The ISM launches a new initiative focused on Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture

January 25, 2023

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music has announced the launch of the Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture Initiative, a project that seeks to foster dialogue and disseminate work by scholars, artists, leaders, and activists across all disciplines and religious and indigenous traditions who are working at the intersection of religion, ecology, and the arts. The initiative will offer important resources to academic audiences and the broader public though the hosting of events and symposia, and the funding of individual and team projects. Details of the kinds of projects that will be considered are outlined on the Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture website and submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis. 
“The Institute was founded 50 years ago by benefactors with deep social engagement”, said Martin Jean, director of the ISM. “We are inspired by the conviction that the study and practice of sacred music, ritual, and related arts are critical contributors to scholarly work in the environmental humanities and in matters relating to the global ecological crisis.”

Three main themes will be addressed in the initiative’s work. Sacred Cosmologies explores the interrelationships between humans, other-than-humans, ecological systems and the cosmos itself, and examines how these are linked with expressive cultures and contemporary environmental action. Ritual Natures focuses on the natural forms of trees, rocks, and water which have long been central to ritual practices across a wide range of religious traditions. Extraction and Disposal in Expressive Culture explores the social and political questions that arise from the extraction of natural goods.
Eben Graves, assistant director of the ISM, has been spearheading the initiative since its inception. In 2019, he invited a group of scholars from multiple disciplines and religious traditions to consult about the shape and direction of the initiative. Included in this group were representatives from the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and the Yale Environmental Humanities who are strong partners in this new work. In 2022, Ryan Darr joined the ISM as a postdoctoral fellow and has been instrumental in getting the new project off the ground.
The Religion, Ecology and Expressive Culture Initiative is sponsoring several upcoming events, all of which are free and open to the public. A series of four webinars in January and February will explore the topic of “Mass Extinction: Art, Ritual, Story and the Sacred.” Drawing from religion, ritual, and the arts, each talk (all with multiple speakers) will address different aspects of the extinction crisis. Hundreds of people have already signed up from all around the globe. Along the same theme, there will be an exhibition of the work of the artist Angela Manno in ISM’s Miller Hall in April and May entitled Sacred Biodiversity: Icons of Threatened and Endangered Species.
On February 19, Breath of Earth will be performed by Yale Schola Cantorum, to include the world premiere of Edensongs. Composed by Aaron Jay Kernis, this oratorio commissioned especially for Yale Schola Cantorum, focuses on themes of care for the earth. Prior to the concert, there will be a roundtable discussion, “Wanting Song, In the Beginning”: A Roundtable on Images of Eden in History, Culture, and the Environmental Crisis. Read more.
For more information about the Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture Initiative, visit the website or contact us by email.