Religion and the Environment

Religion and the Environment: A Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Environment and Discover Common Ground in the Judeo-Christian and Buddhist Communities

Monday, May 08, 2006

my personal epilogue

I am not sure if this is the proper location for this post, but it feel it is appropriate that the administration, my 3 professors, and classmates hear what I have to say about this course.

When I initially was looking at classes for the spring, I had limited space in my schedule and wanted to load it with classes that met once a week. I stumbled upon the ELEA course, read the description, and thought to myself "maybe I can learn a think or two about the environment." Little did I know that I was in for the biggest shock of all time.

Being a political science and modern jewish studies major, I didn't think twice about this Environmental Ethics course connecting to anything that I had previosuly studied. In fact, I hated sciences in highschool and avoided them in college (except for the 2 astronomy courses I took to fulfill my barnard requirement). After my first meeting with Diane, I was instantly impressed with her enthusiasm for the course, her zest for life, and sincerity towards my contributions in the classroom. She found a way to engage my Jewish studies into the course by creating a project that explored religion and the environment. I left that meeting a bit aprehensive because I was not sure exactly was I was getting myself into. But I also felt ressured that with Diane's guidance, I would find the whole experience beneficial.

After the first day of class I felt overwhelmed with the requirements. Papers, power points, porgress reports, readings, class discussions: you name it, it was on the syllabus. But, I had an inkling that this class could turn out to be one of the most unique opportunities as a student at Barnard, and decided to stick it out (unlike some other students). I went home to read our first assignment which was Ishmael and returned to class with hesitency to discuss the reading. What if I interpreted it incorrectly? What if I do not understand the ecological situation discussed throughout the story like the other students do? Alas, my anxieties were put to rest when Diane opened the dsicussion to all different viewpoints. Having an academic religious background, I was able to apply my knowledge of that field to the book and soon found myself in enthralled in the classroom. 2 hours flew by and I could hardly believe that the first full day of the ELEA class had passed so quickly.

As the semester progressed, I continued to work on my project and became more aware of the world around me. I couldn't believe that a single class was having such an impact on how I looked at my Jewish texts, analyzed news reports that dealt with the environment, and the bonds that I was building with the members of my class. I found myself telling many friends and advisors about the amazing course that I was taking and how it empowered us to become environmental stweards in society.

The peek of my experience was when Diane set up our trip to the Garrison institute. I'm not going to lie, I was very busy and didn't feel like getting up early to ride a train (especially on St. Patricks Day), but I packed up my notebook, camera, good attitude and headed towards Grand Central. On the train, Jessies, Diane and I spent the hour conversing about the course, life, and commenting on the beautiful Hudson River scenery outside the window. Once we reached Garrison, a new feeling came over me. I stepped onto the platform and was amazed by the beauty that surrounded me. Going to school in the city had caused me to forget how astounding the environment can be. After spending so much time talking about nature, looking at pictures, and reading depictions of people's experiences, I was finally face to face with our subject matter. My earlier resistance to visit Garrison instantly subsided and a calm came over me. I began to flashback to my favorite places that had always brought me happiness. I had spent the past nine summers of my life in the Muskoka region of Ontario, which was equally as beautiful as the Hudson Valley (if not more, in my opinion). Summertime is when I am truly in my best mentality because I escape the congestion of the city and free myself into the most natural environment. Unknown to Jessie and Diane, I was in such a state of happiness that I almost cried. As wierd as that sounds, I often long for the days where there are no pressures of school work, meetings, classes, my peers, and technology. I knew that this visit was going to be beneficial not only for our project, but also to stabalize me to return to school with a more relaxed mindset.

The garrison trip proved to be worthwhile. Patricia could not have been more generous with her time and knowledge and Diane was a wonderful asset to keep us motivated and excited about this opportunity. After understanding the prgramming that the Garrison institute does and the mission statement of the institution, it became clear how connected all religions are with the environment. I found myself becoming educated beyond the limits of our project and it created a new open-mindedness.

I could go on forever about how this project has expanded my views on the environment and my personal Jewish religion, but I want to take a second to address why this course is so important. In a city that can seem so cold and a campus that is too busy to create sustainable relationships, this class has played an important role in my semester at Barnard. I have had my fair share of bad professors, maybe even too many. It becomes discouraging to sit class after class without knowing your professor, feeling like you understand the material covered, and just being another body in classroom. I was sick of being unappreciated as a student and thought that there was no hope for a class that could engage my personal strengths. I am not the strongest writer, I do not learn well from copying notes off a powerpoint, and easily become dsitracted if the subject matter is boring. Diane's class allowed me to engage my strengths of reading, discussion, presentation, and hands on learning which helped me succeed in and outside the classroom walls. Additonally, Diane's concern for my perosnal growth as a student and environmental stewerd was inspiring. Even during the most difficult moments of the semester (when my computer kept crashing, holiday confines, immense stress) Diane would shoot me and e-mail, call me, or talk to me after class to genuinely see how i was holding up. No other teacher has ever reahed out to me in such a fashion and I was touched by her kind gestures and words. I had always heard rave reviews about Diane, but this class confimed them. She is one of the most passionate, caring, and motivated professors I have seen and is out to accomplish a greater goal of invigorating students with the power to explore the world.

This course deserves more recognition than it has already gotten. I will be shocked and appalled if they do not allow it to run again next year. This is truly the epitome of the classroom experience that changes a student and allows them to discover a new side of themseleves that has always been in hiding. I have changed over the course of this semester. I now view Judaism from a different scope, can comment academically about environmental concerns, and can boast that I took a science class that I actually enjoyed.

In all, this class has been a pleasure to take. I know that my time with Diane, Professor Balmer, Laura, and classmates will help me out with future situations and interactions. On this note, I want to say thank you for an amazing semester. Without this course, I would be a different individual and would have missed out on the greatest opportunity that Barnard has to offer. "This too shall pass" but from it I will take my knowledge, skills, new mentality, and motivation to face the world as it continues to come at me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

After thought

After writing our paper, Jessie asked if I would write an epilogue to add at the end. I sat down and thought about how this porject has affected our lives and what has been gained from this valuable experience. Below is the actual epulogue written and I know that this is only the beginning of study in this area:

When first approaching this project, we had vast knowledge about the Christian and Jewish faiths, minimal about Buddhism, but none about the incorporation of the environment. After spending a semester exploring texts, speaking with religious leaders, and getting hands on experience at locations such as the Garrison Institute, we can say that we have grown academically and spiritually from this assignment. Without even realizing, these religions rely heavily on the incorporation of nature to enhance the teachings and philosophies. Anywhere we visit, travel to, or dwell is surrounded by nature. From the smallest blade of grass on a lawn to the grand mountain ranges, our interaction with these objects holds the possibility to change our lives. Within these religions, a person can find a way to connect a theory to their surroundings and find some aspect of significance.

Religion is an interesting concept because while it might dictate certain laws regarding the way we dress and the behaviors we use, it primarily resides as a mindset that applies principles taught to become more knowledgeable and feel greater spiritual connection. When applying the lessons and morals learned from the sacred texts, we then enact our religious histories and become a part of it. In all of these religions, respect is a key concept utilized when interacting with nature. We are supposed to honor the creations of the Lord, and also respect the world around us because if we do not treat it well, then we are not treating ourselves well.

It can be difficult to feel that same connection when living in an urban location such as New York City. With minimal greenery, polluted streets, and an insensitive mentality possessed by much of society, it can become discouraging to find that spiritual connection. Luckily, there are places such as the Garrison Institute and other organizations that believe if you cannot have nature, bring nature to the individual. Our visit to the Garrison Institute became the inspirational moment when our research became internalized and applicable. Leaving the crowded and congested city for the spacious and beautiful countryside allowed us to understand the exquisiteness of creation and the need to protect it.

Usually a final paper signifies the conclusion of a semester long project. But in this case, we have only begun our assignment. We will continue to work with the Garrison Institute to attend lectures and hopefully become featured speakers. With their guidance, the lengthiest part of the project will be accomplished little by little; becoming well versed in the religious connection to nature. There is never an end to this part and we look forward to our continuous stewardship and someday leadership in this area.

This might be the final page of this paper, but it is just the end of the first chapter of our new undertaking.

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