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NATURA

(NAH-TOOR'-AH)

Earth-Spirit-Psyche

Co-Directors: Dr. Will Adams, Psychology & Dr. Daniel Scheid, Theology

Picture coming soon.

Themes and Foci

Mass extinction of species, climate disruption, water shortages, poisoned air and water: these devastating phenomena are evident in our hometowns and around the world. Also evident is detrimental impact on our physical health. Less evident, but equally perilous, is the psycho-spiritual trauma of losing our conscious relational contact with Earth's beings and presences. Clearly, our ecological crisis is not only a biological crisis, but more deeply a crisis of consciousness, culture, spirituality, and relationship - all key area of expertise for psychology and theology. Thus, the relatively new fields of ecopsychology and ecospirituality are contributing to an interdisciplinary "psycho-cultural therapy" devoted to well-being and justice for humans and the rest of nature together. This is "the great work" of our era (as Thomas Berry says). This profound ethical calling is the context for the present learning community, which seeks to foster compassion, respect, and care for diverse local and global civic issues, thereby supporting the University's Spiritan commitment to social and ecological justice.

By the end of the semester, students in the NATURA learning community should be able to:

  • Describe how human flourishing and the flourishing of nature are interdependent. And so too our lack of flourishing. Note: Flourishing, for the purposes of these courses, involves physical, psychological, socio-cultural, ecological, and spiritual dimensions.
  •  Describe key characteristics of humankind's conflicted relationship with the rest of nature.
  •  Describe how one's sense of self and mode of consciousness can foster either estrangement from or responsible intimacy with the natural world, and how the health of humankind and the natural world are influenced accordingly.
  •  Describe how conventional dualistic separations generate ecopsychological and spiritual maladies (e.g., mind/body, self/world, humankind/nature, masculine/feminine, matter/spirit); and go on to articulate ways of overcoming these common forms of dissociation.
  • Describe the interrelationship between personal and collective/cultural values and practices, specifically as these relate to the ecological flourishing and justice.
  • Articulate the value of consistent, intentional, and conscious contact with the rest of nature. 
  •  Describe various contemplative and spiritual practices designed to sponsor the mutual flourishing of humankind and the rest of nature.
  •  Make this course personally relevant in their daily life and relationships, their participation with their community and the larger natural world, and their preparation for future professional work and/or graduate school.

LEARNING

Psychology and Nature (PSYC 275C - TR 10:50-12:05pm), Dr. Will Adams, Psychology

Together we will explore the psychological dimensions of humankind's relationship with the rest of nature, and the ecological dimensions of human psychology. Well being and justice for humans and for the rest of nature co-arise in concert, in a mutually dependent relationship.
Note: This course is currently being considered, and will almost certainly be approved, as a University Core Theme Area in Social Justice.

Religion and Ecology (THEO 248C - MWF 11:00-11:50am), Dr. Daniel Scheid, Theology

This course explores: what certain religious traditions have to say about humankind's relationship with the rest of creation; how we should understand the importance of "nature" for humanity and for the divine; how nature is integral to understanding the spiritual dimension of the human person; and how religious and spiritual practices might foster the mutual flourishing of humankind and the rest of nature. This course is currently being considered, and will almost certainly be approved, as a University Core Theme Area in Faith and Reason.

Thinking & Writing across the Curriculum (UCOR 101C TR 9:25-10:40am), Greg Specter, English

Humans aren't alone in their ability to communicate. However, the ability of humans to write and speak using language represents an important difference between us and the rest of the natural world. The ability to write and to speak allows us (perhaps even demands us) to give voice to the environmental plight affecting animals, plants, and every facet of the natural world. In contemplating the nature, our ability to communicate, especially through writing and the rhetorical choices we make, provides a powerful way of understanding our conception of the natural world around us. Through writing and reading (both words and the world around us) we can come to a better understanding of plants, animals, and the active forces, both natural and manmade, affecting our world. As our world experiences drastic and often dire change, our ability to understand nature through the written word and the spoken word has become increasingly important. Our course will aid us in understanding the natural world around us rhetorically, while providing the skills necessary for entering, and succeeding in, the complex world of academic writing.

Community-Engaged Learning

The NATURA learning community will seek Community-Engaged certification through partnerships with the Thomas Merton Center, partnerships with the TERRA learning community, and possibly the Heinz History Center. These will include: a class workshop at an off-site location; inviting community representatives in to discuss their work; and engagement on one civic issue.

Co-curricular Activities

We will require students to attend four co-curricular activities (beyond Community-Engaged learning activities taking place during ENGL 112 and UCOR 152 in the fall semester, listed below under "Proposed Schedule of Integrated Assignments" [*CEL]). These include:

• The Integrity of Creation Conference (9/30-10/2): integrated w/ UCOR 152
• An off-campus, experiential ecopsychology/ecospirituality workshop in a local natural area.
• A tour of Duquesne's Energy facility: integrated with UCOR 152 and TERRA