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Faith and the Environment Meet at YDS

A joint meeting between the advisory boards of the Divinity and Forestry Schools concluded April 21, 2006 with a broad-ranging discussion of the practical need and moral necessity of deeper cooperation between believers and environmentalists. The two-day meeting, the first time the boards had convened together, was designed to inspire and inform the schools' leadership, charting common ground and challenges.

"Our two schools are growing closer," says Dean Gus Speth of the Yale School for Forestry and Environmental Studies, citing a similar, four-day conference in 2000 and an existing joint degree program. "We are also discussing a joint professorship, which would be nice."

A leading academic in the realm of religion and ecology, Mary Evelyn Tucker, launched the two-day event on Thursday with a personal account of journeying through Japan and Vietnam as a young woman in the early 1970s and being captivated by Eastern faiths'approach to environmental issues. Specifically, she found Confucianism to offer an invaluable alternative to her own faith tradition. "It's a reversal of that Enlightenment legacy of invidualism and rights."

A key catalyst in organizing the Faith and the Environment program was Christopher Sawyer '75 M.Div., an Atlanta lawyer and land conservationist who sits on both the Divinity School's Board of Advisors and the Forestry School's Leadership Council. As someone who straddles both worlds, Sawyer says he is accustomed to skepticism from one group towards the other: "I have found, of course, that not everyone on both sides of the equation shares this sense of opportunity. Perhaps especially on the environmental side, raising the religious opportunity sometimes causes eyes to roll and attention to wander."

Other speakers, too, spoke of the disconnect between the lawyers and scientists who have defined that environmental movement and those disparate religious groups whose energy and talents have yet to be fully tapped. The two-day encounter at Yale underscored the daunting challenge of joining forces effectively, but it also highlighted the two schools' singular opportunity to do so.  "I do think that there is cause for hope," said Mary Evelyn Tucker, "and a significant amount of it lies in this room."

--posted 04-21-06