Frederica Helmiere ’10 M.A.R.
B.A. Dartmouth College 2004
For many years I’ve been privileged by school systems that honor explorations into unconventional realms, and Yale is no exception. The joint degree program at Yale between the Divinity school and the school of Forestry & Environmental Studies held an enormous appeal for me as I explored graduate programs, and its existence is a tribute to the progressive vision of both schools.
For me, the twin fascinations of religion and ecology politely retained their separate spheres for many years, developing independently and exclusively. It was not until my college years at Dartmouth that the boundaries of these distinct arenas slowly dissolved, and my religious, environmental and academic interests merged together. After college I spent some time serving as an environmental education volunteer in the Peace Corps and quickly learned that religion and ecology require a third, crucial component: that of justice. As the ethical dimensions of the environmental crisis are becoming more evident, YDS has helped me understand that experiencing solidarity with a ravaged earth is a logical extension of experiencing solidarity with the oppressed. A strong component of the environmental movement, albeit often disguised, is an economic and social justice critique, and I’ve often been able to incorporate this approach to classroom discussions and papers at YDS.
My experience at Yale has also been shaped by the Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE)—an interreligious project that explores religious worldviews, ethics, texts and practices in order to further understand the complexities of the current environmental crisis. As a joint-degree student with Forestry, I often had the opportunity and the responsibility to represent under-acknowledged voices in conversations at both schools. Several cross-listed classes between Forestry and Divinity facilitate this kind of dialogue, such as Environmental Ethics, Asian Religions & Ecology, and Environmental Theologies. In my final semester I had the opportunity to pursue an independent reading course with Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founder of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and thoroughly explore the works of theologians from various nationalities, denominations and social locations that speak compellingly to the environmental crisis.
The Divinity school community is becoming increasingly aware that environmental issues are multifaceted. They are race issues, gender issues, class issues, public health issues, and issues of peace and war—and furthermore, the Christian tradition has a great deal to contribute in addressing what many believe is the most pressing concern of our time. I leave YDS now with a firm belief that the religions of the world can help provide the vitally necessary macrophase wisdom to correspond to the macrophase changes the earth is experiencing—but adaptation and reinterpretation of some doctrines and traditions will need to be an important part of this contribution.
Some good friends, a couple who run the Catholic Worker house in New Haven, told me recently that these two masters degrees don’t belong to me—they belong to the communities that I hope to serve as I go forth from here. I plan to move to Seattle and pursue not-for-profit work that incorporates issues of ecology, spirituality, and international development with an eye toward addressing systemic injustices. And I plan to seek out the divine in the Cascade Mountains every chance I get.