Home » Resources for Educators » Resources » Syllabi » Here

Religions and the Natural Environment (Gold)

Course Title

Religions and the Natural Environment
Religion 395

   
Instructor(s)

Ann Grodzins Gold
Professor
Department of Religion
Syracuse University

   
Discipline

Religion

   
Subject(s)

World Religions and Environment

   
Pedagogical Level

Undergraduate

   
Date

Spring 1999

   
Presentation

Syracuse University

   
Overview

Description

This course explores the ways participants in different religious traditions understand and interact with the natural environment. We ask how (and if) the different ways individuals and communities may think about and value “nature” (which may be variously defined) affect their actual uses and treatments of their surroundings. We also examine some of the ways religious traditions are responding to current perceived local and global ecological crises—whether through rethinking mythology and theology, refashioning rituals, or organizing community action and political movements. Readings draw from many different kinds of literatures including sacred texts, anthropological case studies, activist manifestos, and literary essays and fiction. Throughout the semester we consider questions of whether and how comparative religious studies might contribute to solving current global environmental problems shared by all human and other life-forms.

   
Format

The overall course will be divided into five parts:

  1. Initial Perspectives on Religions and Environments
  2. Indigneous Religions: Focus on the Americas
  3. Asian Contexts: Focus on Hinduism
  4. Western Religions: Dominion vs Stewardship: Ecotheologies, Spiritual, and Radical Ecologies
  5. Ecotopias
   
Prerequisites

Read, reflect, attend, pay attention, stay awake, talk, listen, think, learn, understand, question, express your own ideas and positions, be alert and considerate of other persons’ views. This is a “critical reflections” course. It demands of each student a careful attempt to comprehend perspectives that may be very different from his or her own, as well as to reconsider preexisting assumptions. It presents a substantial body of material, some of which may evoke responses that are personal, emotional, political, controversial. There are things to learn and things to think about, and ideally your course work will integrate those two goals.

The single most important element of your work in this course is thoughtful reading, and there will be many opportunities for you to demonstrate your meeting this ongoing responsibility. Grades are based on several different kinds of work--both in order to give all students experience with a variety of tasks; and in order to help us evaluate student learning through a balanced set of criteria.

   
Requirements

Read, reflect, attend, pay attention, stay awake, talk, listen, think, learn, understand, question, express your own ideas and positions, be alert and considerate of other persons’ views. This is a “critical reflections” course. It demands of each student a careful attempt to comprehend perspectives that may be very different from his or her own, as well as to reconsider preexisting assumptions. It presents a substantial body of material, some of which may evoke responses that are personal, emotional, political, controversial. There are things to learn and things to think about, and ideally your course work will integrate those two goals.

The single most important element of your work in this course is thoughtful reading, and there will be many opportunities for you to demonstrate your meeting this ongoing responsibility. Grades are based on several different kinds of work—both in order to give all students experience with a variety of tasks; and in order to help us evaluate student learning through a balanced set of criteria.

   
Evaluation

Grades

Response Papers
25%
Take-home Essay “Exams”
35%
  Exam #1 (15%)
  Exam #2 (20%)
Group Research Projects and Presentations
25%
Participation
15%

 

  1. Response Papers
    5 response papers (at 5 points each); about two pages, long-hand or typed. In each of these you reflect on current assigned readings. Response papers—although handed in and graded—allow you to say what you’re thinking fast and informally, almost as if you were talking. They have no special format, but they must demonstrate your having read and thought about specific syllabus materials. I will make suggestions orally or by hand-out as to how to proceed with these at least one class in advance of each due-date. It is your responsibility if you are going to miss that class to contact your instructor, TA, or a fellow student about the assignment.

  2. Take-home Essay “Exams”
    Two essay “exams” allow you to focus on particular subjects in greater depth, and demand that you practice more polished writing skills. I will supply the questions, and you will either have a choice of topics, or a very broadly framed question that allows you to select materials when answering. I call these “exams” because--although “open book”—they will check your knowledge of syllabus readings and class content. [Exam #1 (3–4 pages) and Exam #2 (5–6 pages)]

  3. Group Research Projects and Presentations
    The class will divide into small groups and each will chose a topic either from a list provided by the instructor or of their own choosing. Division of labor must be negotiated within your group (an exercise in collective action). During Weeks 11–14 each group will make a 20–minute presentation on their findings to the class. This should be a coordinated, collective effort; oral presentations will receive a collective grade (10%).

    Each student will also prepare a written report, about 4 pages long, on their own contribution to the group project. The written reports may be submitted as you choose: either individually for separate grades or as a single work (in chapters) for a collective grade (15%).

There are many possible topics. Off the top of my head, to demonstrate variety, your report could focus on:

  • pollution and clean-up of Lake Onondaga and its religious implications
  • the “earth” and “ecology” in modern rock and folk music
  • eco-terrorism and its religious basis
  • eco-feminism and its religious precepts
  • interviews with campus clergy on how their religions address environmental issues
  • art, nature, and religious perception
  • any particular culture’s environmental attitudes expressed in myth and ritual
  1. Participation
    All students are expected to come to every class prepared to talk about the day’s reading assignment. Spontaneous contributions and questions are encouraged and will contribute to an overall impression of your participation. On designated “discussion session” days I may call on any class members to speak, or just go around the room.

We regret that we are unable to accept late work. It is bad for you and bad for us. No matter what your accumulated points, you cannot pass this course without completing the required assignments.


Notes on Attendance and Participation

To succeed in this course you must come to class. Beginning Thursday Jan 21, we will do our best to keep an accurate written record of student attendance. Each class member is allowed two “no fault” unexcused absences. Beyond that, your participation grade will drop precipitately (no matter how talkative you are when present). Note: The only excused absences are documented medical and family emergencies (or, for participants in athletic programs, prearranged events).

   
Texts

Required Texts
The following books contain the required readings and should be available for purchase at the University and Orange Bookstore. They have also been placed on 2–hour reserve in Bird library.

Brown, Michael. Tsewa’s Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian,1985.

Callenbach, Ernest. Ecotopia. Berkeley, Calif.: Banyan Tree Books, 1975.

Callenbach, Ernest. Ecology: A Pocket Guide. Berkeley, Calif. University of California Press, 1998.

Gottlieb, Roger S. This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. Routledge, 1996.

Johnson-Davies, Denys. The Island of Animals. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Kinsley, David. Ecology and Religion: Ecological Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995.

   
Schedule  

Part 1: Initial Perspectives on Religions and Environments (2wks)

Jan 19

Introduction to the Course

Jan 21

Nature/Religion/Ecology: What are the Important Questions?
(even though we don’t have the answers)

Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, xv-xxii (Intro);
  • Gottlieb, 3–14 (Intro)
  • Callenbach
  • Handbook: 1–3; 34–41; 46–47; 127–30
Assignments Distributed
hand-out for report #1
Jan 26

Where you come from, where you stand, what’s it to you?
Assigned Tasks
Discussion Session 1
Assigned Reading

  • Any three items from Gottlieb, Part I
  • Callenback
  • Handbook, 67–71
Assignments Due
Report 1 due
Jan 28

Spillover from Jan 26
Introduction to Indigenous Religions

Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 22–41
  • Dudley in Gottlieb, 125–30
  • Hughes in Gottlieb, 131–46
  • Mbiti in Gottlieb, 174–80
 

Part 2: Indigenous Religions: Focus on the Americas (3.5 wks)

Feb 2

North America, Conflicting Worldviews in Canada
Video: Power: the James Bay Cree versus Hydro-Quebec (77 min)
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 3–21
Feb 4

North America (continued)
Guest Speaker: Professor Philip Arnold
Department of Religion
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 42–50
Feb 9

North America, Rituals, and Nature
Assigned Task
Discussion Session 2
Assigned Reading

  • Black Elk in Gottlieb, 470–79
  • Medicine Eagle in Gottlieb, 386–89
Assignments Due
Report 2 due
Feb 11

Amazonia, Introduction
Assigned Reading

  • Brown, chs 1–2
Assignments Due
Take-home essay questions #1 distributed
Feb 16

Amazonian Mythology
Assigned Reading

  • Brown, chs 3–4
Video: Watunna (24 min)
Feb 18

Amazonia, Activism
Assigned Reading

  • Brown, chs 5–6
Video: The Kayapo: Out of the Forest (52 min)
Feb 23

Africa: “On the Slopes of the Sacred Mountain”
Guest Speaker: Professor Peter Castro
Department of Anthropology

Assignments Due
Take-home essay questions # 1 due

 

Part 3: Asian Contexts: Focus on Hinduism (2.5 wks)

Feb 25

Introduction to Hinduism and its Views of the Natural World
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 53–67
Mar 2

Hinduism, Textual Traditions and Local Knowledge
Assigned Reading

  • Henderson and Oakes in Gottlieb, 55–59
  • Shiva in Gottlieb, 382–85
Slides
Mar 4

Hindu Values and Environmental Realities:
Religion and Activism

Assigned Reading

  • Dwivedi in Gottlieb, 151–63
  • Sharma in Gottlieb, 558–64
  • Sullivan in Gottlieb, 565–71
Video: TBA (A Narmada Diary or Kaise Jibo Re)
Mar 9

Varieties of Environmental Activism in India
Other Asian Traditions (begin)

Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 68–83
Assigned Tasks
preliminary organization for group projects
Mar 11

Buddhism
Assigned Tasks
Discussion Session 3
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 84–98
  • Kabilisingh in Gottlieb, 147–50
  • Hanh in Gottlieb, 449–50
  • Kraft in Gottlieb, 484–98
Assignments Due
Report 3 due

Mar 14–20 Spring Break

 

Part 4: Western Religions: Dominion vs Stewardship:
Ecotheologies, Spiritual, and Radical Ecologies

Mar 23

Western Religions and Environmental Issues:
An Overview

Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 101–124
  • Swartz in Gottlieb, 87–103
  • White in Gottlieb, 184–93
Mar 25

Disenchanted vs Spiritualized Nature
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 125–58
Mar 30

Contemporary Efforts to Re-Envision the Environment: Ecotheology
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 161–83
  • Pope John Paul in Gottlieb, 230–37
  • McFague, Waskow, and Green in Gottlieb, 286–302
  • Walker in Gottlieb, 309–19
Apr 1

Contemporary Efforts to Re-Envision the Environment:Ecofeminism (continued)
Assigned Tasks
Discussion Session 4
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 203–209
  • Ruether in Gottlieb, 322–33
  • Riley, Griffin, and Allen in Gottlieb, 346–68
  • Williams and Adams in Gottlieb, 390–401
Assignments Due
Report 4 due
Student presentations to be scheduled during weeks 11, 12, 13, 14 (all written reports due on May 4)
Apr 6

Contemporary Efforts to Re-Envision the Environment: Deep Ecology
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 184–92
  • Part V of Gottlieb, 403–35
Apr 8

Religion and Activism
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 193–202
  • Gottlieb and Spretnak in Gottlieb, 511–36
  • Taylor in Gottlieb, 545–57
Apr 13

Religion and Activism (continued)
Assigned Reading

  • Callenbach in Handbook, 72–74; 122–27
  • Daneel and Ingram in Gottlieb, 572–95
  • Chavis in Gottlieb, 607–10
Apr 15

Religion and Activism (continued)
Assigned Reading

  • Callenbach in Handbook, 60–62
  • Bernstein and Fink in Gottlieb, 451–58
  • Churches in Gottlieb, 480–83
  • Seed; Seed and Macy; Seed and Fleming, Lachecki in Gottlieb, 499–510
  • Principles in Gottlieb, 634–53
 

Part 5: Ecotopias

Apr 20

An Islamic Ecotopia
Assigned Reading

  • Deen in Gottlieb, 164–73
  • Johnson-Davies, Intro, viii-xix/li>
Apr 22

An Islamic Ecotopia
Assigned Tasks
Discussion Session 5
Assigned Reading

  • Johnson-Davies, whole story
Assignments Due
Report 5 due
Apr 27

A North American Ecotopia
Assigned Reading

  • Callenbach, Ecotopia, 1–109
May 4

Concluding Discussion, Organic Sustenance
Assigned Tasks
Evaluations
Assigned Reading

  • Kinsley, 212–32
Assignments Distributed
Take-home essay questions #2
May 10

Take-Home Essay #2 Due

 

 

Copyright © 1999 Ann Grodzins Gold
Reprinted with permission
The author retains all copyrights for all syllabi materials
Please contact each author individually for reprint rights