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Ways of Understanding Religion: Climate Change, Religion, and Our Common Home (Robinson-Bertoni)


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Course Title

Ways of Understanding Religion: Climate Change, Religion, and Our Common Home


Sarah Robinson-Bertoni
Santa Clara University


Religious Studies

Subject(s) Religion and Ecology

This version of the Ways of Understanding Religion course navigates the form, function, and experience of religions together with environmental and social justice concerns. Students will describe, compare, critique, and reflect on contemporary religious contexts, such as Indigenous, Womanist Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, and Muslim with geographical reach in North America, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. To study religion in scholarly ways, course readings, lectures, and discussions will incorporate sociology, anthropology, history, theology, psychology, and interdisciplinary methods. To further understand environmental and social justice dimensions in religion, we will read about religion in relation to science, climate change, food, poverty, nature, ecofeminism, and environmental ethics. These lenses will provide frameworks for discussing the relevance of religion in contemporary life in the U.S. and globally, and to distinguish between “metaphysical and empirical ways of knowing,”1 and related activities. The course assists students in developing courteous critique and constructive reflection about the complex, particular ways people engage in religious meaning, worldviews, and lifeways. Further analytical tools include comparative and cross-cultural studies, ethics, feminism, film, food studies, journalism, and religion and the arts, which prove helpful for discussing, for example, pluralism, authenticity, solidarity, diversity, integral ecology, and sustainability. Course grades will be assessed through regular quizzes and reflection papers, periodic exams and a course project on a local community displaying religiosity, for which students will study and practice qualitative research techniques. This course tests two notions from Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home:

We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. Laudato Si, 52.

These [lukewarm environmental] achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity, and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love. Laudato Si, 58.


See PDF here.