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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

World Parliament of Religions, I: Transformative Theology and a Green Seminary

World Parliament of Religions, I: Transformative Theology and a Green Seminary

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, October 15, 2015/Categories: sustainability, art and design, environment

                  Drew University College of Theology   (credit: Drew University)

The shoots of a novel religious studies initiative are emerging as an effort to protect nature and the environment. Attending the  Parliament of World Religions  are 10,000 people representing 80 nations, and 50 faiths
traditions offering their positions on social justice, women's rights, the poor, and environmental protection. A declaration on  climate change  will be one of the key outcomes of this interfaith congress now in progress in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On the sidelines of the general conference, an exhibition zone provides opportunities to chat with representatives of attending organizations in a less formal atmosphere than the lecture halls. The topics presented at the exhibits are as diverse as the attendees themselves. Drew University is one school pioneering a series of educational initiatives to train future religious leaders. The university's  Theological School  trains graduate students to understand the world's complexities and interconnections and who have a greater appreciation of beliefs, cultures, and experiences beyond their own.

                     Rev. Stephen Wolma and Kevin Miller, Drew Theological School  (credit: Riled Up)

Drew University was founded in New Jersey by Methodists in 1867 shortly after the Civil War in New Jersey. The university has a prominent  Theological College   that accepts ~80 students into its Masters of Divinity program and ~8 PhD candidates yearly. The Rev. Stephen Wolma of the school noted: 

"as part of a student's theological training, our school has an emerging program aiming to create a multidisciplinary transformative theology. The goal is to develop graduates with an understanding of social justice, ecumenism, and the integrity of nature as part of their cultural values".

Environmental science and its technological information based in physics, chemistry, and biology aren't traditional topics for religious instruction. However, a broad understanding of the basic "facts of life", and how they can be sustained, will be required by future pastors, rabbis, and preachers when discussing the environment, climate change, and nature stewardship with their congregations. A  transformative theology  is a novel approach to this issue of re-imagining the training of an academic discipline that produces the practitioners most in touch with a broad public such as theologians.

Rev. Wolma continued: "the goal of our transformative theology is to provide a spiritual and worldly dimension in the real world. Raising awareness about the environment and climate change is part of our still evolving new educational initiative."

One specific outcome of this program has been the creation of the  Green Seminary Initiative   hosted at the college which has become now a network of similar "green" programs at other theological schools. One of the principal scholars involved in pioneering both the Green Seminary and the Transformative Theology has been  Laurel Kearns of the theological school. Besides her teaching responsibilities, Dr. Kearns applies her environmental philosophy in action by chairing the Sustainability Committees of both Drew University and the American Academy of Religion,and recently presented Drew's new innovative theological efforts at a conference hosted by the Harvard Divinity School on: Changing the Religious Climate .Her speech on religion and the environment is here:

Internationally recognized spiritual leaders like Pope Francis and HH the Dalai Lama have spoken often and widely on environmental stewardship and sustainability. Their voices are very important but it will be cutting-edge religious educational initiatives like Drew's Theological School and others where these important messages will be spread to a broader religious and non-religious audience on a contining basis.


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