World Religions and the Environment

Developed for the undergraduate Honors Program, University of Washington, 2008

Syllabus: pdf

Course announcement: This course will explore intersections between religious belief and practice and the natural world, on both grand and intimate scales. Grand like the all-encompassing vision of interconnectedness in Mahayana Buddhism, or the message of glory and salvation John Muir brought down from the Sierra mountains, or the quiet ferocity of the lords of the undersea world in Haida mythology. Intimate like the ethical dilemma posed by mosquitoes in a zen center in the woods, the poet Gary Snyder’s reflections on Grace before meals, or the message of “creation care” spreading among contemporary evangelical congregations.

We will discuss the debate over whether the biblical tradition is the root cause of our environmental crisis, the solution to the crisis, or both; how religious belief shapes current environmental activism in Seattle, Thailand, and beyond; and parallels between religious thought and the “deep ecology” of naturalists like Aldo Leopold. The course will be driven by student discussion, writing, and close reading of compelling primary texts.