Professor of Religion
James Hormel Professor of Social Justice
I am a Ph.D. graduate of The University of Chicago and Professor in the Department of Religion, and member of the Interpretation Theory and the Environmental Studies Committees, at Swarthmore College. My teaching and research interests focus on the intersections between religious thought, critical theory, Indigenous studies, and postcolonialism. I have authored When God Was a Bird: Christianity, Animism, and the Re-Enchantment of the World (Fordham University Press, 2019), awarded the 2019 Nautilus Gold Award for best book in western religious thought, Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future (Fortress, 2010), Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature (Fortress, 2005), Fragments of the Spirit: Nature, Violence, and the Renewal of Creation (Continuum, 1996; Trinity, 2002), The Second Naïveté: Barth, Ricoeur, and the New Yale Theology (Mercer University Press, 1990, 1995), edited Paul Ricoeur's Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination (Fortress, 1995), and co-edited Curing Violence: Essays on René Girard (Polebridge, 1994). I have been a visiting professor at The University of Pennsylvania and am core faculty for the U.S. State Department's Institutes on Religious Pluralism at Temple University.
My research and writing is an exercise in the emerging field of religion and ecology - a promising new line of inquiry in religious studies. This innovative subdiscipline focuses on how different religious traditions have shaped human beings' fundamental outlooks on the environment in ancient and modern times. The world's religions ask basic questions about the cosmos that share deep affinities with the science of ecology. Both thought systems - religion and ecology - are concerned with the place of human beings within the general order of things. Noting this affinity between religion and ecology, the intellectual wager of this discipline is that the often unknown wellsprings of human beings' perspectives on the environment must be tapped if we are to fully understand how individuals and societies have conceived of their place, and their responsibilities, in the natural world.
As might be imagined, religious perspectives about the material world, honed over four millennia, are inherently complicated. While some traditions valorize the natural order as a place of divine presence and therefore worthy of respect and protection, other traditions look beyond the natural order to a higher order still to come that effectively devalues the earthly cosmos as unrelated - or even inimical - to the values of the world beyond. It is these primordially vexed cosmic beliefs that generate much of the historic and contemporary confusion about the "proper" role of human beings within the wider biosphere. The profound theological questions posed by most if not all human cultures are now seen as questions that have direct bearing on ecological understanding. Questions such as, Are human beings part of or beyond nature? Do human beings have obligations to other life forms? Does the cosmos have an inherent purpose or function?are questions that are alternately religious, moral, and ecological at the same time. These are the questions that animate my writing, especially in regards to the role Christianity has played in both deepening, and ameliorating, the environmental crisis in our time.
My dissertation advisor, Paul Ricoeur, once told me that he considered teaching to be a vocation, not a job - that is, a vocation in the sense of a calling or mandate. This has been my approach to teaching as well. I approach the classroom as a secular temple - a sanctuary of this world - where life's crucial questions are discussed, written about, and sometimes answered in the course of a semester-long struggle with the material. What is the meaning of existence? The character of the good life? The nature of truth and falsehood? Right and wrong? Good and evil? I try to introduce some levity into this heady mix - my basic thrust is to practice liberal arts education as a student's joyful guide to the universe. I do not consider my role to be a conveyor of knowledge but a teacher of wisdom - or, to put it better, as a facilitator of students' coming into possession of their own wisdom, their own philosophies of existence. How to perform the task of selfhood with an eye to the common good is my guiding concern. Careful instruction about relevant topics is important, to be sure, but what I really about is cultivating students' abilities to critically distill course content into a compelling format that they can own or disown based on their reflective engagement with the material.
At Swarthmore, I teach my classes with an eye toward engaged scholarship. In this vein, I co-direct the ChesterSemester Program in which college students work alongside Chester PA city partners in high-value internships focused on social and environmental justice. Developing skills for thoughtful, engaged citizenship is a central goal of liberal learning at Swarthmore; engaged scholarship self-consciously serves this ideal by unifying intellectual and ethical activities inside and outside of the classroom. I hope to continue to forge such partnerships between Swarthmore students and Chester leaders in my future teaching and research.
When God Was a Bird: Christianity, Animism, and the Re-Enchantment of the World. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019.
Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.
Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.
Fragments of the Spirit: Nature, Violence, and the Renewal of Creation. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1996. Reissued with new preface by Trinity Press International, 2002.
Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination. By Paul Ricoeur. Edited by Mark I. Wallace and translated by David Pellauer. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995. [anthology of Paul Ricoeur's religious thought]
Curing Violence. Coedited with Theophus Smith, Forum Fascicles series. Sonoma, Calif.: Polebridge Press, 1994. [religion and the thought of René Girard]
The Second Naiveté: Barth, Ricoeur, and the New Yale Theology, Studies in American Biblical Hermeneutics 6. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1990. Reissued with new introduction, 1995.
"The Stones Will Cry Out: Christian Animist Disruptions of the Species Divide," in An Earthed Faith: Telling the Story Amid the Anthropocene, ed. Ernst Conradie and Lai Pan-Chiu (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock), forthcoming.
“The Agon of the Summoned Self in Ricoeur’s Late Philosophy of Religion,” in Paul Ricoeur and the Hope of Higher Education: The Just University, ed. Daniel Boscaljon and Jeffrey F. Keuss (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), forthcoming.
“Christianity, Justice and Ecology in an Age of Crisis,” New Creation Online Magazine https://christogenesis.org/christianity-justice-and-ecology-in-an-age-of-crisis/ (September 2020).
“Crum Creek Visitation,” New Creation Online Magazine https://omegacenter.info/crum-creek-visitation/ (May 2019).
“The Pileated Woodpecker: Avian Divinity in a Time of Chaos,” Kosmos Journal https://www.kosmosjournal.org/news/the-pileated-woodpecker-avian-divinity-in-a-time-of-chaos/ (Spring 2019).
“The Lord God Bird: Avian Divinity, Neo-Animism, and the Renewal of Christianity at the End of the World,” in Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically with a More-Than-Human World, eds. Trevor Bechtel, Matthew Eaton, and Timothy Harvie (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2018), 210-26.
“Elegy for a Lost World,” in Post-Traumatic Public Theology, ed. Stephanie N. Arel and Shelly Rambo (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 135-54.
“When God Was a Bird: Contemplating Divine Presence Around Us,” in Awake to the Moment: An Introduction to Theology (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 138-45.
“Suffering Earth, Healing Earth: A Sagebrush Requiem,” The Ecumenist 52 (Spring 2015): 8-14.
“The Song of the Thrush: Christian Animism and the Global Crisis Today,” in The Task of Theology: Leading Theologians on the Most Compelling Questions for Today, ed. Anselm K. Min (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Press, 2014), 215-34.
“A Beaked and Feathered God: Rediscovering Christian Animism,” Tikkun (Summer 2014): 33-35, 66-67.
“Green Mimesis: Girard, Nature, and the Promise of Christian Animism,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 21 (2014): 1-14.
“Taking Back the Bible,” Tikkun (Fall 2013): 13-15, 60.
“A River Runs Through It: Mapping the Sources and New Directions of Ecotheology,” Theology 116 (2013): 31-35.
“Christian Animism, Green Spirit Theology, and the Global Crisis Today,” Journal of Reformed Theology 6 (2012): 216-33. [Slightly revised version in Interdisciplinary and Religio-Cultural Discourses on a Spirit-Filled World: Loosing the Spirits, ed. Veli-Matti Kårkkåinen, Kristeen Kim, Amos Young (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 197-211].
“Eat Well, Seek Justice,” Swarthmore College Bulletin (October 2011): 26-30. [Revised version of Chapter Four of my Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010)].
“Religion: A Dialogue,” in Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion andEcology, ed. Whitney Bauman, Richard Bohannon, and Kevin O’Brien (Oxford: Routledge, 2011), 27-40. [co-written with Rebecca Gould].
“The Green God: Can Religion Save the Planet?” in Thiel College: Weaving a Tapestry of Heaven and Earth, ed. Curtis Thompson (Everett, Wash.: Wittenberg Workshop, 2010), 314-26.
“Early Christian Contempt for the Flesh and the Woman Who Loved Too Much in the Gospel of Luke,” in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires and Sexuality in Christianity, ed. Margaret D. Kamitsuka (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 33-49.
“Salvation Capitalism: Management as Sacred Mission in a Time of Crisis,” Theology of Institutions Seminar, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.
<http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst/leaderdevel/TOI/default.html> (June 2009).
“The Crazy Uncle in the Attic: A Response to Bron Taylor’s Essay ‘Exploring Religion, Nature and Culture’ – Introducing the ‘Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture,” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 3 (2009): 376-81.
“The Uncle is Still Crazy, but Now Out of the Attic? A Response to My Critics,” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 3 (2009): 398-403.
“Earthing the Spirit: With Mark Wallace,” in With Gifted Thinkers: Conversations with Caputo, Hart, Horner, Kearney, Keller, Rigby, Taylor, Wallace, Westphal, ed. Mark Manolopoulos (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), 221-32. [interview of Mark Wallace].
“Naturalism” and “Theology of Nature,” in The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Dawn DeVries (Atlanta: Westminster Press, forthcoming).
“The Spirit of Environmental Justice: Resurrection Hope in Urban America,” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology 12 (2008): 255-69.
“The New Green Christianity: Why the Church is Vital to Saving the Planet,” World and World 28 (Winter 2008): 75-85.
“Sacred-Land Theology: Green Spirit, Deconstruction, and the Question of Idolatry in Contemporary Earthen Christianity,” in Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth, eds. Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), 291-314.
“The Cry of Faith in Urban America Today: Educational Genocide, Eco-Violence, and Poverty Pimping,” Tikkun (September/October 2007): 49-53.
“Holy Ground: Protestant Ecotheology, Catholic Social Teaching and a New Vision of Creation as the Landed Sacred,” Journal of Catholic Social Thought 4 (Summer 2007): 271-92.
“Response to Jane Compson’s Review of Finding God in the Singing River,” Conversations in Religion and Theology 5 (May 2007): 50-54.
“Experience, Purpose, Pedagogy and Theory: Ritual Activities in the Classroom,” in Teaching Ritual, ed. Catherine Bell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 73-87.
“Green Christianity,” in Choosing Points of Wisdom: Toward a Mutually Enhancing World, ed. Jim Conlon (Oakland, Calif.: Sophia Books, 2007), 175-76.
"Crum Creek Spirituality: Earth as a Living Sacrament," in Theology That Matters: Ecology, Economy, and God, ed. Darby Kathleen Ray (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 121-37.
"The Green Face of God: Christianity's Ecological Imagery Depicts the Natural World as a Holy Place," Science and Theology News 6 (February 2006): 30-33.
"The Earthen Spirit: How 'Green Spirituality' Can Inform the Environmental Movement," Swarthmore College Bulletin (September 2005): 17-23.
"Christianity, the Spirit, and Nature Symbolism," in Encyclopedia of Religion and
Nature, eds. Bron Taylor and Jeffrey Kaplan (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 2005).
"Spirit," in Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes, eds.
Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 239-78 [chapter editor]
"Finding God in Nature," Earth Letter (Summer 2005): 8-9.
"The Irony of Selfhood in Paul Ricoeur's Hermeneutical Philosophy," in Between Suspicion and Sympathy: Paul Ricoeur's Unstable Equilibrium, ed. Andrzej Wiercinski (Toronto: The Hermeneutic Press, 2003), 161-71.
"God Beyond God: Derrida's Theological Self-Portraiture," in The Unknown, Remembered Gate: Religious Experience and Hermeneutical Reflection in the Study of Religion, eds. Elliot R. Wolfson and Jeffrey J. Kripal (New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2003), 99-118.
"The Summoned Self: Ethics and Hermeneutics in Paul Ricoeur in Dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas," in Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought, ed. William Schweiker, W. David Hall, and John Wall (New York: Routledge, 2002), 80-93.
"The Rule of Love and the Testimony of the Spirit in Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics," in Between the Human and the Divine: Philosophical and Theological Hermeneutics, ed. Andrzej Wiercinski (Toronto: The Hermeneutic Press, 2002), 280-91. [Revised version reissued in But Is It All True? The Bible and the Question of Truth in Scripture, ed. Alan G. Padgett and Patrick R. Keifert (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006), 66-85].
"The Green Face of God: Recovering the Spirit in an Ecocidal Era," in Advents of the Spirit: An Introduction to the Current Study of Pneumatology, eds. Bradford Hinze and Lyle Dabney (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), 444-64.
"Losing the Self, Finding the Self: Postmodern Theology and Social Constructionism," in Social Constructionism and Theology, ed. C. A. M. Hermans, G. Immink, and A. de Jong en J. an der Lans (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 93-111.
"God is Underfoot: Pneumatology After Derrida," in Blackwell Readings in Continental Philosophy: The Religious, ed. John D. Caputo (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 197-211.
"Earth God: Cultivating the Spirit in an Ecocidal Culture," in The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 209-28.
"The Green Face of God: Christianity in an Age of Ecocide," Cross Currents 50 (Fall 2000): 310-31.
"From Phenomenology to Scripture: Paul Ricoeur's Hermeneutical Philosophy of Religion," Modern Theology 16 (July 2000): 300-313.
"The Carnal God," Earth Letter (May 2000): 8-10. [Reprinted in Desert Call: Contemplative Christianity and Vital Culture 6 (Summer 2006): 16-18.]
"The Wounded Spirit as the Basis for Hope in an Age of Radical Ecology," in Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans, ed. Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 51-72.
"Environmental Justice, Neopreservationism, and Sustainable Spirituality," in The Ecological Community: Environmental Challenges for Philosophy, Politics, and Morality, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge, 1997), 292-310. [Reprinted inThis Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2d ed., ed. Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge, 2004), 596-612.]
- Religion and Human Experience
- Religion and Literature
- Religion and the Meaning of Life
- Problems of Religious Thought
- Religion Café: Senior Capstone
- Western Religious Thought I 325-1500
- Western Religious Thought II 1500-1900
- Philosophy of Religion (cross-listed with Philosophy Department)
- Religion, the Environment, and Contemplative Practice
- Religion and Ecology
- The Summoned Self: Ricoeur and Levinas
- New Testament and Early Christianity
- Postmodern Religious Thought: Seminar
- Contemporary Religious Thought: Seminar
- Jesus in History, Literature, and Theology: Seminar
Interpretation Theory Program
- Visionaries of Spirit, Masters of Suspicion: Capstone Course
- Self and Other: Capstone Course
Environmental Studies Program
- The Green Campus: Swarthmore and Sustainability