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ENV 298.42 - Spirituality and Ecology

Course Stats

Instructor:  Ted Purcell, Duke University chaplin

Units:  1

Semester Offered:  Spring


Answer to the most common question:  no specific spiritual/religious leaning is required of the student, and in fact a diversity of faiths/non-faiths is welcome.  While Ted is a Christian chaplin, the course discusses environmental ethics as related to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and a host of others.  Conversations are enhanced by the variety of personal experiences present in the classroom.

Skills and Career Applications

  • This is an excellent course for any students seeking a career in public outreach and communication, or potentially serving in community resource management, stakeholder negotiations, social marketing, or social survey research efforts.  The textbooks are especially handy guides on how to communicate environmental issues to audiences of various spiritual attitudes, and on what different religious organizations are already doing in environmental activism. 
  • Perspectives from this class also apply to central issues in environmental law, international politics, and more distantly, ecosystem services valuation and willingness to pay studies.  In business terms, the class is a nice examination of what "core values" we hold in our own life-long environmental mission statement.
  • Potential employers are at times impressed or at least intrigued at a candidate's ability to relate to this field.

Registration Advice

  • The class usually does not fill up, but it is a small sized class (~15), so register early if it is gaining in popularity and a must-have in your plans.
  • The class also does not extend for the entire semester.  Its work load is light although readings are moderate (and recommended for full experience), but overall is a solid choice for a easy, 1-unit elective course. 

Student Opinions

  • This is one of the most non-traditional classes in the MEM listings, but one that receives abundant praise year after year.  It is among the few offered that examines the basic ethical reasoning behind environmental action (also see Environmental Law; Professional Ethics), and may be the only course in the Nicholas School that touches on the analysis of cultural or spiritual aspects of environmental action.
  • Students describe the classroom experience as "comforting" and "intimate", and note Ted to be a "calming presence" and "almost like talking with my grandfather".  A close-knit setting is slowly developed, and students eventually engage in sincere, constructive discussions on personal ideology and critical thought on "why we chose to seek an environmental career".  Conversations can also simply delve into opinions on current events, or simple reflections on nature and society.
  • The readings are relevant and handy guides that students often kept beyond the semester. 
  • I enjoyed this class because it covered an important topic that is not often talked about at the Nicholas School and it was a nice change of pace from other courses.

The Instructor's Take...

(This space is exclusively for the instructor to broadly comment on his or her course, and respond to commonly received feedback, explain methods and approaches, and encourage student registration. Instructors: Please limit to 300 words, or link to a wiki page of your own creation to explain in detail.)