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Research in Franciscan Environmental Ethics
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Spirituality & Sustainability
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Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination

Keith Douglass Warner OFM's
Research and Education Website

The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition:
Science, Ethics & the Environment

I am a Franciscan Friar actively retrieving the Franciscan intellectual tradition, with a special focus on environmental ethics and philosophy of science. In 2013 I collaboratated with the Franciscan Action Network to offer 3 faculty & staff development workshops at campuses of the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, “Deepening Franciscan Identity: Teaching Care for Creation." These helped AFCU faculty or staff members learn more about education and care for creation in the Franciscan tradition. Here are some of my educational resorces for teaching Franciscan care for creation. Here are some of the fruits from these workshops.

At the end of 2013, I published "Bonaventure in Benedict: Franciscan Wisdom for Human Ecology" in "Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States" (Lexington Books).

Recently I have begun research and teaching Franciscan economic philosophy. See my article "Retrieving Franciscan Philosophy for Social Engagement" in The Cord (2012), and Social Praxis in Light of Christogenesis: Franciscan Wisdom for an Evolutionary World. (2013).

In September 2012, The Franciscan Institute published "Knowledge for Love: Franciscan Science as the Pursuit of Wisdom." This essay extends the retrieval of the Franciscan intellectual tradition into the sciences by presenting the vocation and work of three Franciscan scientists. Friar Bartholomew the Englishman taught his fellow Franciscans with the best available scientific knowledge to prepare them for preaching in foreign lands. Friar Roger Bacon conducted research into the natural world to advance scientific knowledge in service of the Church. Friar Bernardino de Sahagún investigated the life, worldview and culture of the Aztec peoples in New Spain (now Mexico) to interpret these for his fellow Franciscans. In the Franciscan tradition, learning about nature helps one grow in wisdom, and thus Franciscan science is knowledge for love. This essay argues that the retrieval of our Franciscan intellectual tradition could and should include the sciences. Fray Bernardino de Sahagun is a terrific example of this tradition. I wrote articles for wikipedia on Bernardino and the Florentine Codex he co-created with his Aztec students --check out the digital images from the codex! I wrote about Bernardino and the global reach of the Franciscan intellectual tradition for The Cord.

afcuHere is a keynote I gave to the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities biennial symposium, June 2010 at University of St. Francis (Ft. Wayne) The Incarnation Matters: Franciscan Education for Ecological Conversion (you can view this free of charge through ITunesU) This was published a version of this keynote in their AFCU journal. c4c2

My best known work is Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, which I coauthored with Ilia Delio OSF and Pam Wood. It has a beautiful cover, which you can see on this nifty flyer for publicity! You can order it from the (2008) publisher, St. Anthony Messenger Press, or Amazon. The following article is an excerpt from the book, Species Preservation Matters! which appeared in St. Anthony Messenger (magazine), October 2007, pp 22-26 (with pictures!). The book won two awards in 2009 from the Catholic Press Association: First place for "Social Concerns" and second place for "Spirituality." I first met Ilia when I presented at the WTU Franciscan Symposium in May 2003: “Taking Nature Seriously: Nature Mysticism, Franciscan Spirituality, and Environmental Advocacy.” It was published in Ilia Delio OSF, ed., Franciscans and Creation: What is Our Responsibility? St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute (2004). Care for Creation refers to the song "Sacred Creation" by Rufino Zaragoza OFM, which you can access through Oregon Catholic Press; some of the words are here and here.

Two of my recent publications in this field are Franciscan Environmental Ethics: Imagining Creation as a Community of Care in Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics (Summer 2011); Living the Gospel on a Climate Disrupted Planet, webpublished by Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 2011.

gdI contributed Retrieving Saint Francis: Tradition and Innovation for Our Ecological Vocation to Green Discipleship: Catholic Theological Ethics and the Environment, edited by Tobias L. Winright (Anselm Academic, 2011). Some elements of this were used by the Franciscan order to celebrate the 35th anniversary of St Francis being named patron saint of ecological spirituality.

Here's an article from the Journal of Religion and American Culture titled The Greening of American Catholicism: Identity, Conversion and Continuity

On November 10, 2010 I participated in a Markkula Center for Applied Ethics presntation "The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Precautionary Principle" and you can watch a recording of that here. I gave a presentation at the University of St. Thomas (Moore, not of Aquinas) Law School Symposium on Catholic Social Teaching in September 2007 titled The Moral Significance of Creation in the Franciscan Theological Tradition: Implications for Contemporary Catholics and Public Policy.

I developed a Franciscan philosophy studium (which operated 2009-2011), a program for friars to learn about our Franciscan tradition while completing pre-theology requirements, with continuing education units through the University of San Diego.Here is a write up of the program. This picture gives you a sense of what it looks like.3

In August of 2012, I cotaught a special two week short course with Bill Short OFM and Mary Beth Ingham CSJ: Creation, Humanity and Science in the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition at  Old Mission Santa Barbara. The attached brochure explains what we covered.

Get Him Out of the Birdbath!” In Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader, edited by Dawn M. Nothwehr OSF. Quincy Il: Franciscan Press, 2003. Republished from “Out of the Birdbath: Following the Patron Saint of Ecology” The Cord. 48:2 March 1998: 74-85.

Poverty & Environmental Justice in Franciscan Perspective with Luke Clause and Stephen Maurano. Published in 2007 in World Poverty: Franciscan Reflections, by Franciscans Intenational, an NGO with observer status at the United Nations.

"Was St. Francis a Deep Ecologist?" In Albert LaChance and John E. Carroll, eds. Embracing Earth: Catholic Approaches to Ecology. Maryknoll NY: Orbis Press, 1994, 225-240.

Educational resorces for teaching Franciscan care for creation

Here are some preparatory readings for the AFCU workshops, which develop these themes beyond the book Care for Creation:

  1. Retrieving Saint Francis: Tradition and Innovation for Our Ecological Vocation introduces spirituality resources within the Franciscan tradition for care for creation.
  2. The Incarnation Matters: Franciscan Education for Ecological Conversion is a keynote I gave at the AFCU symposium published in the AFCU journal articulating Franciscan identity with ecological literacy
  3. The Franciscan tradition as a Wisdom Tradition, by Zachary Hayes OFM, in Spirit and Life (1997).

Over the past 10 years I have developed from scratch and taught four undergraduate courses with environmental themes that fulfill a university religious studies requirement. They have titles designed to appeal to undergraduate interests. I teach them at a Jesuit school, but they all have some explicitly Franciscan content. Most importantly, these courses allow me to draw from foundational themes in teaching Franciscan care for creation and apply these in course assignments and community learning projects that are meaningful to students. This document provides links to the 4 syllabi; 3 foundational themes in teaching Franciscan care for creation; and 15 learning activities. Individual learning activities are tagged with “ES” (can be embedded in a syllabus) or “CC” (can be a co-curricular activity organized independent of a course), or both.

Syllabi of the courses in which these educational activities were developed:

  1. Spirituality & Sustainability: Our Ecological Vocations
  2. Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination
  3. Faith, Ethics & the Biodiversity Crisis
  4. The Moral Vision of Cesar Chavez: Agriculture, Food & the Environment in Catholic Social Teaching

Foundational themes in teaching Franciscan care for creation, with examples below

  1. Vocational discernment. The example of Francis continues to speak to us today because he heard God calling him to change the direction of his life and he did so with passion and integrity. These learning activities invite students to reflect upon how others have “heard a voice calling” to take action on behalf of creation, and to reflect upon the role of creation in their own vocation. These activities are modeled after the template of Francis’ religious conversion -- or integral transformation -- and its social and environmental dimensions. Care for creation articulates this wisdom with contemporary environmental thought, such as the ecological self, ecological identity, and ecological consciousness.
  2. Relational spirituality. Francis came to recognize all creation as his family, brother, sister and mother. These learning activities challenge students to consider the ideology of individualism in American culture as a fundamental problem perpetuating our environmental crises. These activities provide opportunities for students to explore components of ecological literacy within a community spirit. “The Incarnation Matters” presents David Orr’s vision of ecological literacy in the context of the Franciscan tradition.
  3. Sharing good news with others. To be authentic, Franciscan spirituality must be given away. These learning activities, usually building upon the prior two themes, outline how students could share Franciscan care for creation with others. Christopher Uhl’s Developing Ecological Consciousness: Pathways to a Sustainable World (Rowman & Alfield, 2004) is an excellent resource for environmental leadership; Ilia, Pam and I read it and used this text as a dialogue partner for writing Care for creation.

ES = appropriate for embedding in a course syllabus.
CC = appropriate for co-curricular activities. Can be done embedded in a class, or organized through campus ministry or residential life or student clubs.

1. Vocational discernment
a. Reflect on the example of another person growing in their personal, embodied, and spiritual dimensions of their relationship with the Earth. In California, I have used the example of Julia Butterfly Hill who lived in a redwood tree for 2 years to stop clear-cutting. She was 20 years old when she did this, and wrote her book, The Legacy of Luna, in very personal terms, but kept her religious identity ambiguous. My students have found her autobiography compelling and personally provocative. This is a great way to introduce the notion of ecological vocation. Here is a subsequent reflection assignment. ES, CC.

b. Write a spiritual autobiography of your relationship with the Earth. Reflect on a significant experience and its influence on your spiritual journey. See Uhl chapters 1, 2, 3. ES.

c. Show a movie about environmental problems to 2+ peers, and engage them in a reflection on the deeper causes and spiritual implications of these problems. I used “An Inconvenient Truth” for years to this end. Many students would roll their eyes at Al Gore, but I wove the concept of a “flawed messenger” into the reflection assignment. It is morally inconsistent and intellectually dishonest to use Gore’s personal inconsistencies as an excuse to ignore climate disruption. ES, CC.

d. Administer a simple ecological footprint quiz, and discuss its implications with peers. I usually assign this in partnership with the movie assignment, above. This frames environmental questions in terms of personal choices and personal impacts, thus shifting the discussions from ideological debates to personal and collective moral choices and their consequences. This is helpful for framing vocational choices. Here is a good footprint calculator http://www.myfootprint.org ES, CC.

e. Concluding vocational reflection. At the end of a course, I typically ask students to express what they think they have learned in the course, and how they plan to integrate it into their vocation. I provide prompts that clarify what I expect, and ask them to draw specifically from the text books, but to interpret the meaning of these ideas for themselves, and explain how they could apply them to their own life. ES. Here are some other examples from Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination and Spirituality & Sustainability

2. Relational spirituality
a. Take students to a place of great beauty. Ask them to meditate on this beauty in silence. Ask them to reflect upon this experience in a personal essay. ES.

b.Take students to a place in nature where they can consider the relationship of the Earth to the cosmos. This may involve watching the sun come up or go down, or going to observe the moon travel the sky or the milky way on a moonless night. This can prompt reflections on cosmology. See Uhl chapters 1, 2. ES, CC.

c. Lead fellow students in an Earth meditation. I lead some of these for my class, drawing from the story of Francis in Care for Creation chapters 3, 6 and 9. I then explain to students how to plan an earth meditation, execute it, and analyze its impact on peers. ES, CC.

d. Take students to a place of environmental harm, show them what environmental damage looks like, and ask them to reflect upon destructive human behavior and how their choices are implicated. I have taken students to clusters of toxic superfund sites in poor neighborhoods, and to farmworker camps where they have interviewed workers sprayed by pesticides. I have taken them to see places where California state’s water infrastructure sucks water out of the Sacramento River Delta to send it 300 miles south to Los Angeles. ES.

e. The Innovation Diffusion Game. This tool for encouraging participation in positive cultural change is very effective for helping students to wrestle with the practical challenges of environmental leadership. Students play roles of leadership for social change, apathy, or resistance, and then discuss the experience of trying out these roles. ES, CC.http://www.context.org/iclib/ic28/atkisson/

f. Create a portfolio, or a multi-part assignment that examines religious environmental ethics at a local level. In two classes, Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination, and Faith, Ethics & the Biodiversity Crisis, I have designed the entire interdisciplinary religious studies course around a multi-part assignment that requires students to articulate religious beliefs, environmental problems and solutions in local communities. These require substantial investment in gathering context-specific case study materials, but can be very rewarding. ES. Here are materials from Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination (One, Two, Three, Four, Five) and Faith, Ethics & the Biodiversity Crisis (One and Three).

3. Sharing good news
a. Students in pairs guide younger students in a positive environmental initiative. Organize a trip for college students in pairs to lead a tour for pairs of younger students from a parochial school. Santa Clara University has created several modular solar houses. I organize pairs of my students to lead tours of these houses for pairs of seventh graders. I insist that the tour contain 50% information about technology and the environment, and 50% information on ethics and spirituality. This activity was very effective, and it impacted both sets of students in powerful ways. Some of my students were taken aback at the spiritual depth of some seventh graders. It was easy to organize because the parochial school was across the street from my campus, and two blocks from the engineering school. This basic idea could be implemented differently with local resources. ES. CC.

b. Create a popular education tool -- or catechetical tool -- such as an imovie. This  requires students to present some mix of scientific, social, ethical and religious messages. A popular educational tool can be created as, for example, a powerpoint, a poster, a webpage, or an imovie to reach nonacademic audiences. The very short period of time, say 3 minutes, requires the students to make strategic choices about what to include, what to exclude, and how to integrate these different kinds of knowledge in succinct and powerful ways. I used to assign posters, but I now assign imovies, either about climate justice or environmental justice. The creation of imovies is a very effective technological structure to support learning. ES. See sample student imovies from Spirituality & Sustainability here.. Here is the assignment, the creation of digital narratives, copyright information for images, and worksheet. Here is material about the Imovie for Environmental Justice in the Catholic Imagination

c. Learn from and support local agriculture. Arrange for students to visit a local small organic farm, and over the course of a season, they arrange for some novel community-oriented marketing effort. I helped students organize several farm to church programs. See: Alba's Farm to Church Stand ES, CC.

d. Teach undergraduate students how to conduct religious education classes on Franciscan care for creation themes in local parishes and give them an opportunity to learn from this. I created and directed the Environmental Vocation Internship for several years that did this. Here are two reports. The 2004-5 Environmental Vocation Internship Central Coast Report -- emphasizing biodiversity conservation ethics and The 2004-5 Environmental Vocation Central Valley Report -- emphasizing Environmental Justice. This EJ work is contextualized and described here The Greening of American Catholicism: Identity, Conversion and Continuity ES, CC.

e. Partner with local religious leaders to organize a religious environmental conference. In the third year of the EVI (described above), I collaborated with the Living Ocean Initiative, which is described in this journal article: "Facilitating Religious Environmentalism: Ethnology plus conservation psychology tools can assess an interfaith environmental intervention" ES, CC.


Here are some pictures of me with Franciscans I met in South Africa.




For information regarding this website please contact Keith Douglass Warner OFM
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