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    RELG 022/ENVS 040* also credit for PEAC, ESCH and GLBL-core * Swarthmore College * Department of Religion * Environmental Studies Program * Fall 2021 * Mon. 1.00-3.45 pm * Kohlberg 115 * Instructor: Mark I. Wallace * Phone: 610-328-7829 * E-Mail: * Office: Pearson 216 * Office hrs.: Tues. 4.00-5.30 pm and by email appointment


    Is it possible that the ancient green wisdom within the world’s religions could give birth to resilience and hope, even joy, in the face of the now-arrived climate storm? This course is a critical introduction to the emerging field of religion and ecology, a new mode of inquiry into the spiritual dimensions of the natural world and the place of human beings therein. It focuses on how religious myths and symbols have shaped human beings' fundamental outlooks on the environment in ancient and modern times. In turn, it examines how various spiritual practices can aid – or not – the development of an Earth-centered philosophy of life as the basis of environmental activism. As well, religion and ecology offers resources for mourning the loss of the natural world all around us – resources for expressing the grief, anger and sorrow many of us feel at this terrifying historical juncture.

    Academically speaking, the goal of this course is for class members to develop their critical thinking capacities, expository writing skills, and persuasive speaking abilities with an eye toward personal and planetary well-being. In this sense, spiritually speaking, the course aims to help students coordinate the inner landscape of the heart with the outer landscape of the Earth. (Spirituality in this course means one’s orienting life-philosophy which may or may not include religion, traditionally understood.) The course thesis is that the environmental crisis, at its core, is less a scientific or technological issue and more of a spiritual problem. It is human beings' deep ecocidal dispositions toward nature that are the cause of the planet’s continued degradation. As a species, we seem to have lost all sense of kinship with, and dependence upon, our a/biotic relations. Sadly, the lives of most people in the so-called developed world run opposite the crucial insight in the American Indian proverb, "The frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives." Or as evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould writes, “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love. We really must make room for nature in our hearts.”

    The wager of this course, then, is that the current apocalypse is a matter of the heart, not the head. It’s not that we don’t know how to live sustainably. It’s that we simply refuse to do so. Our collective agon, therefore, is deeply panpsychic even as it stretches back half a century to the birth of the modern era. Careening into the end of the world as we know it has its origins in the genocidal forces unleashed by Christendom’s Doctrine of Discovery in 1452. This doctrine was the raison d’etre for Columbus coming ashore in the Bahamas fifty years later. These early imperial forces have generated the Big Lie of today’s global hypercapitalism: everything around us counts only insofar as it is integral to a high-yield commercial enterprise. Education is a consumer good. Healthcare is a for-profit business. Even the biosphere has been reduced to a commodity within the wider energy service economy. We could imagine reality differently, but seeing the world primarily as a source of extraction appears at present to be the common lot of humankind. This understanding of nature in exclusively resource-extraction terms has catapulted us into what climate scientists refer to as the geological epoch of the Anthropocene. Near-certain social and ecological collapse will be the defining feature of this epoch. Is it any wonder then that we now inhabit a dead world of disconnected objects, not a vibrant communion of living subjects? Kentucky poet-philosopher Wendell Berry writes that “there are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” But as market forces have overtaken traditional community values, nature has become disenchanted and emptied of its sacred power to inspire us with magic, mystery, wonder and awe.

    Regarding the environmental crisis as a spiritual crisis, this course recovers the core worldviews of animism and deep ecology within different religious traditions as counter-testimonies to the utilitarian attitudes toward Earth that now dominate the global marketplace. Animism suggests that everything in nature is alive – even so-called inanimate things such as rocks and rivers – and sacred (spiritual ecology), while deep ecology argues that all things in nature are profoundly interdependent and to be valued intrinsically and equally (biocentric egalitarianism). Both of these new (but age-old) perspectives on addressing the contemporary crisis are potentially fruitful, but also deeply contested, and will be thoroughly vetted and discussed in class.

    With reference to these baseline perspectives, topics include ecological thought in Western philosophy and the related traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Buddhism as an ecological worldview; American nature writings and environmental awareness, including both Indigenous and Euroamerican literatures; and public policy debates concerning environmental racism and political activism. In part or in whole, time permitting, feature and documentary films and shorts First Reformed, If a Tree Falls, Grizzly Man, The Unchained Goddess, Renewal, Dakota Access Pipeline, Sunrise Movement, and Toxic America will be shown and analyzed. Using a comparative approach, our tack will employ a rich variety of methods – history of religions, Indigenous studies, Afrofuturism, disability studies, animism, queer criticism, critical plant studies, animal studies, critical race theory, interfaith dialogue, posthumanism, and postcolonialism – to equip students with the intellectual tools for analyzing historic and present-day ecoreligious ideas and movements.

    In addition to two writing assignments, a midterm, and final project, the course features regular (often outdoor) nature-based rituals, pandemic journaling, and (hopefully) an engaged scholarship component primarily centered in the nearby city of Chester. The course is housed in the Religion Department and the Environmental Studies Program, and also earns credit in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, the Global Studies Program, and is an Engaged Scholarship course.


    ·      Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Harper and Row

    ·      John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, The Complete Edition. University of Nebraska Press

    ·      David Landis Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb, ed., Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Ground. SUNY Press

    ·      Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower: A Powerful Tale of a Dark and Dystopian Future. Hachette/Headline

    ·      J. Drew Lanham, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature. Milkweed 

    ·      Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann. Simon and Schuster

    In order to facilitate lively dialogical lectures and discussions, read all assigned materials prior to the Monday of each particular week. As well, if at all possible, please purchase the exact printed editions of all books noted above (or photocopied versions of the same) and print all other required course reading assignments. Ideally, bring all of these hardcopy materials – not digital versions – to each class session (suggestion: photocopy all digitized articles and put in binder for easy access; see Format suggestions below). Students learn best by marking up and bringing to class personal copies of books and articles.

    This is a Moodle course. Additional required articles and other readings are marked in the schedule below with an asterisk (*) and available in Course Documents or as syllabus web links. These digital readings are required assignments for the course. Films and film clips are labeled with a plus sign (+). Due dates for assignments are marked by a triple caret sign (^). Other important course-related information is accessible through the Moodle course homepage: syllabus, assignments, announcements, and research links. Finally, a suggestion: three of the novel-like books we will study – Black Elk Speaks, The Home Place, and Parable of the Sower – are big reads and deeply emotional in scope and feeling. They should be started at the beginning of the semester and read and digested throughout the term.


    This course uses a "rough seminar" format featuring opening comments by the instructor followed by general classroom and small group discussion. In addition to graded writing and exam assignments, the course uses ungraded alternative learning activities for personal development, growth in civic responsibility, and self-discovery, including:

    Earth-Based Rituals. Approximately every other week, we engage in nonsectarian ritual and contemplative practices, borrowed and modified from different religious and cultural traditions, to develop experiential understandings of class subject matter. These “spiritual labs” or practicums (hopefully outdoors) include Neopagan Council of All Beings ritual, Tu BiShvat tree-planting ceremony, Zen Buddhist zazen sitting meditation, Lakota medicine wheel practice, and an early morning or class-time birding event (see *Wallace, “Ritual Guidelines”).

    Engaged Scholarship Learning. Every week, my hope is that class members will be able to volunteer at after-school tutoring programs, among other activities. Swarthmore College understands its mission as developing ethical intelligence among its student body. To that end, the goal of community-based learning in this course is to integrate classroom theory and community practice so that that class members can become more reflective and competent participants in public life.

    Pandemic Journal. Throughout the semester write a freehand journal in hardcopy format chronicling your stream-of-consciousness thoughts about your life in this class. At the intersection of climate catastrophe, systemic inequity, and viral pandemic, what are you feeling and learning? Narrate your moments of joy and hope, and grief and despair, as we endure a third academic year impacted by novel coronaviruses (see *Boyce Simms, “Pandemic Journal”).


    Writing requirements with grade percentages include two short papers (25% each), midterm (25%), final term project (25%), and participation in class discussion, rituals, journaling and engaged scholarship (gestalt overlay evaluation).


    1.   Speaking: identifying oneself and others according to preferred pronouns. This shows respect for others, as does the willingness to experiment with gender-nonconforming language for terms such as “God” or “the sacred.” 

    2.   Reading: reading for comprehension and economy is different from word-by-word reading. Experiment with “deep skimming” and discover, in my experience, that it takes half the time to comprehend twice the amount of information than is possible through conventional reading. See Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (Touchstone, 1972). In this class I will distinguish between (traditional) reading, deep skimming, and skim reading.

    3.   Writing: crafting a well-researched, argumentative college essay is an invaluable skill that will well serve all seminar members throughout life. Learning the art of persuasive rhetoric – in spoken and written form – is one of the chief aims of the liberal arts. A focus in this class will be on teaching the discipline of coherent and persuasive essay writing.

    4.   Healing: a central ideal of this seminar is students’ formation in wisdom traditions, not the attainment of knowledge for its own sake. To reimagine learning as soul-making, not simply data-acquisition, is both a radically ancient, and strikingly contemporary philosophy of education. As an exercise in trauma-informed education, this class will approach discussions and assignments as opportunities for growth in wellbeing – a core ideal within the humanities and all healthy-minded religious traditions. To this end, nonsectarian meditative practices will be suggested for realizing the course aim of therapeutic learning in a time of chaos and stress.

    5.   Handwriting: practicing this age-old craft, instead of relying solely on digital keyboards, is supported by a growing body of evidence indicating that college students learn more when they take notes on paper by hand than by using computers or tablets during class sessions. See 2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html

    6.   Books: bring copies of all books and articles to the class session for which they are assigned. Using the Textbook Affordability Program, if you are able to do so, please purchase copies of assigned books at the College Bookstore. I’ve sought to keep down the overall cost of books for this seminar. Note that the major required books (see syllabus links) and secondary readings (see Course Documents folder and syllabus links) are available online. As well, a copy of each book is on reserve at McCabe Library. The important point is to prepare beforehand, and bring to class, printed versions of all reading assignments for facilitated seminar discussion whenever possible.

    7.   Accommodations: if you need accommodations for a learning disability, contact to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, they will issue you a formal Accommodations Letter. Of course, you are welcome to contact me privately to discuss your academic or any other needs you might have.

    8.   Attendance: regular, punctual attendance is obligatory. Do not miss or arrive late to class under any circumstances (medical or other emergencies are exceptions). Preparation of all of the primary and secondary readings by the date for which they are assigned – along with peers' seminar papers – is further required in order to facilitate a lively and informed discussion. 

    9.   Research: in religion, a good place to begin any research project is at Tripod : Research Guides : Religion : ATLA Religion Database (EBSCOhost). This is the best peer-reviewed information retrieval system. Beware of using Google etc. for research of any sort but especially in religious studies. At the ATLA page you can enter descriptor terms that will lead you to key articles etc. in the field (e.g., searching the term “golem” yielded 55 results). In environmental studies, an excellent place to start is at Tripod : Database Finder : GreenFILE (EBSCOhost). At this page you can also enter key descriptor terms (e.g., “animism” yielded 41 results).


    --------Historic Roots, the Bible, and Varieties of Animism

    1 – Aug. 30

    +Film short, “The Unchained Goddess,” YouTube, 0-1, 49-53

    +Film short, “Dakota Access Pipeline Company Attacked Native Americans,” Democracy Now, YouTube, 0-7.45 

    *Lynn White, Jr., "The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," Science 155 (1967): 1203-1207

    *Graham Harvey, "Animism - A Contemporary Perspective," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, ed. Taylor, 1:81-83

    *Book of Genesis, chaps. 1-3, in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2d ed., ed. Gottlieb, 77-80

    --------Note: Native American Studies New Faculty Welcome Reception Fri., Sept. 3, Brothers Restaurant, Indigo Mills, Chester, Pa., 4.00-6.30 PM

    --------2 – Sept. 6, Labor Day, no class

    --------Christianity, Empire, and Indigenous Knowledges

    3 -- Sept. 13

    Practicum: Council of All Beings ritual

    *Dum Diversas, a 1452 papal bull, (only read translation not comments)

    *Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 3 (2014): 1-25

    *Mark I. Wallace, “The Stones Will Cry Out,” Kosmos Journal (Summer 2019)

    *Stephanie Kaza, "House of Wood," in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Gottlieb, 41-43

    John B. Cobb Jr., "Protestant Theology and Deep Ecology," in Deep Ecology and World Religions, ed. Barnhill and Gottlieb, 213-28

    4 -- Sept. 20

    +Film, “First Reformed,” dir. Schrader

    *Jean-Thomas Tremblay and Steven Swarbrick, “Destructive Environmentalism: The Queer Impossibility of First Reformed,” Discourse 43 (2021): 3-30

    --------Judaism, Animism, and the I-Thou Relationship

    5 – Sept. 27

    +Film short, “Ancient Roots,” Renewal, dir. Ostrow and Rockefeller

    Buber, I and Thou, entire (not Kaufman prologue)

    *Seth Zuckerman, "Redwood Rabbis," in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2d ed., ed. Gottlieb, 644-46

    Eric Katz, "Faith, God, and Nature," in Deep Ecology and World Religions, ed. Barnhill and Gottlieb, 153-67

    *Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, vii-24, 221-45 (skim)

    --------Heideggerian Poiesis and Deep Ecology

    6 – Oct. 4

    ^^^1st Paper Due

    Heidegger, Question, i-xxxix (skim), 1-35

    *Michael E. Zimmerman, Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art, 222-47 (skim)

    David Landis Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb, “Introduction,” and Gottlieb, "Spiritual Deep Ecology and Word Religions," in Deep Ecology and World Religions, ed. Barnhill and Gottlieb, 1-33

    --------7 – Fall Break -- Oct. 11 – 17 Fall Break 

    ^^^Take-Home Midterm

    8 – Oct. 18

    ^^^Take-Home Midterm Due

    Practicum: Birding the Crum Woods (class-time event; meet at Kohl 115 at 1 pm; wear comfortable walking clothes and shoes; class will consist of a guided bird walk in the woods weather permitting)

    --------Buddhism and Dynamic Interdependence

    9 – Oct. 25

    Practicum: Zazen sitting meditation

    +Film short, “Compassion in Action,” Renewal, dir. Ostrow and Rockefeller

    *"The Sermon at Benares" and "Questions Not Tending to Edification," in The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, ed. Burtt, 28-37

    *Wm. R. LaFleur, "Saigyo and the Buddhist Value of Nature," in Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought, ed. Callicott and Ames, 183-209

    David Landis Barnhill, “Relational Holism: Huayan Buddhism and Deep Ecology,” in Deep Ecology and World Religions, ed. Barnhill and Gottlieb, 77-106

    *Thich Nhat Hanh, "Earth Gathas," in This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2d ed., ed. Gottlieb, 515-16

    --------Native American and Settler Colonial Encounters 

    10 -- Nov. 1

    Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, 1-90

    *Vine Deloria Jr., "Sacred Places and Moral Responsibility," in Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment, ed. Foltz, 83-91

    *Jay Wexler, "Eagles: A Reprise," in When God Isn't Green: A World-Wide Journey to Places Where Religious Practice and Environmentalism Collide, 105-118

    *Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, Mother Earth Spirituality, x-39 (skim)

    *Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, xi-14, 133-61 (skim)

    11 -- Nov. 8

    Practicum: Lakota medicine wheel ritual

    Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, 90-169

    John A. Grim, "Indigenous Traditions and Deep Ecology," in Deep Ecology and World Religions, ed. Barnhill and Gottlieb, 35-57

    *Paula Gunn Allen, "The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective," in The Ecocriticism Reader, ed. Glotfelty and Fromm, 241-63 (skim)

    *Alexander Koch, et al. “Earth System Impacts of the European Arrival and Great Dying in the Americas After 1492,” Quaternary Science Reviews 207 (2019): 13-36 (skim)

    12 -- Nov. 15

    --------Black and Indigenous Nature Encounters

    Lanham, The Home Place, entire

    *Blogs by J. Drew Lanham: Blackbirder: and Jenny Bruso: Unlikely Hikers:

    *John Muir, “Wind-Storm,” “Water-Ouzel,” in Norton Anthology, 279-98

    *Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 156-66

    *David Treuer, "The Jewels of America’s Landscape Should Belong to America’s Original Peoples," The Atlantic (May 2021)

    *Jedidiah Purdy, “Environmentalism’s Racist History,” The New Yorker (August 13, 2015): 1-19

    13 – Nov. 22

    --------Toxic America

    ^^^2d Paper Due

    +Film short “Toxic America,” W. Kamau Bell, United Shades of America CNN

    *J.F. Pirro, “City on the Brink,” Mainline Today (August 2021), 54-59

    *Sicotte, From Workshop to Waste Magnet, Introduction, chapters 6 and 7

    *Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster, From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement, 34-53

    14 -- Nov. 29

    Butler, Parable of the Sower, entire

    *Hinton, Anna, “Making Do with What You Don't Have: Disabled Black Motherhood in Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 12 (2018): 441-57

    *Nancy Menning, “Environmental Mourning and the Religious Imagination,” in Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief, 39-63 

    15 -- Dec. 6

    Final class session: 1-5 minutes brief presentation of final projects (alternative projects or research papers) by each class member; possible questions and answers; possible discussion-based course evaluation. (Note: if you need longer than 5 minutes for your presentation please send me an email request accordingly.)

    Final research papers or alternative projects (with smaller papers) are due by 5 PM (on or before) Tues Dec 14 (per registrar’s schedule) in hardcopy format to my office mailbox in Pearson 211 or my door box outside of 216. Do not post your paper/project to me by email. And no extensions beyond Dec 14.