Mari Stuart - June 2016 Working Group Meeting Topic

Rain and Virtue: Human Morality Shaping Weather and Climate in Hindu India

What cultural and religious frameworks do Indian Hindus draw on when making sense of global climate change, and the erratic and extreme weather patterns it brings with it? My research corroborates the findings of others (Drew 2012, Gagné 2013, Gold 1998) that, along with references to CO2 emissions and other forms of human impact on the geophysical world, especially rural populations also cite divine retribution or human moral corruption as causal factors behind climatic changes. In this article, I investigate the logic, and the conception of human virtue, that inform the frame of reference I call “moral ecology,” which perceives an intimate causal connection between the human moral condition and the condition of the environment. This notion is attested to in premodern textual sources from the beginning of the Common Era onwards, and ethnographic evidence attests to its persistence today; however, the question of what a moral ecology worldview looks like in an era of global climate change has not been robustly investigated. Drawing on research among farmers and environmental activists in the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Telangana, I posit that the moral ecology framework is a form of indigenous knowledge that resonates with traditional Hindu worldviews in a way that climate science data cannot. As a result, it can be strategically and effectively engaged in advocating climate-adaptive and climate-mitigating practices among India’s largely rural Hindu population.