Take 5: Forum on Religion and Ecology co-director Mary Evelyn Tucker

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer and research scholar, holds appointments in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Divinity School, as well as the Department of Religious Studies. Her special area of study is Asian religions. Her concern about the growing environmental challenges led her to help shape a new interdisciplinary field linking religion and ecology. Tucker teaches in the joint M.A. program in religion and ecology and directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale with her husband, John Grim. She is the author of “Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism,” “The Philosophy of Qi,” and “Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase,” and is co-author (with Grim) of the recently published “Ecology and Religion.” She has also co-edited a number of books, including “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?” and “Worldviews and Ecology,” among others. She is a co-creator (with Brian Thomas Swimme) of the multi-media project “Journey of the Universe,” which includes the Emmy Award-winning film of the same name that was broadcast on PBS and is now available on Netflix. She and Swimme co-authored a companion book for the film that was published by Yale Press in 2011.

What scholarly/research project are you working on now?

Along with my husband, John Grim, I am writing a biography of Thomas Berry for Columbia University Press. Berry was a remarkable historian of world religions who studied the traditions of Asia and of indigenous peoples, along with the western religions. He was our teacher and inspired us to help create the Forum on World Religions and Ecology. He had an abiding concern for what the religions might contribute positively to solving our environmental crisis. One example is that the Pope is soon to release an Encyclical on the environment, which will have a major influence on 1.2 billion Catholics and another 1 billion Christians. We hope to do something at Yale in March to mark this occasion and explore the ethical implications of this new teaching document.

What important lesson(s) have you learned from your students?

How much resilience they have. With all of the dispiriting news in the world today — from politics to the environment — our students have not given up the hope of making a real difference in our world. I find this so invigorating, indeed inspiring. In starting new online classes in world religions and ecology I also realize that there are fresh ways that students learn and reflect on video lectures and reading. The responses and interactions of students online have been some of the most creative discussions I have seen in 40 years of teaching.

What world problem would you fix, if you could?

The health of the environment has been a concern of mine for many decades, as this is what we all depend on. If we can continue to devise viable programs for protecting the biosphere, maintaining biodiversity, and supporting human communities, I would feel immense relief, indeed happiness. This means that we have to try to reframe human-Earth relations in a mutually enhancing manner. That is what our PBS film “Journey of the Universe” is trying to do by showing that we are part of a vast process of cosmic, Earth, and human transformation. As 65,000 people have rated it on Netflix in one year, we are feeling quite hopeful!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do — either professionally or personally — that you haven’t yet?

I have published academic volumes, but I would love to write one or two small books in a more personal vein. We live in such challenging times and how we may navigate through these challenges is something I often reflect on in my diaries. So I would like to share these reflections, perhaps in a collection of letters addressed to family and friends.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love being in Kroon Hall on Prospect Street where the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is located. My office is there on the first floor. The building has a great feeling about it, not just because it is a beautiful green building, but because of the buzz of students and faculty who inhabit the building. Every week we have the opportunity to hear first-class lectures on a wide range of environmental topics. The students run a coffee shop on the top floor and several active centers are housed here, like the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, the Center for Business and the Environment, and our Forum on Religion and Ecology.

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