October 2020 – Drew Theological School is making its mark in environmental justice leadership.
One of only 11 seminaries to achieve the Green Seminary Certification from the Green Seminary Initiative, the Theological School encourages green initiatives and provides future religious leaders with the skills needed to employ these initiatives in their parishes and in their lives.
“In the face of climate change, this kind of education is key for religious leaders,” said Laurel Kearns, professor of ecology, society and religion, and an advocate for the school’s environmental position. “Drew has a long-standing commitment to environmental justice and to incorporating ecological knowledge into our curriculum and institutional practices.” Kearns helped create the Green Seminary Initiative, which Drew co-hosts with GreenFaith, in order to help other theological schools develop green programs and initiatives.
"As a green seminary, we lift up an ecological dimension that, for us, is interwoven with theology and social justice."
The Theological School integrates ecology into academic courses and programs, allowing students to examine a range of religious responses to ecological concerns. The required Global Faiths and the Earth course, recently introduced as part of the school’s new curriculum, examines how diverse religious perspectives are engaged, aligned or practiced to illustrate ecological sensitivity. “Students have the opportunity to visit worship and community centers engaged in ecological or environmental activism. The students were able to dialogue with these different traditions and reflect back on their own, which led many to design their own initiative or project or sermon for their respective religious community,” said Michael Anderson, PhD student and former teaching assistant for the course.
Drew’s commitment to ecological theology and environmentalism spans far beyond the classroom. The Community Garden, located on campus, provides an outside space dedicated to gardening and developing a connection to the earth. Students learn eco-theology, environmental justice and practice the farm-to-table process. All planting and harvesting is done by the community, with the produce available for students.
“Students encounter ecological Christianity not only in our curriculum, but in our worship life, our eating life, our community life and our garden. As a green seminary, we lift up an ecological dimension that, for us, is interwoven with theology and social justice,” said Catherine Keller, George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology.
Here’s a look at Theological School students and alumni demonstrating ecological leadership through internships, employment and individual accomplishments.
Saffet Catovic T’18
“Social justice, environmental justice, racial justice and economic justice are inextricably entwined. These interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality and public health must be dealt with holistically with a comprehensive approach if we are to survive and live together in an inclusive beloved community,” said alumni Saffet Catovic. “Through the interdisciplinary nature of the Ecology, Religion and Theology courses at Drew and the openness and willingness of my Drew professors to allow and encourage research on a broad range of topics, including those outside a traditional Christian seminary framework, prepared me for my post-graduate interfaith engagement and activism.”
Catovic volunteers his services as the Imam and Muslim Chaplain at Drew, and as a member of the Universities Religious Life Council. Catovic has a long history of service in interfaith environmental justice and has been involved with numerous organizations, including GreenFaith since 2009, where he serves as a senior Muslim advisor. He is a founding board member of the Islamic Society of North America’s Green Initiatives, consultant to the drafting committee of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, founding member of the Global Muslim Climate Network, co-drafter of the Fiqh Council of North America “Fatwa” Religious ruling on fossil fuel divestment, among other related interests and titles.
Peter Karanja, Master of Divinity student
“I have been aiming for an environmental holiness after taking the Global Faiths and the Earth course at Drew. Since then, my intersectionality of faith and environmental justice has broadened,” said Peter Karanja. “During my internship at Hanscom Park UMC in Omoaha, NE, I would make use of this ecological toolbox that shaped my preaching, gardening skills and even how to engage and to connect with folks and nature.”
As the Theological School Community Garden steward, Karanja brings his expertise from his experience in the flower industry in his native Kenya. Karanja spent the summer as an intern at the Omaha Hanscom Park UMC, where he also helped care for the community garden.
"I'm grateful for how my studies have intersected beautifully with my work as an activist, clergy person and scholar."
abby mohaupt, PhD student
“As part of my work with Green Seminary Initiative, I supported Drew through the certification to become a Green Seminary, in recognition of Drew’s long commitment to training students at all levels to love and advocate for climate and environmental justice in many areas,” said abby mohaupt. “As I continue my dissertation work on religious environmental social movements, I’m grateful for how my studies have intersected beautifully with my work as an activist, clergy person and scholar.”
mohaupt was connected professionally to GreenFaith and the Green Seminary Initiative when she came to Drew for her doctoral studies. mohaupt is currently the senior advisor for education and training director at the Green Seminary Initiative, an organization hosted by GreenFaith and Drew. She serves on the board of the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Fossil Free PCUSA.
Beth Quick T’03, PhD student
“I’m finding that there is an incredible amount of overlap between my coursework at Drew and the work of my fellowship,” said Beth Quick. “It is really wonderful to experience this sense of school and ‘work’ speaking to each other in consistent and meaningful ways.”
Quick was awarded a fellowship for the first CreatureKind Fellowship Program, which provides a supportive environment for students to pursue a lifetime of work for farmed animals within the church.
Melissa Vander Plaats, Master of Divinity student
“I was involved in both local and global initiatives for climate action that taught me how to work and learn with people of diverse spiritual and cultural backgrounds. Throughout my internship, I experienced firsthand the important interplay of faith and action, and the ways in which eco-theology and eco-spirituality inform ecological justice,” said Melissa Vander Plaats. “As a GreenFaith intern and TERRA (Transforming Environmental and Religious Resources for Action) President, I worked locally to organize the Drew community for participation in the New York City chapter of global climate strikes in September of 2019. On a global level, I served a central communication role for the GreenFaith team in the December 2019 United Nations gathering on climate change, COP25 in Madrid, Spain.”
As a second year Master of Divinity student at Drew, Vander Plaats served as an intern at GreenFaith.