Ecological Degradation

Next Offered in Spring 2012

Can religious traditions motivate believers to stop accelerating the rate of species extinction, degrading and destroying ecological systems, and threatening the integrity of Earth's biosphere? Widespread abuse of the physical environment has prompted increasing numbers of scholars of world religions to pose this question.  They have been exploring ways of thinking that might prompt people of faith to act in ways that are more compatible with the well being of the more-than-human others that constitute our planet.  Students enrolled in Theology 385 are afforded an opportunity to participate in this ongoing "greening of religion" by examining teachings of the major religions of the world to discern the extent to which they provide promising foundations for environmental ethics.  Current and future teachers are provided opportunities to gear their learning toward application in the classroom and/or education of the public.
     During the first part of the semester, we will examine Christian rationales for responding to ecological concerns.  Texts by Pope John Paul II, the United States Catholic bishops, and leaders of other Christian denominations will be examined, and each student will begin to review a contemporary theological text selected from a list of options.  Emphasis will be placed subsequently on critically retrieving and reformulating notions in the Bible and works by eminent Christian theologians in order to respond more relevantly to current ecological problems.  Focus will shift to the ecologically promising orthopraxis suggested in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and/or other religions in which students are interested.  Stressed throughout is the need for religious discourse to be informed by broad scientific findings, particularly evolutionary biology and ecology.
    Students will aim to achieve the following objectives: (1) Distinguish among various types of environmental ethics and grasp the distinctiveness of religious foundations for ethical norms; (2) identify and explain key notions in the Christian and other major world religions that appear relevant to addressing ecological degradation; (3) critically assess the extent to which these notions provide ways of thinking about and living more compatibly within the ecosystems of Earth and choose one that appears most promising; (4) adequately research an ecological problem on which to test the viability of theological notions examined in this course; (5) demonstrate analytical and integrative skills in a PowerPoint presentation by applying an assigned religious theme to an ecological problem and assessing its capacity to respond to the problem; and, (6) effectively prepare a teaching unit or course on the subject matter at a particular level of education OR research and write reflectively on an approved topic.
    This course was first offered in 2004 as a hybrid of on-line learning and videoconferencing from Raynor e-Learning Center.  Marketed over the Jesuit Education Network and promoted by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, graduate students from other colleges and universities in the United States enrolled and engaged in a stellar exchange of ideas and perspectives. 

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