What can Bonhoeffer tell us about climate change?

What can Bonhoeffer tell us about climate change?

University of Newcastle academic Dr Dianne Ryson will be delivering a special ecotheology intensive at United Theology College in November.

Creation and Ecotheology will draw on everything from poetry to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr Rayson is a Bonhoeffer scholar, whose recent work includes a chapter published in the book Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theology, and Political Resistance. Her PhD dealt with a similar subject.

“Bonhoeffer provides a rich resource for how we respond ethically to challenging situations,” Dr Rayson said.

“He also relies on a Christology of Christ in and through the world, and in the complexity of relationships, which, to my mind, is deeply ecological.”

Dr Rayson told Insights that those who took the course could expect that it will be, “…Like opening the lid on ecotheology to get a sense of some of the treasures that lie within this particular area of theology,” she said.

“We’ll be exploring some key texts, working through what they can teach us, and how they can help direct our actions in terms of responsibility to Earth and her creatures. There’ll be a mix of close textual work, experience in nature, guest speakers, and inputs from poetry, art and music.”

As a field, ecotheology has grown in interest and the number of participants over the past few decades, as the climate crisis has garnered further attention.

“I came into this field as the climate crisis was emerging as an ethical and moral crisis and it seemed like the church was on the back foot,” Dr Ryson said.

“To me, the Christian relationship to Earth and her creatures is such a fundamental part of our tradition that creation care is core business for churches. I wanted better tools to be able to support the church’s activism in this space. Coming from a background in public health, policy, and community development, ecotheology is a good space for me to be able to integrate our scientific knowledge of the world, the neuroscience of what makes us human, with the mystery of our faith.”

Insights into scripture

“Sometimes I think that other areas of theology are more like specialities within ecotheology, because ecotheology helps us think about relationships: relationships with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation,” she said.

“It positions us as part of the ecology, or the community of life on Earth. When we better understand these relationships it helps us to think through our responsibilities as creatures with particular roles. An ecotheological lens can give us richer insights into Scripture as well so it has a practical impact on our preaching, pastoral care, and personal growth.”

“It also helps us respond to historical ways of thinking about humans and the environment that have led to the climate crisis: things like dominion theologies that play out as exertion of power and domination. Just as the climate crisis is linked up with other issues of global ethics like poverty, migration, globalised capitalism, ecotheology is also concerned with historic problems of domination like colonisation, technology, and the treatment of women. I see ecotheology as a way to capture the complexity of both our sociocultural experience, and our ecological experience within the biosphere.

“Responding to the awe and wonder of our natural world is a universal experience of humans and this is often a good starting point for people to learn about ecotheology or even as a way to share the gospel. I hope that the UTC subject helps people grow in their own relationship with Earth and others, as well as being an academic stimulus.”

Those interested can gain credit from the subject towards a theology degree or can audit the course.

Creation and Ecotheology, THL will run from  Monday 9 to Friday 13 November from 9:30am to 4:30pm at United Theological College. The course will also be available via Zoom.

For more information and enrolments, contact Joanne Stokes on joannes@nswact.uca.org.au


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