Researchers at IU, other universities to explore humanities perspective on environmental change

  • Feb. 7, 2017


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University religious studies scholar Lisa Sideris and colleagues at three other universities will receive $141,215 over three years for a project that will bring humanities perspectives to climate change and other issues of human-environment interaction.

The project, "Being Human in the Age of Humans: Perspectives From Religion and Ethics,” researches new ways of envisioning what it means to be human in the Anthropocene, or the Age of Humans. The Anthropocene is the proposed name for the current geological age, viewed as the period in which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Sideris, the principal investigator for the project, is an associate professor of religious studies in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences.

"We argue that scholarship in mythic and religious genres will contribute to deeper understanding of the Anthropocene, including humanity's role in interacting with and shaping the natural world," Sideris said. "We believe that questions about what it means to be human are the purview of religion, philosophy and ethics."

Funding for the project comes from Humanities Without Walls, a university consortium that promotes collaborative research in the humanities.

The project will establish a framework for ongoing collaboration by scholars of religion, theology, philosophy and ethics at IU Bloomington, the University of Chicago, Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame. Themes include:

  • Articulating alternative Anthropocene narratives: Conversations about the Anthropocene often treat humanity as a single force that drives impacts such as climate change. But not all humans contribute equally. New understandings of communal responsibility, social justice and the behavior of individuals and groups may help us better respond to environmental challenges.
  • Understanding the implicit religiosity of Anthropocene narratives and frameworks: Anthropocene storylines often function as religious-like propositions about human nature and the planet. Scholars will examine how these stories naturalize or normalize particular outcomes and prevent other possibilities for envisioning the future.
  • Incorporating local and/or native worldviews: Climate change and related issues are seen by indigenous groups not as a recent crisis but as a continuation of environmental degradation from centuries of settler colonialism. This project will enable better understanding of how indigenous worldviews explain the present and future. It will generate new research on the ethics, knowledge systems and unique adaptive strategies of indigenous communities.

Funded as part of a Humanities Without Walls initiative titled "The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate," the grant will fund support for graduate assistants, collaborative workshops at the University of Chicago and Michigan State University, and a larger conference at IU in 2018. Participants will publish research findings in blog posts, journal articles and books.

Humanities Without Walls links humanities research centers at 15 Midwestern universities, including the College Arts and Humanities Institute at IU Bloomington. The consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Other members of the research team are Celia Deane-Drummond, professor of theology and director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing at the University of Notre Dame; Sarah Fredericks, assistant professor of environmental ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School; and Kyle Powys Whyte, Timnick Chair in the Humanities and associate professor of philosophy and community sustainability at Michigan State University.

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Steve Hinnefeld