Thursday, October 16, 2008

U of I faculty, local Christian leaders engage environmental issues from complementary perspectives

U of I faculty, local Christian leaders engage environmental issues from complementary perspectives

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I may be wrong, but I’m hopeful that most people meet news about the multiple and far-reaching environmental crises taking shape around the world today with the same sort of questions that occur when they encounter a minor car crash or some other day-to-day catastrophe--questions like, “What’s the damage?” “How did this happen?” “What can I do to help?” and “What should I do?”

When people ask such questions about environmental issues, it’s natural to look to university research for answers about the extent and causes of problems. Scientific study documents well catastrophes such as climate change and species loss, and it provides sophisticated models of what the future holds under varying sets of conditions. But when people wonder about what their obligations are in the face of environmental crises, they are apt to seek guidance in religion. As Robert McKim, head of the Department of Religion at the University of Illinois says, “Most people within a hundred miles of Champaign-Urbana are more likely to be influenced by what their churches say than by what academics say.”

With that thought in mind, McKim and a like-minded group of UI faculty from wide range of disciplines have this year launched an ongoing, extracurricular effort called the STEWARDship (Sustaining The Earth With Allied Religious Denominations) workshop. Its mission is to “bring together scientists, Christian leaders, ethicists, environmentalists, and scholars of religion with a view to sharing resources, and to promoting reflection, mutual understanding, and concern regarding our environmental responsibilities.” They have been joined in this effort by Ken Cuffey, president of the Urbana Theological Seminary, and Ken Howell, director of the Institute of Catholic Thought at the St. John’s Newman Center on campus.

The first event conducted by the STEWARDship workshop took place this past June. It was a small conference on campus that brought together interested U of I faculty with leaders from churches in and around Champaign-Urbana, and it focused specifically on Christianity and stewardship of the earth.

The STEWARDship Workshop will host its second event, which is free and open to all later this month, on Saturday, October 25. This event will consist of a morning of presentations and discussion about some of the ways Christianity speaks to the environmental implications of contemporary American modes of living. Speakers will include three professors from the University of Illinois. Jeff Brawn, who is an ornithologist with broad expertise in ecology, will talk about the consequences for biodiversity of ever-increasing human demands for land and energy. Paul McNamara, who is a professor of consumer and family economics, will address the issue of how churches can help their members move toward sustainable lifestyles with a better understanding of the economics of consumption. And U of I Professor of law Eric Freyfogle will speak on the impediments to collective action that hamper our ability to deal with all manner of problems.

Each of these half-hour talks will be followed by an equal amount of time for discussion, so this really is designed to be a participatory event rather than a morning of lecture. The workshop will be held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church at 1700 Crescent Drive in Champaign, and last from 9:00 a.m. until noon. Details are available at