Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion Curriculum
Select Course Descriptions
PARP 6110: Cosmological Powers (3 units) Brian Thomas Swimme
The universe uses a variety of processes, laws, and powers, such as the electromagnetic interaction, the second law of thermodynamics, and gravity. These are the fundamental activities of the universe that have given rise to all the complex beings throughout 14 billion years of evolution. The human being, from this perspective, is a new, holistic blending of these processes and powers. This course examines the way in which humanity can be understood as a "hominized" form of cosmological processes.
PARP 6315: The Epic of the Universe (3 units) Brian Thomas Swimme
This course covers the central ideas and discoveries of the evolution of the universe. This empirically based narrative is a cosmological epic, an account of how things came to be and of how the human fits into the cosmos. The importance of a new, transcultural epic is difficult to overestimate, for this is a story with relevance for peoples throughout the planet and can serve as the basis for a single, multivalent human community. The focus here is on the early parts of the universe, the birth of the cosmos, the development of galaxies, and the origin and development of stars.
PARP 6473: Hill of the Hawk I (1 unit) Elizabeth Allison and Heather Lanier
What does it mean to participate as conscious, responsible, ethical human beings in food production and consumption, individually and collectively? What is our responsibility, as citizens of planet Earth, to beings who give their lives for our nourishment? How do we ethically, philosophically understand the intimate relationships that we enter into when we consume food? This course does not suggest that there is a single correct answer, but that it behooves each of us, as citizens of Earth, to consider this question. Experiencing the land for a weekend at Hill of the Hawk Farm, an inspiring family farm in Big Sur, will allow us to participate in the agro-ecological rhythms of rural farm life during the harvest season. During the weekend, hands-on farm work and food preparation; instruction in Spacial Dynamics®; and reading and reflection on texts by leading thinkers on food and farming, will allow us to consider, in practice and theory, our roles in the larger Bay/ Delta bioregion as consumers, and, to a lesser and individual degree, producers, of food.
PARP 6522: Science, Ecology and Contested Knowledge(s) (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
To understand the current ecological crisis, we need to investigate the ontological and epistemological foundations of our knowledge about the environment. The science of ecology, in its social and biophysical permutations, is a dominant way of understanding the natural environment. Examining the social construction of scientific and ecological knowledge will shed light on how we know and what we know about the natural environment.
In this course, we will critically examine the social construction of scientific and ecological knowledge, coming to see Western scientific knowledge as a particular cultural phenomenon. We will examine countervailing epistemological understandings, such as situated knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge, which challenge the idea of a dispassionate and omniscient scientific viewpoint. We will investigate the compatibility of religious and spiritual insights with ecological knowledge. Applying feminist and non-Western epistemologies to environmental issues, we will seek to generate alternative ways of understanding ecological crises, which may, in turn, generate healing alternatives.
PARP 6523: Environmental Ethics (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
This course surveys ethical approaches to the natural environment, with particular focus on the American context. We will trace the ways that the natural environment has been theorized over time, and the ethical approaches that derive from various views of the natural environment. The goal of the course is for students to construct, articulate, and argue for their own theoretically rigorous environmental ethics.
PARP 6525: Toward an Integral Ecological Consciousness (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
The scale of the global ecological crisis requires the development of new understandings of the human-Earth relationship. This course introduces transdisciplinary approaches that broaden and deepen the study of ecology. Following a review of the state of the Earth and human participation in planetary well-being, lectures and discussion engage such topics as deep ecology, social ecology and green politics, ecofeminism, environmental justice, political ecology, and the relation of ecology to religion and spirituality. Embodied practices guide students in cultivating a personal relationship with nonhuman beings and the living Earth.
PARP 6532: Christianity and Ecology (3 units) Jacob Sherman
What is the relationship between Christianity and ecology? How have various aspects of Christian thought and theology contributed to the present ecological crisis? In what ways might Christian thought and practice help to heal our present crisis? By focusing both on the scriptural, theological, and spiritual background as well as on recent articles and monographs, this course seeks to provide students with an introduction to the way that Christian thinkers have responded to the current concern over the human relationship to the Creation in order to come to a fuller understanding of some of the spiritual, philosophical, social and economic forces which have shaped that relationship and to re-imagine how the Christian wisdom tradition might contribute to answering the pressing ecological concerns of our time.
PARP 6533: Touch the Earth: Practicum Seminar (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
Upon learning about the multiple and interlocking crises facing the Earth community, including mass extinction, global climate change, freshwater depletion, and forest destruction, many students ask "But what can I do?" This course is dedicated to providing the tools and support for you to answer that question in the way most harmonious with your own unique gifts. During the spring semester, students complete 100 hours of service at a community organization, and will meet five times as a group to discuss their field work and their insights about the implementation of ecological theory and practice in the larger San Francisco Bay Area community.
PARP 6120: Cosmology of Literature (3 units) Brian Thomas Swimme
Poets, novelists, and writers of epic literature are among our finest philosophers, for they present penetrating metaphysical principles within the dramatic and concrete actions of particular characters in context. This course is a journey through Earth's literary cosmologies, stretching from the earliest epics to the literature of the 21st century.
PARP 6563: Buddhism and Ecology (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
What wisdom can a 2500-year-old tradition offer in the context of contemporary environmental devastation? Does Buddhist compassion for all sentient beings lead to a harmonious environmental ethic? What emotional and spiritual resources does Buddhism offer to activists? Are Buddhism and activism mutually incoherent?
In the search more ecologically sustainable worldviews, some have suggested that Buddhism offers a positive alternative to destructive aspects of the Western worldview. Others claim that the association of Buddhism with ecology is based on strategic geo-political positioning, or on facile assumptions about Asian traditions. In this course, we will examine Buddhist perspectives on nature, along with Buddhist responses to Asian and global environmental issues. We begin with historical texts that frame the Buddhist perspective on nature. We examine Buddhist foundations for ecological thought, the role of Buddhism in the development of the American environmental movement, and challenges in reconciling Buddhist positions with modern science. Works by Buddhist leaders and scholars, including the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sulak Sivaraksa, Joanna Macy, and poet Gary Snyder illuminate the role of modern Buddhism in environmental discourse.
PAR 6071: Philosophy and Ecology: Towards a Green Metaphysics, Phenomenology, and Epistemology (3 units) Jacob Sherman
The purpose of this course is both to introduce and to deepen student's awareness of important work within the growing field of environmental philosophy. Although environmental philosophy is sometimes treated as if it were reducible to environmental ethics, the questions raised by the ecological crisis go beyond the merely ethical and prompt us to consider many of our deepest philosophical accounts and commitments. Throughout this course, students engage with the way a diverse set of environmental philosophers have sought to employ and sometimes to revise metaphysical, phenomenological, and epistemological issues in the light of green concerns. The course begins by considering the historical background to the emergence of environmental philosophy and then moves on to consider the state of the field in recent decades. Works emerging from within analytic, continental, and process/pragmatist traditions are considered, as are key works from within the philosophical sides of both deep ecology and ecofeminism.
PAR 6078: Theory and Method in the Integrative Study of Religion and Ecology (3 units) Elizabeth Allison and Jacob Sherman
Scholarship that crosses disciplinary boundaries requires a unique set of tool and strategies. This course is devoted to exploring theoretical and methodological lenses that allow rigorous, imaginative, and sympathetic engagement with interlocutors from the diverse fields represented in the Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion concentration. Following a historical and critical introduction to the field of Religion and Ecology, we investigate a range of methodological approaches, and conclude with the application of these approaches to specific ecological case studies.
PARP 6079: Ecology in a Time of Planetary Crisis (3 units) Elizabeth Allison
Ecology is the study of the oikos, Greek for household or home. What does it mean, existentially, to find that our home, Earth, is under threat as a result of human actions? This course provides a broad overview of the human imbrication in planetary systems. Beginning with an exploration of the patterns and processes identified by ecological science, such as emergence, chaos, competition, cooperation, and self-organization, we broaden into an examination of critical planetary issues, including climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, fresh water depletion, agriculture, fisheries collapse, and globalization. Framings of ecological issues are placed in dialogue with religious and spiritual views, allowing students to discuss the complex interconnected ways that worldviews, biophysical science, institutions, ethics and justice have shaped the current state of the Earth.
PARP 7701: Master's Integrative Seminar (2 units) Elizabeth Allison
The purpose of this course is to help you discover what you have learned during your time at CIIS: you will re-cover both the content of the knowledge you have gained, and your process of knowing - the sources of your epistemology. In this course, you will reflect upon your work and journey through the program and create several culminating projects designed to help you summarize, integrate, and refine your knowledge and experience to prepare for life after graduation. Through review of subjects and texts studied, and reflection upon classroom and community experiences, you will draw together an integrated and integral conclusion to your education. As process and product of this work, you will 1) write a final paper that synthesizes the various strands of your research and development, and 2) give a final presentation to an assembly of faculty, students, and invited guests on the last day of the course.
PARP 6407: Biography and Karma (3 units) Robert McDermott
This course will join the study of karma to the biographies and autobiographies of individuals who were influential in the 20th century and whose lives reveal an ideal blend of thinking, writing, spiritual striving, and activism. The class will attempt to find critical destiny moments in the lives of each individual studied. The final paper will be a 30-page spiritual-intellectual autobiography.
PARP 6403: Spirit and Nature (3 units) Sean Kelly and Robert McDermott
This course explores the application to nature of an anthroposophical worldview and practice. It is situated within the broadly Romantic tradition and esoteric research advanced by Goethe and Emerson in the 19th century and by Rudolf Steiner and his followers in the 20th century. It includes a study of the Aristotle-Aquinas-Steiner tradition, Steiner's spiritual ecology, Pogacnik's esoteric Gaia research, Zoeteman's Gaiasophy, and Steiner's directions for Bio-dynamic farming. The course will include a visit to one or more Bio-dynamic farms and one or more guest classes by Bio-dynamic gardeners or farmers.
PARE 6292: Next of Kin: Perspectives on Animal Ethics and Biodiversity (3 units)
Ancient spiritual wisdom and contemporary scientific findings both refute Descartes' assertion that nonhuman animals are automatons devoid of consciousness or feeling. Nonetheless, the view of animals as machines undergirds many of our modern practices, such as factory farming and animal experimentation. Beyond practices that impose harm on particular animals, human misapprehension of interconnection has allowed the reduction of the richness and diversity of other forms of life. This accelerating biodiversity loss has been identified as a scientific problem of great urgency. Nonhuman and human life are inextricably interdependent. Interdependence includes the profound influence of diverse life on human systems of thought, including aesthetics, symbolism, communication, and spirituality. How can we expand our philosophical frameworks to encompass the interrelationships among humans, animals, and the biosphere? How can we extend frameworks of justice to include nonhuman beings? What is the relationship between sexism, racism, and "speciesism"? How can we better align our spiritual, philosophical, and ecological wisdom with our actual practices toward other species?
PAR 6081: Awakening to the World - Buddhist Explorations of Inner and Outer Landscapes (3 units) Anne Teich
Being in this world at this time calls for extraordinary courage, compassion, and wisdom. The temptation to despair, to give up the vital impulse to seek meaning and fulfillment, is strong. This course will explore from the Buddhist perspective the material and spiritual forces which have shaped us and which continue to offer possibilities of a positive response. Drawing on primary and secondary sources in the Buddhist traditions, the course will investigate traditional practices of personal transformation with the aim of creating well-being for communities. This course will have a strong experiential component: there will be meditation sessions in the tradition of mindfulness-insight in each class with a two-day meditation retreat at the end of the semester.