Loving Water Across Religions

Contributions to an Integral Water Ethic

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Elizabeth McAnally
Ecology and Justice
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , February
     192 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Water is life. It is central in all religions. Put simply, without water, life cannot be sustained. Elizabeth McAnally’s Loving Water Across Religions: Contributions to an Integral Water Ethic explores these tenets as well as current water practices. The book states that the current practices must change. This book provides concrete practices and a purposed multireligious theology to which communities, societies, and peoples can use to influence how they interact, view, and use water. Loving Water explores how water is a universal religious element and must be treated with respect and care.

McAnally is highly invested in exploring the pressing need for change due to the growing global water crisis. The introduction is brief but comprehensive in exploring how and why there is a global water crisis amidst expanding populations, destructive agricultural practices, and the rise of plastic-filled oceans. The author doesn’t use hyperbole to impart the increasing danger that the world will face; rather, she uses facts presented by the United Nations and the US Geological Survey. Currently the world has yet to fully experience the global water crisis, yet, McAnally argues that presently the poor, especially women and children, are struggling with not having access to clean, running water. This is a fundamental need that is vital for global attention.

This books seeks to provide a foundation in which science, politics, and religion meet to explore how the treatment, preservation, and use of water needs to be treated in 2019 and beyond. McAnally stresses how water is not infinite despite the last 1,000 years of water practices.

The entire book is a straightforward, easy read and is an interesting mixture of scholarly work and meditative practices. Loving Water Across Religions carries the air of being self-reflective and globally conscious. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 explore three different religious traditions: Christianity (but predominately Catholicism), Hinduism, and Buddhism. McAnally writes in chapter 2, that there are two ways that Christians view the ritual of baptism that is, as; sacramental or ordinance. There is a fundamental variance between the two that separates these Christian traditions. The author focuses on how the sacramental ritual of baptism can be used to fundamentally alter theology and praxis on water in Catholic doctrine. It might be a tall order for Protestant and Evangelical communities, which see baptism as merely symbolic. More biblical exegesis is needed for all Christian communities to adopt McAnally’s proposed Christian water ethics and praxis.

Chapter 3 and 4 are fascinating explorations of how two Eastern religions already have forms of water ethics embedded within their traditions, but these Eastern water ethics lack an adequately implemented praxis. The focus in chapter 3 on the Yamuna River in India provides a fascinating case study to show that praxis needs to include an embodied theology and ethics. McAnally examines how the Yamuna, despite being viewed as the Goddess Yami, is currently one of the most polluted rivers. McAnally has engaged with the local organizations that have been established to combat the exponentially growing Yamuna pollution and incorporates the Hindu tradition of seva, or loving service, into the proposed integral water ethics. Chapter 3 provides a concrete example of the dire situations that come from the water crisis and how it is imperative that science, politics, and religion be in concert with one other for any type of real and lasting change.

Chapter 4 echoes the work done in chapter 3 with exploring religious traditions and values in Mahayana Buddhism; the two crucial elements of Bodhisattvas and interdependence become the building blocks to an embodied integral water ethics. One of the main focuses of the chapter is looking at the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje of the Karma Kagyu School within Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapa’s work is in creating and sponsoring ecological training, practices, and rituals that incorporate the Bodhisattvas’ vows of easing suffering and helping others in their paths towards enlightenment. This chapter is by far McAnally’s best incorporation of theory, research, and methods. McAnally writes, “Recognizing water as a bodhisattva involves recognizing the compassion and wisdom inherent in this sacred element of life. Water can be of great service to all beings if it is allowed to be itself” (129). Thus, interdependence is vital in establishing an integral water ethics.

Chapter 5 is the practical engagement portion of the book where McAnally seeks to establish integral water ethics. Four contemplative practices focus on the individual engagement with water and two group exercises seek to explore compassion and empathy. All six can be intermingled with different religious traditions across the globe. The intermingling helps to support further McAnally’s claim that water is universal and can be a powerful force to sow love and compassion amongst diverse populations.

In her closing remarks, McAnally writes, “Loving water is a way to love God. Loving water is a way to love all of creation, to love the whole universe.” (166) This book sees water as the binding agent to effectively bring people together and bring them closer to the divine.

The book ends with McAnally pointing to areas and religious traditions that can be explored to contribute to the integral water ethics; more specifically she looks at indigenous traditions. Work can also be done in other Western religious traditions like Judaism and Islam. This work can be a valuable resource in religion, ecology, and global ethics courses. The author has included highly respected scholar’s works and research to build this new integral water ethics.

Loving Water Across Religions is a call to academic disciplines. McAnally conveys the necessity in combining efforts of ecology, politics, and religion in establishing a more holistic approach to the rapidly changing climate, increases in water scarcity, and the rising global populations.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is the Queer Advocate for AAR Western Region and a permanent contributor to the academic blog, FeminismandReligion.com.

Date of Review: 
April 30, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Elizabeth McAnally is the newsletter editor and website manager for the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University. She has taught in the areas of environmental ethics, comparative religion, and philosophy of religion.


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