First Online Courses in Religion and Ecology

Across the world, the ecological and policy implications of climate change become more obvious with each passing year. But Professors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim of Yale Divinity School and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) suggest that for the global community to adequately respond to the crisis it has to recognize another key element: Climate change is also a moral and social justice issue.

As communities worldwide face the consequences of rising seas, drought, and food shortages, religious leaders are adding their voices to the climate discussion. Indeed, these leaders are increasingly speaking on a range of environmental issues, from biodiversity loss to deforestation to toxic pollution.
The study of how religious traditions interact with the natural world — and how these communities can play a greater role in environmental stewardship — is a field that Tucker and Grim have helped develop for more than two decades in the classroom and through the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.

Course Schedule

Introduction to Religion and Ecology
January-March 2016

This course introduces the newly emerging field of religion and ecology amid the broader emergence of environmental humanities. It does so by exploring human relations to the natural world as differentiated in religious and cultural traditions, religious cosmologies, and religious ecologies.

Western Religions and Ecology
March-May 2016

This course introduces the Western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in relation to the emerging field of religion and ecology. To do so, it investigates theological concepts, on-the-ground environmental projects, religious texts, and more to highlight the ecological implications of these traditions in the contemporary period.

This spring, they will introduce this emerging field to the world of online education, offering a “blended learning” version of two of their courses.

During the spring semester, they will offer the introductory course and East Asian Religions and Ecology. Over the next three years they will also teach online courses in South Asian Religions, Indigenous Religions, and Native American Religions and Ecology. The Introduction to Religion and Ecology class is a prerequisite for all the other courses.
“What religions can contribute is long-term and sustained change,” said Tucker. “The values that people hold are very complex — and certainly debatable — but can actually lead to change in behavior and policy. We saw that during the Civil Rights movement and with the transformations in India due to Gandhi.
Grim added: “We recognize that religions can be problematic. However, religion and cultural values are among the factors that need to be part of the conversation, along with science and policy, in leading to a sustainable future.”
Tucker and Grim direct the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale and are senior lecturers and senior researchers at YDS and F&ES. They have coordinated many conferences on this topic, edited a ten-volume series, and published a new book, Ecology and Religion, with Island Press. They teach in the joint program between F&ES and Yale Divinity School.

Religion and cultural values are among the factors that need to be part of the conversation, along with science and policy, in leading to a sustainable future.

— John Grim

The online courses will initially be open only to Yale students for two credits each. Eventually the professors intend to make them available for a wider audience.

Tucker says the six-week courses, which will be introduced over the next three years, are uniquely suited for an online format. The curriculum explores the scriptural resources and ecological understandings of religious communities worldwide, from the major religions to local indigenous traditions.
The digital format will enable the instructors to incorporate interviews, videos, and other multimedia resources that are difficult to utilize in a traditional classroom setting.
While the main lectures will be viewable each week during the course, students will also be able to meet for discussion once a week with the instructors.
“So many students are studying ecological issues, but the science can sometimes be difficult to translate into policy,” said Matthew Riley (YDS MAR ‘08), the Online Education Specialist in Religion and Ecology at F&ES. “Students are seeking ways to engage with communities across the globe, and courses like these provide them with the knowledge, skills, and cultural literacy necessary to communicate environmental values.”

Note: Kevin Dennehy, Communications Officer at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, wrote this article, which originally appeared here.  He may be reached at, 203 436-4842.