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Center for Religion and Environment Programs


In the fall of 2010 a small group drawn from the undergraduate and School of Theology student bodies, the faculty, and the surrounding community began meeting on Tuesday nights to discuss major themes related to the environment in Christian scripture and theology and the themes’ relationship to concepts in the natural and social sciences. In order to ground its discussions in real world experience the group took on mountaintop removal (MTR) as a case study. Over fall break about half of the group traveled to West Virginia to visit MTR sites and people affected by MTR there. The spring approach involves explores these themes from a variety of religious perspective by reflecting on short works of fiction, poetry, art, music and essays, as well as reflecting on the sharing by occasional campus visitors. Earthkeepers will continue to meet Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. All are welcome.

Opening the Book of Nature

It appears that a growing problem in this country is that people either may lack spiritual experiences or may not know how to name what they have experienced, while increasing numbers of young people have a theoretical understanding of “the environment” without having experienced it directly. Accordingly, the Center is laying the groundwork to become a regional or national center for the Opening the Book of Nature (OBN) program ( ). This program provides an experience of encountering God/the One/Ultimate Reality and of learning spiritual lessons in the setting where people typically most easily can do so – in nature. OBN will provide follow-up group spiritual formation, which could be combined with programs like those we are providing on campus, as well as others we are considering for future development.

Beauty by Design

One such potential program we call “Beauty by Design.” ( This concept has served as the basis for a pilot day of reflection for clergy and for a longer retreat for the general public. We hope to be able to offer this material to a wide audience on and off campus in formats of a few hours to full courses. It develops the theological aesthetic concept of Beauty and explores its implications for the way we live every aspect of our everyday lives individually and corporately.

The Organic Prayer Project

The Organic Prayer Project aims to nurture both the soil and spirit through reverence for the environment while honoring the beauty bestowed upon The Mountain. The project seeks to heighten spiritual awareness through a direct connection with the soil.  The development of The Farm @ St. Mary’s Sewanee will provide the impetus for this “outward and visible sign” by way of weaving the Benedictine practice of ora et labora  (prayer and work) into and through the landscape at St. Mary’s Sewanee, beginning with a community-supported pick-your-own berries field, a vineyard, and vegetable garden and moving on to southern heirloom apple butter from the apple orchard and spun fleece from alpaca and sheep raised in the pasture.

Future Programs

The Center is interested in developing a future program on discerning the spiritual significance of different types of land, thereby increasing both one’s ability to experience spiritually a piece of land and to articulate its nature and importance to others. In addition the Center hopes to be able to offer in the future a more scholarly, sophisticated bible study on the environment than what typically is available. These and all of the above programs the Center hopes to be able to offer both on and off campus through a variety of modes including summer coursework, continuing education, printed and electronic media-based instruction, etc.

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Sewanee: The University of the South735 University Ave, Sewanee, TN 37383931.598.100035.204826-85.921674