Inside the Classroom: Earth Spirituality & Justice

Written by SA-Worker18 student
November 24, 2015

In Pope Francis's new encyclical Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home he calls for new creative partnerships to come up with creative solutions for the environmental, social, and economic issues challenging our modern world. Beginning this fall quarter, faculty, staff and students from across the Seattle University campus have joined together in a new class that breaks the mold, becoming a place for students to weigh diverse perspectives on some of today's most pressing concerns.

Hosted in Hunthausen Hall, "Earth Spirituality & Justice" (THRS 3910-02/STM 5910-02) is a team-taught course in which faculty and students discuss Laudato Si' and its implications for our world today. What makes this course unique is that the faculty come from different departments across campus: Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture Director Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos; Psychology Professor and Chair of Catholic Studies Le Xuan Hy; Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Theology and Ministry Faustino Cruz; and Campus Ministry for Liturgy Bob Stephan, S.J.

Similarly, students are represented across the spectrum: undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and people auditing for professional development. Professor Cruz is finding the multidisciplinary and inter-generational class to be refreshing. "We are always trying to be normative," he said. "Why not have undergraduate and graduate students in the same class? For me, there's no going back."

To engage with scholarship and discussions beyond the classroom, students also attend the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture's Catholic Heritage Lectures, tying the encyclical to questions of water access, indigenous peoples' rights, cosmology, ecological sin, and globalism. The Fall Quarter lecture featured Sister Illa Delio, O.S.F. With doctorates in pharmacology and historical theology, Sister Delio could not be better situated to explore the topic of climate change from a perspective that takes account of both faith and science (read more about Sister Dellio's visit in The Commons / Seattle U Faculty & Staff News). 

In addition to the lecture and gatherings, Sister Dellio visited the Earth Spirituality & Justice class. In speaking to the class about the encyclical, she said the pope is reminding us that "personhood and planet go together," adding that "the people most affected by climate change are the poor." Students were fortunate to spend an hour with Sister Dellio, engaging in discussion and questions about the previous night's lecture, her books, and her theories on the future of environmental issues. Pictured left: Tito Cruz, Sister Dellio, Bob Stephan and Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos.

Based on class discussions, the Catholic Heritage Lecture, and Sister Dellio's visit, students in the course were asked to develop a final project that highlighted an issue or area of interest within Laudato Si'. The result was a diverse as the students, some examples include: how the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius can be practiced from a theological lens; how indigenous cultures' practices align with some of the main principles of Laudato Si'; how people from the disciplines of science and religion can meaningfully dialogue; and how the "Fast Fashion" industry is a significant environmental concern, just to name a few!

Earth Spirituality & Justice is offered again this Winter and Spring quarters on Friday afternoons from 1:30-2:30pm. The course is open to new students as well as alumni and community members for audit. Below are some thoughts from current students on the meaningful impact the course has had. Please also visit the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture?s website for more student reflections and upcoming events, including the winter quarter Catholic Heritage Lecture.

"The course inspired me to change not only the way I approach religious dialogue, but also renewed my sense of oneness between all humans and the earth. I now confidently approach environmental and political differences with an open heart, and have begun to create ways we can heal the planet by healing ourselves."

Ashley Haynes-Gibson, Class of 2016, Psychology

"This course has inspired me to change my life in big ways, illustrating the tangible and concrete ways in which all things are profoundly connected, the ways individual small actions interact with the world, and the ways technology can interfere with that interaction. As a result, I've made a move to being more conscious of the ways that I use digital technology, with an aim of lessening my dependence upon it and perhaps inspiring others to desire the same."

Fred Seymour, Class of 2018, Interdisciplinary Arts, Music Emphasis

"Through class dialogue and individual projects, the themes of Laudato Si? have come alive. This course ? with its diverse population of students and faculty ? has engaged with this topic in such amazing and personal ways. I believe for there to be change in the way humans treat the planet, we need to first have a deep personal connection to our environment and the people in it. This course reflects how transformation can begin on an individual level and I look forward to the upcoming courses."

Jessica Palmer, Class of 2016, Transformational Leadership