to bridge science with policy within the purview of religion and conservation.”

Stephen Awoyemi

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