Ecological Theologies

Course Syllabus (PDF)

Ecology and religion don’t often appear on the same page. Where they do come together, many people associate religion with resistance to environmentalism or with anti-science skepticism regarding climate change. The many points at which religion and ecological concern overlap in more positive ways rarely receive the spotlight—though the attention given to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ represents a noteworthy counterexample. This course explores a wide range of Christian responses to ongoing ecological degradation, drawing attention to the resources that Christian theology brings to the tasks of ecological conservation and restoration.

These “ecological theologies” approach the connections between Christianity and the environment from many different angles, with differing methods and differing assumptions. This course will make sense of the diversity of ecological theologies by lumping them together in two rough categories: doctrinecentered approaches (in which the cosmological narrative takes the foreground) and ethical approaches (in which human responsibility and human action receive greater attention). The diversity of approaches to ecological theology raises an important nest of questions, to which our discussions will return throughout the semester: How/why/where/when does religion shape our attitudes and actions?

Because of the immensity of the problems to which they respond, ecological theologies are inescapably interdisciplinary projects. Students in this course will encounter (and craft) arguments drawing on biology, sociology, psychology, archeology, history, philosophy, political science, and other fields. Accordingly, students will gain experience bringing a wide range of academic resources to bear on a specific issue where Christian theology and ecological well-being intersect. By the end of the course, my hope and my goal is that students will intuitively grasp the necessity for theological reasoning as part of any fully-formed response to the threats that endanger the diversity, longevity, and resilience of earth’s living communities.

Over the course of the semester, students will (1) learn the history of ecological theology as a distinct field of thought and practice; (2) demonstrate familiarity with the major authors and arguments within the field of ecological theology, including distinctively Catholic approaches to ecological theology; (3) practice scriptural, theological, and ethical reasoning on ecological questions; (4) use the ecological theologies encountered in class to respond critically and creatively to a specific, local ecological concern.