The Goals of the Initiative

The rapid growth of the environmental humanities has demonstrated that the humanities can play a crucial role in understanding and addressing our current period of profound environmental transformation. The Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture Initiative seeks to join and expand these conversations by focusing on religion and the arts as key sites in which the relation between human beings and the larger world is imagined, expressed, enacted, and transformed.

Drawing from and expanding the field of religion and ecology, this initiative fosters the study of the dynamic role of expressive culture—a capacious and open-ended concept that includes music, ritual and liturgy, theater, dance, literature, and the visual arts, among other media—in the human relationship to the non-human world. Important questions arise at the intersection of religion, ecology, and expressive culture.

  • How can the study of forms of religious expressive culture help us think about environmental problems and possible solutions?
  • What can comparative work from a multi-religious and globally broad view offer to a study of expressive culture and ecology?
  • What other possible avenues for collaboration exist by including the voices of artists, composers, and other cultural producers in discussions about religion and ecology?
  • How do environmental justice and activism intersect with religious practice and conceptions of the sacred?

We are seeking to foster and support project from scholars across the humanities as well as artists and practitioners whose work engages religion, ecology, and expressive culture. Projects can work with any religious or sacred tradition or movement and any field of art or expressive culture: Buddhist chants, Jewish sacred art, Indigenous resistance movements, land art, medieval rituals, African American sacred music, new green religious ceremonies, and much more. These sacred and artistic practices can engage a wide range of environmental topics, including:

  • Climate change and the Anthropocene
  • Ecological and cultural sustainability
  • Land, colonialism, and indigenous communities
  • The agency of the more-than-human world
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Food security
  • Race, ethnicity, and environmental justice
  • Environmental pollution and other toxicities
  • Mass extinction and the biodiversity crisis
  • Resource extraction
  • Environmental activism
  • The protection of waterways
  • Animals and animal ethics

We hope to draw scholars, artists, religious leaders, and cultural critics into discussion about the sacred dimensions of ecological issues and the power of religion and expressive culture to address our compounding ecological crises.

Three Themes page

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