Christianity and Sustainability, RESC 98 09
Prof. Alfred Kentigern Siewers
Wed. and Fri. (Seminar) 8:30-9:52 Biology 221 and Thurs. (Lab/Common Hour) 7-8 p.m. Academic West 112
Office: Vaughan Lit 111
Office Hours: By appointment and scheduled tutorials, and Wed. and Fri. 11-12,but please double-check.
In this course we will examine sustainability through the lens of a major world faith that has had particular historical influence on Western culture. In the process, we’ll learn about how symbolism, rhetoric, and semiotics relate to environmental issues–and how to shape cultural symbols in writing and media to affect environmental debate. To do this, we’ll focus on the example of the Christian writer J.R.R. Tolkien’s 20th-century fantasy cycle The Lord of the Rings, and its depiction of sustainability and an environmental ethos. We will also consider approaches to nature and the environment in other faith and non-faith traditions.
Here is a summary of the type of environmental ethos that Tolkien expressed in his writings, by the contemporary University of Chicago rhetorician Richard Weaver:
“[T]he attitude toward nature…is a matter so basic to one’s outlook or philosophy of life that we often tend to overlook it…. [N]ature [is] something which is given and something which is finally inscrutable. This is equivalent to saying that…it [is] the creation of a Creator. There follows from this attitude an important deduction, which is that man has a duty of veneration toward nature and the natural. Nature is not something to be fought, conquered and changed according to any human whims. To some extent, of course, it has to be used. But what man should seek in regard to nature is not —a complete dominion but a modus vivendi [way of living], that is, a manner of living together, a coming to terms with something that was here before our time and will be here after it. The important corollary of this doctrine, it seems to me, is that man is not the lord of creation, with an omnipotent will, but a part of creation, with limitations, who ought to observe a decent humility in the face of the inscrutable.”
Whether agreeing or disagreeing with such perspectives on environmental ethics (and it’s fine in class to do either or both), we’ll examine them critically in historical and cultural contexts, and consider to what extent they are compatible or not with other views of the environment today. We’ll also go further in considering important distinctions among views of nature in Christian traditions, even between Weaver’s statement of environmental ethics above and the complex medieval theological and cosmological underpinnings of Tolkien’s storytelling. And we’ll investigate the language and terms of such discussions of nature and the environment today, in terms of their social and “real world” effects here and now.
–Develop definitions of sustainability and nature that include cultural tradition.
–Gain an understanding of the role of cultural tradition in environmental issues, in terms of the Classical liberal arts of rhetoric, dialectic, and grammar (what grew into “the humanities”), their relation to symbolism and semiotics today, and the liberal arts tradition as a whole.
–Discern techniques of writing about nature recalled by the acronym MNEMS (short for mnemonics or remembering): Metaphor Narrative Emotion Memes Story.
–See the difference and overlap between “nature” as a cultural system and “environment” as a material system, and understand distinctive historic uses of the terms “creation,” “cosmos,” “earth,” “world,” and “age” to discuss that relationship.
–Be able to identify bias and privileging in mainstream Western social discourse of what some call WEIRD (Western Industrialized Rich Democratic), and analyze how that may affect our approaches to sustainability.
–Learn and practice the relation between rhetoric and physical reality, while developing skills at writing and blogging critically.
This course is a first-year Foundation Seminar, which has the following learning outcomes:
• Students will develop writing, reading, speaking, listening, and information literacy skills necessary for collegiate-level academic work
• Students will develop capacities for independent academic work and become self-regulated learners.
In addition, this course is designated as the “W1” writing-intensive type, and thus has the following program outcomes:
• Students will produce effective written communication in terms of expository skills and use of conventions relevant to particular disciplines or genres.
• Students will practice writing as a process that includes planning, composing, revising, and editing.
• Students will use writing as an instrument for learning.
Common Hours, Fall Trip, and Symposium Project
This year’s common theme for the Environmental Residential College is “Sustainability: Countering the Extinction of Experience.” We’ll be focusing on this common theme in our weekly Lab/Common Hours (which are part of the course, shared with the other College seminar), and on our Fall Trip to Philadelphia Oct. 24-25, and in group video projects for the Residential College Symposium at the end of the semester, which will group students together from all three Environmental College seminars, each working with one of the Senior Fellows. The four general themes for the video projects will be 1) Re-Imagining Downtown Lewisburg, 2) Hunting and Fishing Cultures of Central PA and Conservation, 3) Local Food, 4) Where Waste Goes.
Writing and media assignments
Writing and media projects for the semester will include:
Blogs on reading and on assigned topics with presentations
Tweets on readings
Three short reflections
Group video project for the Symposium (with students from the other Environmental College class)
Late submission for the reflections may be accepted with a delay of up to 24 hours, at the penalty of 20% (i.e. if you submit a perfect essay, 1 hour late, you will receive 80% for the essay). Nothing beyond the 24 hour mark will be accepted (zero for that assignment). Some assignments involving presentations or group work, as well as the blogs and Tweets, will not have the option of late submission. You will have the option of re-writing the reflections for a higher grade within certain limits.
Your semester grade will be based in part on the following:
Three reflections, 15 percent each
Blogs and Tweets, 15 percent
In-class and common hour participation and attendance, including quizzes and leading discussions/presentations: 15 percent
Approximately 25% of your final grade will be based on your group final video project, 15% on your individual contribution to the project, and 10% on the group outcome, which will be determined in part by peer evaluations and evaluations by all three Senior Fellows.
In-class discussion assignments and written and media projects will be graded based on rubrics given to you; please follow them precisely to maximize your grade and pass the assignments.
Final grades are determined on an absolute scale (i.e. you are not competing with your classmates). Generally, the letter grades are assigned as follows:
A/A-: 90-100 pts, B+/B/B-: 80-89 pts, C+/C/C-: 70-79 pts, D: 60-69 pts, F: 0-59 pts,
n.b.: In college, the standards are high. An “average” work corresponds to C+/B-. A in Bucknell’s grading template means “outstanding,” and involves a professional level of work. B means “very good.” C means “fair” and D “low pass.”
You must get a passing grade on each of the four major assignments (the three reflections and video project) in order to pass the course.
Symposium Video Project:
For both seminars of the Res College, 25% of your final grade will be based on your Res College Video Project. This project is graded for you out of 100 points, where 40 points come from the team portion and 60 points from individual portions, as broken down below:
–Team (40 points)
Meeting deadlines and quality in:
12 points: Treatment
12 points: Production
16 points: Editing and Finalizing
–Individual (60 points)
8 points: Attendance
8 points: contribution in Treatment
12 points: contribution in Production
12 points: contribution in Editing
20 points: reflection paper
I expect each of you to be a mature, responsible, professional student. I will observe and evaluate your behavior throughout the semester.
• Attendance: showing up to seminar, common hour, and Res College events engaged, prepared, and on time
• Participation: being awake, and taking part (speaking, listening, respecting others), taking good notes, avoiding distracting note-passing and whispering, not eating in class, planning ahead for rest room breaks to avoid disrupting seminar discussion—these are all to help us learn and share ideas together in a mindful way.
• Taking notes actively while reading and in each class, and taking responsibility for discussion, including preparation for discussion assignments and your own initiative
• Cell phone manners: sound and vibration off at all times, no texting. Use of laptops or tablets in class is a privilege and not a right. If you are using them for non-seminar-related browsing etc., you will lose that privilege. In general you should be taking notes in a dedicated notebook in order to focus on the seminar.
• Communication: swift notification in case of absences/ emergencies and proper e-mail styles (Dear Prof. Siewers, … Best Regards, John Doe)
• Observing the Bucknell Honor Code: No plagiarism, which the university takes very seriously as an academic infraction.
Deviations from the rules and policies stated in this syllabus can be accommodated on a case-by-case basis, if deemed appropriate by proper University authorities. You are responsible for handling these situations and taking proper steps, ahead of time. For example, if you have medical conditions or personal situations that require accommodation, let the Dean’s Office know. Similarly, if you have University-sanctioned activities or events, family emergencies, and medical situations, please work with your Dean’s Office (and your Coach or Student Health Services doctor, etc.) to provide me with official notifications.
Without official medical or dean excuses, late work will not be accepted except with the qualifications given here. Without such official excuses, quizzes and blogs and tweets cannot be “made up” later, to be fair to others in the seminar.
Late Coupon: You each have a late assignment submission coupon, available for use to waive the penalties and excuses associated with late submissions of (an) assignment(s). It is up to you how and when you use the coupon: you may use a full coupon once to extend your assignment due date by 48 hours, or you may use half coupons twice to waive the 20% penalty associated with a less-than-24 hours-late hand-in of an assignment. You must activate the coupon by acknowledging the use of it (which assignment, half or full coupon) via an email to me.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Lotr), preferably the 50th anniversary edition or later
Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen Davis
Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
Ents, Elves & Eriador, Dickerson & Evans (D&E)
Green Philosophy (UK title) or How to Think Seriously about the Planet (US title) by Roger Scruton (available as Kindle/ebook)
Other Senior Fellow
Prof. Kat Wakabayashi (email@example.com)
Alumni Senior Fellow
Prof. Brandn Green, Environmental Center (firstname.lastname@example.org): sophomore class
• Ms. Katie Dwyer (email@example.com)
• Mr. Jake Yankauskas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Resident Fellow (alumni)
• Mr. Jared Feindt (email@example.com)
Wed. 8/27 Writing and Nature: The Prologue and Foreword to LotR. Some basic terminology and backgrounds. Why Tolkien?
Thurs. 8/28 Common Hour: What is Sustainability?
Fri. 8/29 The Biblical Creation Story (Genesis 1-3), the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7), and the Apocalypse (Rev. 21 and 22:1-5). First blog and quiz.
Wed. 9/3 Davis, Chapter 3, “Seeing with God: Israel’s Poem of Creation.” LotR, 1:1-3. Blog.
Thurs. 9/4 Video topics.
Fri. 9/5 LotR, 1:4-6. Quiz.
Wed. 9/10 LotR, 1:6-9; Introduction and Chapter 1 of D&E. Blog.
Fri. 9/12 LotR, 1:10-12; Quiz. Assignment given for first reflection.
Wed. 9/17 LotR., 2:1-3; Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics.”
Fri. 9/19 LotR, 2:4-6, Quiz.
Wed. 9/24 LotR, 2:4-6; Schumacher, “Technology with a Human Face.”
Fri. 9/26 LotR, 2:7-9; Quiz.
Sat. 9/27. First reflection due.
Wed. 10/1 LotR, 2:10 and 3: 1-2; D&E Chapter 3. Blog.
Fri. 10/3 LotR, 3:3-5; Quiz. Second reflection assignment given.
Wed. 10/8 Film Day.Wed.
10/10 LotR, 3: 3-5; Davies Chap, 9. .D&E Chapter 4. Blog.
Wed. 10/15 LotR, 3:6-8; D&E Chapter 5. Blog.
Fri. 10/17 LotR, 3:9-11; Quiz.
Wed. 10/22 LotR, 4:1-3, D&E Chapter 8.
Fri. 10/24 LotR, 4:4-6. Quiz.
Sat. 10/25. Second reflection due.
Wed. 10/29 LotR, 4:4-6. David Bentley Hart “Anarcho-Monarchism,” http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/11/anarcho-monarchism
Third reflection assignment given.
Fri. 10/31 LotR, 4:7-9. Quiz.
Wed. 11/5 LotR, 4:10 and 5:1-2. Schumacher, “The Problem of Production.” Davis, Chapter 9. Blog.
Fri. 11/7 LotR, 5:3-5. Quiz.
Wed. 11/12 LotR, 5:6-8. Schumacher, “Peace and Permanence.”
Fri. 11/14 LotR, 5:9-10, and 6:1. Quiz.
Wed. 11/19 LotR, 6:2-4. Scruton 225-252. Blog.
Fri. 11/21 LotR, 6:5-7. Quiz.
Tues. 11/25 Third reflection due.
Wed. Dec. 3 LotR, 6: 8-9. Scruton 253-291.
Sat. Dec. 6, Residential College Symposium, presentation of group videos.