Professor of Religion
I am Ph.D. graduate of The University of Chicago, Professor in the Department of Religion, and member of the Interpretation Theory Committee and the Environmental Studies Committee at the College. My teaching and research interests focus on the intersections between Christian theology, critical theory, environmental studies, and postmodernism. I have authored When God Was a Bird: Christianity, Animism, and the Re-Enchantment of the World (Fordham University Press, 2019), Green Christianity (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 am a member of the Constructive Theology Workgroup, active in the educational justice movement in the city of Chester, and recently received an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship for a research sabbatical in Costa Rica.
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 outlook 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 understand adequately how individuals and societies have conceived of their place 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 primarily 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. Good, clear, lucid information about the subject matter is important, to be sure, but what really counts for me is the ability to distill this information into a compelling format that students can own or disown depending on their reflective engagement with the material.
In 2003/04 I received an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions for Scholars-Teachers Fellowship that enabled me to move ahead with service learning in my pedagogy. The Mellon grant allowed me to initiate Community Based Learning (CBL) in my Fall 2004 class, "Religion, the Environment, and Contemplative Practice," with special reference to after-school tutoring programs in community organizations and religious congregations in Chester. The Work provides Swarthmore students the opportunity to partner with local leaders committed to educational justice for Chester residents, and includes partnerships with Chester Eastside Ministries, Peace in the Streets/Peace on Earth, God's House of Glory, St. Luke's Community Church, Grace Community Church, Chester YWCA, the Unity Center, and Delaware County Wage Peace and Justice. Developing skills for thoughtful, engaged citizenship is a central goal of liberal learning at Swarthmore; CBL self-consciously serves this ideal by unifying intellectual and ethical activities inside and outside of the classroom. I hope to continue to forge this sort of partnership between Swarthmore students and Chester leaders and young people 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. 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
Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, 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.
"Girardian Reflections on Ritual-Based Learning in the College Classroom," in Teaching Ritual, ed. Catherine Bell (New York: Oxford University Press), forthcoming.
"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," inSocial 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