November 15, 2016, BY Matthew Beltz

​What class? Environmental Residential College Foundation Seminar: Christianity & Sustainability

Who teaches it? Professor Alf Siewers, English

"This course looks at different ways in which sustainability is about quality of life. We use Christianity as a focus in relation to agrarian philosophy, which has Christian roots and sees farming as a way of life that can shape ideal social values, even in urban areas today.​ We explore this in works by different authors, and consider especially the environmental ideas in J.R.R. Tolkien's Christian-inspired fantasy mythology. In the process, we consider how many non-modern cultures around the world viewed the Earth as special and a gift. In this context, we can interpret the biblical idea of dominion in light of stewardship and participation rather than ownership. We also consider the role of story and imagination in shaping cultural landscapes that affect the environment.

"An example of how spirituality ​can affect views of the environment and our footprint on the Earth is the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Native American teaching of the seventh generation — how we should think about the seventh generation to come as well as those that have gone before us, and honor them with our actions and care. Christian ideas of asceticism and aesthetic mindfulness offer ways to reduce our footprint as well, including Amish ideas of living humbly, as seen in the region around Bucknell. We discuss how this relates to other cultures, including Judaism and Jewish scripture, and Buddhist ideas of balance and mindfulness.

"​Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are among the most-read books in modern times. From his own Christian faith and study of medieval literatures, languages, and mythology, Tolkien developed a fantasy world based on themes critical of industrialization and domination of nature. Like his friend and fellow author C.S. Lewis, he sought to apply aspects of traditional spirituality to modern life in ways that could make life and our treatment of nature better. Reading Tolkien and other writers with connections to his work helps us understand ways we can make life meaningful in more ecological ways. Lewis and Tolkien shared personal experience of world war and lived through a time of fascist and communist totalitarianism accompanied by unprecedented environmental destruction, so it's worth considering their influential views.

​"As part of the course, we attend events such as sustainability-themed talks and go on field trips, such as one to the area around Upper Penns Creek. This allows the class to experience rural life in Central Pennsylvania, where Christian spirituality still influences many communities that are deeply rooted in the landscape.

​"The goal is for students to gain a sense of the importance of cultural storytelling and ecological and community identity, and gain mindfulness to environmental concerns and ecology. That can help them in a whole range of life activities, and also in shaping their own life stories in whatever paths they choose. It can also serve to increase their own connectivity with community and put them on the path toward a meaningful and mindful life on Earth."

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