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Faculty of Theology

The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology

Through the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology, St. Michael’s seeks to make a contribution to the healing of the Earth in all its life systems, and express its concern for the ecological crisis of the planet.

In the midst of the ecological challenges around us, there is a critical need to understand how we have arrived at this dilemma and the impact that Western culture has had on the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants. We are becoming increasingly aware of the many ways humanity has set itself apart from the rest of the planet’s ecosystems, how Western culture has lost both its roots in Earth and an appreciation for the sacredness of creation.

Theology is uniquely positioned to address these concerns. Drawing on sources from scripture, tradition, experience and scholarship, and offering critical analyses, hopeful visions and spiritual practices, it speaks to the heart of both the issues and its listeners. The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology (EAITE) is one way that the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College is responding to these challenges. The EAITE is a collaborative institute rooted in theology (including ecotheology, ecospirituality, ecoethics, ecofeminism, ecojustice and gender justice) and partnered with science (including ecology and evolution) and the humanities (including religions, social sciences, economics, geography, politics and the arts). Through its association with the other member schools of the Toronto School of Theology (TST) as well as the School of the Environment and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, it offers a specialization in theology and ecology. Interdisciplinary by design, the Institute facilitates serious contact between theological disciplines and the cultural paradigm shifts that are seeking to reinvent the human in ways that are mutually enhancing for humans and the rest of the planet.

The work of the EAITE is significantly informed by the insights of cultural historian and geologian Thomas Berry (1914-2009). A close associate of the founder of the EAITE, Stephen Dunn, and a frequent speaker at EAITE events, Thomas Berry’s scholarship and support have been instrumental in the success of the Institute.

In expressing our concern for the ecological crisis, the Institute seeks integrative methods for contributing to the healing of the Earth in all of its life systems. The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology (EAITE) is a collaborative teaching and research institute that offers a Certificate of Specialization in Theology and Ecology in each of the graduate programs of the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael's College, part of the Toronto School of Theology in the University of Toronto. Interdisciplinary by definition, the Institute facilitates serious contact between the theological disciplines and the scientific, cosmological, and cultural paradigm shifts that are shaping our times.

Innovative Scholarship

  • to explore scripture, tradition, experience and contemporary scholarship to inform a theological response to the ecological challenges that beset the planet
  • to develop and offer new liturgical expressions for exploring creation spirituality

Education

  • to educate teachers and students, policy makers and activists, the public and members of faith communities about challenges and solutions to the ecological crisis
  • to promote scholarly research and mentor students in graduate programs
  • to provide lectures, conferences, colloquia and workshops
  • to be a resource to the news media, policy makers and educators

Collaboration and Integration

  • to bring voices from academia—including science and the humanities—and from the arts, politics, NGOs and activist communities into creative dialogues concerning eco-theological issues
  • to explore issues of economic, social, political, gender and ecological justice as these relate to eco-theology

Although courses in theology and ecology had been offered at the University of St. Michael’s College for several years prior to 1991, it was in that year that the Faculty of Theology decided to respond to a growing need expressed by theology students and created the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology. Under the direction of Professor Stephen Dunn, a member of the Faculty, and through the inspiration of the work of cultural historian Fr. Thomas Berry, the Institute developed a certificate programme that permitted students at the Toronto School of Theology (TST) to acquire a specialization in theology and ecology while they concurrently completed a graduate degree in theology. Students have also been able to complete master and doctoral level theses in ecotheology (including ecospirituality, ecofeminism and ecoethics) as well as interdisciplinary theses involving ecotheology since 1991 – a pioneering accomplishment of the EAITE. In addition to courses that enable students to explore the relationships between theology and ecology on a deeper level, the Institute has also hosted public lectures, bringing experts in a variety of fields into dialogue with theologians so that issues pertaining to the ecological challenges might be creatively explored. Lectures have been delivered by: Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Heather Eaton, Anne Marie Dalton, Christopher Key Chapple, Stephen Bede Scharper, Edmund O’Sullivan, Anne Lonergan, John Haught, Dorothy Golden Rosenberg, John Grim, Marianne Karsh, and Celia Deane-Drummond.

Since its inception, the EAITE has enjoyed a close relationship with the Passionists of Canada and the retreat centre that they owned for many years at Port Burwell Ontario—the Holy Cross Centre for Ecology and Spirituality. Through this creative partnership, the work of the Institute has been enlarged and enhanced. Members of the EAITE participated in the colloquia and retreats at the Centre with such speakers as Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Theodore Roszak, Teri McLuhan, David Orr and Chung Hyun Kyung, among others. The student members of the Institute also had the opportunity to bring their classroom education to the everyday activities of a retreat centre including time for reflection in a more rural setting, and the chance to help design and deliver retreats and workshops. Now that the Centre for Ecology and Spirituality has moved to the Passionist Centre at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Toronto, the students of the Institute have new opportunities to bring their theological studies to practical service when they contribute to the monthly EcoSabbath gatherings and the annual Advent-Solstice evening.

Professor Stephen Dunn, C.P., a Passionist priest and professor in the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College, was the founder and first director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology. In the late 1970s, the Passionists’ Holy Cross Centre for Ecology and Spirituality in Port Burwell, Ontario, began exploring an emerging interest in the relationship between theology and its response to the ecological crisis. Significantly influenced by the work of geologian Thomas Berry, Stephen Dunn and the other members of the Centre’s staff used the workshops, retreats and colloquia of the Centre to delve into this new field. This collaborative process prompted the Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s to welcome the creation of the EAITE in 1991. In that same year, its certificate of specialization in theology and ecology was extended to not only to the graduate students at St. Michael’s but also to the graduate students in the Toronto School of Theology.

Dr. Dunn has now retired from the university, but remains active with the Passionist Centre for Ecology and Spirituality. Both he and the Passionist community continue to provide support and valuable advice to the EAITE.

Dr. Dennis Patrick O’Hara is the current Director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology. He began his career as a chiropractor and naturopathic doctor, both as a practitioner in private practice as well as an educator at colleges for each of these professions. He has been a consultant and facilitator for the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada where he facilitated six international consultations. He was a co-investigator in a 5 year research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to establish the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research (IN-CAM). He has drafted a description of the naturopathic profession for the World Health Organization and wrote the summative report for the 2006 World Health Organization International Consultation on Phytotherapy held in Milan, Italy.

In 1988, he began his theological studies, eventually completing master and doctoral degrees as well as a specialization in theology and ecology at the Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael’s College, a member school of the Toronto School of Theology in the University of Toronto. Since 2001, he has been a faculty member at St. Michael’s, and the Director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology, directing many theses on various aspects of eco-theology and ethics. He is also an associate member of the graduate faculty of the School for the Environment at the University of Toronto where he has co-taught courses on the environment and health. Since 2004, he has been a core faculty member of the certificate programme in Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of St. Michael’s College. Dr. O’Hara has delivered popular and academic lectures in Canada, the United States, Europe and Korea on health care, ecological spirituality, and ecological theology.

Earning a Certificate in Theology & Ecology

Once a student is enrolled in any of the graduate programmes at the Toronto School of Theology, she or he can apply to the Institute to establish a personal path toward completing a specialization in theology and ecology. Certain courses that satisfy the requirements of the student’s graduate programme can concurrently satisfy the requirements of the specialization in theology and ecology. For the purposes of the certificate, these courses can be considered as Dark Green (core), Intermediate Green (paradigm) and Light Green (issue) courses. The types and number of dark, intermediate, and light green courses that the student would be required to take will depend on the graduate programme that she or he is completing. Please consult the Director of the Institute to ensure that your choices satisfy the requirements for a specialization in theology and ecology.

If you are not enrolled in a graduate programme at one of the member colleges of the Toronto School of Theology but would be interested in taking one or some of the courses that explore matters of ecotheology (ecospirituality, ecofeminism, ecoethics, etc.), contact the Director of the Institute to learn how these courses can be taken for credit or simply for audit.

Course Requirements
Degree Programme Cross Disciplinary
Dark Green
Paradigm
Intermediate Green
Issue
Light Green
Thesis
Basic Degree Program 3 1 2 replaces 1 core (dark green) course
Advanced Degree Programme 2 1 1 1

Core: Dark Green Courses

Dark green courses are core courses that focus on ecotheology and may include courses in ecospirituality, ecofeminism, ecoethics, ecojustice, eco-economics, eco-scripture, among others. Examples of core courses are:

  • SMT2610: Eco-Theology: Faith and Practice
  • SMT3370/6370: Spirituality & Ecology: Integration and Implications
  • SMT3652/6652: Introduction the Eco-Theology
  • SMT3955/6955: Approaches to Ecological Ethics
  • EMT3344/6344: Creation and Eschatology
  • EMT3606/6606: God and Evolution
  • TSXxxxx: Reading and Research course with a core focus on ecotheology
Not every core course is offered every semester or even every year. Please check course offerings and course descriptions here. Please check with the Director of the Institute for guidance on the choice of core courses.

Paradigm: Intermediate Green Courses

Paradigm or intermediate green courses consider contemporary and/or previous paradigms and the ways that these worldviews have informed the behaviour of humans toward each other and the rest of the planet. They may, or may not, make specific reference to the ecological crisis. However, the instructor welcomes the student’s interest in making connections between these paradigms and the ecological crisis and/or its resolution. Paradigm courses might include courses on religion and science, process theology, theology and aboriginal or indigenous peoples, feminist theology, theological anthropology, or theology and culture. Examples of paradigm courses are:

  • SMT3613/6613: Feminist Approaches to Theology
  • SMT5603: Frontiers of Theology
  • EMP3471: Aboriginal Spirituality
  • EMT5931: Theology and Ethics in Postcolonial and Intercultural Frames
  • ENV1008: Worldviews and Ecology
  • RGT2321: Creation, Man/Woman, Sin
  • RGP3214: Spirituality and Culture
  • RGT5601: Faith and Culture
  • RGT6841: Inculturation: Theory and Practice
  • TRT5948 - Critical Theory and Feminist Religious Thought
  • WYT2802 - Beyond Homelessness: Theology in a Postmodern World
  • WYT3855: Theology of Culture
  • WYT6805: Postmodernity: A Christian Worldview
Not every paradigm course is offered every semester or even every year. Please check course offerings and course descriptions here. Please check with the Director of the Institute for guidance on the choice of paradigm courses.

Issue: Light Green Courses

Issue or light green courses are not designed to consider the ecological crisis, eco-theology, or an ecological paradigm. Nevertheless, it is possible for these courses to satisfy the requirements for a light green course if the following three conditions can be met: i) the instructor teaching the course welcomes the student’s ecological interests; ii) the course material is suitable for the pursuit of an eco-theological question or issue; and iii) the student’s summative paper for the course considers an eco-theological question or issue. That is, if the student brings an ecotheological perspective to a course without expecting the course to be taught from that perspective and this course is being taught by an instructor who is open to ecotheological concerns, then a hospitable, collaborative, creative, and ecologically sensitive arrangement ensues and a “light green” course is born. Virtually any course can become an issue or light green course with the instructor’s support.

For example, a course on Christology (e.g., SMT2242 - Christology) can become a light green or issues course if the student enrolled in the EAITE writes a summative paper on the cosmic Christ. Similarly, in a course on moral theology (e.g., SMT1904 – Fundamental Themes on Christian Ethics), the student’s summative paper might consider issues of eco-justice. In a course on creation and grace (e.g., SMT2328 - Creation, Fall, Grace & Glory; or RGT2321 - Creation, Man/Woman, Sin), the student might examine contemporary interest in creation theology or the development of an ecotheological anthropology. In a course on the Old Testament (e.g., SMB1007 - Introduction to Old Testament; SMB2278 – Israel’s Wisdom Tradition), the student's summative paper could explore the meaning of imago Dei as presented in chapter 2 of Genesis and the implications of various interpretations of that text; or our understanding of God’s relationship with creation as presented in Wisdom literature. Virtually any course can become an issue or light green course with the instructor’s support.

Please check with the Director of the Institute for guidance on the choice of issue courses.

Profiles of some current EAITE Students

Christopher Hrynkow

Christopher Hrynkow lives in Saskatoon, with his wife, Wilma, and their two sons, Jacob and Samuel. There he teaches courses in Religious Studies, Catholics Studies, and Social Justice and the Common Good at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan. Hrynkow has also offered courses in Conflict Resolution Studies at Menno Simons College, University of Winnipeg; Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies at the Canadian Mennonite University; Religion and Ecology at the Jesuit Centre for Catholic Studies, St. Paul’s College, Winnipeg; and has instructed several courses within the Social Foundations of Education Department at the University of Manitoba. His ThD research employs a green theo-ecoethical lens to analyze Catholic Social Teaching on peace.

Christine Legal

Christine Legal is working on an MA in Theology degree at the University of St. Michael’s College. She is interested in ecofeminist theology and is currently writing her thesis on an ecofeminist analysis of in vitro fertilization. She received an undergraduate degree in biology and history from the University of Manitoba. She lives on the beautiful West Coast of British Columbia with her husband Jeremaya and their one-year-old daughter, Sophie.

Matt Eaton

Matt Eaton comes to EAITE from upstate New York and is a current doctoral student at the University of St. Michael’s College where he studies theology, philosophy, and ecology. Matt’s interests include other-than-human subjectivity, eco-Christology, and ethics. His work involves the use of the New Cosmology, as well as post-humanist /continental philosophies and eco-phenomenology, to re-imagine central aspects of the Christian tradition, especially, but not limited to incarnation and eschatology. In addition to this, Matt is interested in concrete encounters between human and non-human animals and how such relationships shape the horizons of each subject involved, creating meaningful inter-species partnerships on Earth.

Rachel Ball

Rachel Ball, M.A., is currently working on her Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at the University of St. Michael's College. Her research focuses on developing an approach to environmental ethics rooted in a strong Christology. Her research incorporates the voices of many Christian mystics and saints, particularly the work of Thomas Merton, while also addressing moral theology in our present world.

Catherine Wright

Catherine Wright is a transplant to Toronto from rural Ontario and enjoys both competitive sports and an active life with her husband Todd and daughter Draven. After completing degrees in zoology, education and divinity, as well as spending several years teaching mathematics, science and being involved with chaplaincy programs, Catherine entered the doctoral programme in Christian Ethics at Regis College, one of the member colleges of the Toronto School of Theology. Her interests lay in interdisciplinary studies in science, theology, contemporary ethics, and spirituality. The main focus for her thesis work is on the implications of cosmogenesis on contemporary theological engagement with human suffering. She has taught constructive moral and sacramental theology courses through the lens of ecotheology and liberation theologies for Catholic teachers in Halton and Toronto. She is currently a tenure-stream assistant professor at Wingate University, North Carolina.

Sara-Jo Pipher

While originally from Toronto, Sara-Jo Pipher now lives in Sudbury, Ontario. She is keenly interested in the intersection of being earth and spirit creatures and how we live and honour that intersection, as well as exploring how to bring the arts into her studies and lifestyle. For some time and in a variety of ways, she has been exploring John Muir's words: “There are no harsh, hard dividing lines in nature.” She loves canoe-tripping, walking in the woods, painting, dancing, talking with soulful people, cooking, and baking.

Michael Taylor Ross

Michael is currently writing his PhD dissertation under the direction of Dennis O’Hara, which explores the implications of Thomas Berry’s work for sexuality. Areas of interest include eco-theology, Thomas Berry, sexual ethics, feminist theology, science-religion dialogue and popular culture. He has a combined honours BA in History & Religious Studies/Philosophy from King’s University College in London, Ontario (Western University), where he has also done teaching assistant work for courses on film and religion and world religions. Michael also completed his MA in theology at St. Michael's and his thesis focused on evolution and its implications for new understandings of the doctrine of original sin. He is the 2014 recipient of the C. Douglas Jay Scholarship in Theological Ethics, awarded by the Toronto School of Theology. Michael lives in London, Ontario with his wife and two girls.

Youngmin Song

Youngmin Song is a native of South Korea and has served the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Daegu as a diocesan priest since 2002, where he has ministered as an associate pastor, director of youth ministry, spiritual companion of seminarians, and assistant professor of theology. Youngmin encountered the significance of Berry’s cosmological, ecological and spiritual vision during his master’s degree work in Culture and Spirituality at the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in California, and in 2011 began his doctorate in Ecotheology at St. Michael’s. Youngmin’s doctoral research focuses on developing ecospiritual literacy in the context of Thomas Berry’s new cosmology. Youngmin’s work highlights how Christianity must cultivate and develop a distinctly eco-spiritually sensitive literacy in order to be able to read the Book of Creation. The aim of his current doctoral work is to be able to offer ecospiritual education programming in his future ministry work.

Sheryl Johnson

Sheryl Johnson graduated in 2013 from the Master of Divinity and Master of Pastoral Studies degree programmes at Emmanuel College, one of the member colleges of the Toronto School of Theology. Her MDiv thesis focused on the intersections between social and ecologically-focused theologies of justice and the ways these are sometimes presented as being in competition or incompatible with one another, particularly related to issues of gender and disability. She is currently working as the Minister to Children and Youth at Fairlawn Avenue United Church, and in fundraising for KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.

Dr. Simon Appolloni

Having completed a Master of Divinity degree at USMC with a certificate of specialization in Theology & Ecology, Simon was energized to undertake doctoral studies collaboratively at both the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion and the School for Environment. His master’s thesis examined the four sources of wisdom identified by Thomas Berry while his doctoral thesis produced an epistemic convergence of the works of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Leonardo Boff, Diarmuid O’Murchu and Thomas Berry to integrate ecology, justice, science and faith into a viable ethical vision. He has taught courses on environmental and tourism ethics at Brock University as well as courses on religion and science at the University of Toronto.

Roberto Chiotti

Roberto Chiotti is a Toronto architect and founding partner of Larkin Architect Limited. In addition to obtaining his professional architectural degree, Roberto completed a Master of Theological Studies degree in 1998 from University of St. Michael’s College. Roberto has been invited to speak on the topics of Sustainable Design, Sacred Space, and the Cosmological Response to the Ecological Crisis as it relates to Architecture and Education at Universities, Colleges, Religious conferences, and professional organizations in Canada and the United States. Currently he also serves as ongoing guest faculty at George Brown College’s “Institute Without Boundaries” and has recently co-instructed a sacred space studio at Ryerson University’s School of Architecture. His firm’s widely published St. Gabriel’s Church, which embodies Thomas Berry’s ecotheology, is the first worship space in Canada to achieve LEED® Gold Certification and is the recipient of an IFRAA Merit Award and the 2007 City of Toronto Green Design Award.

Dr. Kwang Sun Choi

Kwang Sun Choi received his Ph.D in 2012 from the University of St. Michael’s College. His thesis was entitled The Sacred Journey of the Earth Community: Towards a Functional and Ecological Spirituality via the Cosmologies of Thomas Berry and Zhou Dunyi. His research interests include the cosmology of Thomas Berry and its implications for eco-theology, eco-spirituality, ecology and religion, in particular Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Besides his academic pursuits, Kwang Sun, is an ordained Presbyterian minister exploring the integration of Christian faith with the ecological practices. Kwang Sun is also a Lecturer at Honam Theological Seminary and University, Gwang ju, Korea.

Dr. Jai-Don Lee

Jai-Don Lee was born in Seoul, Korea. In 1985, he was ordained as a Catholic priest of the Seoul Archdiocese. After ordination, his major concern was centered on spirituality and ecological issues. He studied ecotheology from an Asian perspective at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto between 1997 and 2004. His doctoral thesis was Towards an Asian Ecotheology in the Context of Thomas Berry’s Cosmology: A Critical Inquiry. He taught as an adjunct professor at St. Michael’s between 2005 and 2007 when he taught several courses on ecology and Asian spirituality. In 2007, Jai- Don was assigned to teach at the Nicholas Cardinal Cheong Graduate School for Life in the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul. In 2011, he is appointed as the dean of the Graduate School for Life.

NEWS AND EVENTS

News

Colloquium: “Thomas Berry’s Work: Development, Difference, Importance, Applications”

From May 28 to May 30, 2014 a colloquium on “Thomas Berry’s Work: Development, Difference, Importance, Applications” was hosted by the Center for Ecozoic Societies and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Papers were delivered by EAITE director Dr. Dennis O’Hara, and EAITE students Matt Eaton, Abigail Lofte, Michael Ross and Catherine Wright. EAITE alumna, Dr. Heather Eaton from St. Paul University, Ottawa, delivered a keynote address.

Visit to Green Mountain Monastery

On July 7, 2014, EAITE alumnus Dr. Jai-Don Lee and EAITE student Young-min Song joined EAITE director Dennis O’Hara for a visit to the Green Mountain Monastery near Greensboro, Vermont. They paid their respects at the resting place of Fr. Thomas Berry and enjoyed the warm welcome offered by Sister Bernadette Bostwick.

Founding Director of EAITE wins Thomas Berry Award

On November 10, 2013, Dr. Stephen Dunn, the founder and former director of the EAITE was awarded the prestigious Thomas Berry Award, presented by Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker and Dr. John Grim in recognition of his long and innovative service to advancing the growth of ecotheology. Both at the banquet before and during the award presentation, many of his former students and colleagues acknowledged his ground-breaking efforts and supportive leadership over several decades. At the reception that followed, the EAITE doctoral students had an opportunity to meet Dr. Dunn as well as many academics and activists who have had long associations with eco-theological issues. This not only provided useful networking for the students, but it provided a richer historical context for their work.

Mary Evelyn Tucker speaks on Climate Change

Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, a 2013 recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Michael’s College, delivered a public lecture on the evening of November 9, 2013 concerning the serious consequences of climate change. Her lecture was warmly received by all in attendance, including members of the EAITE. During the reception that followed, the EAITE doctoral students chatted with Dr. John Grim about their various thesis topics, benefiting from his good counsel.

New film about the EAITE

The EAITE collaborated with Villagers Media Productions, Green Spirit Television, and The Passionist Centre for Ecology and Spirituality to create a brief film about the creation and work of the EAITE. This involved a primary collaboration among Dawn Deme (executive producer, editor), Steven Deme (field producer, camera operator), Stephen Dunn and the current director of the EAITE, with the assistance of EAITE students Matthew Eaton, Abigail Lofte, Rachel Ball, Catherine Wright, Carolyn Taylor, and Youngmin Song. This film – “The New Ecotheologians: They are Everywhere” – was premiered at the 2012 Thomas Berry Award presentation.

Events

Monthly EcoSabbath Gatherings

At 11:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of every month (September to May, inclusive), the faculty and student members of the EAITE facilitate a reflection and discussion prompted by the readings for that Sunday’s liturgy. The gathering is hosted at St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish, 650 Sheppard Ave. East, Toronto (a block and a half east of Bayview Ave. on the north side of Sheppard Ave. East, a short walk east from the Bayview subway station on the Sheppard Line). The guided reflection brings an ecological perspective to the readings, using ecotheology and the cosmological vision of Thomas Berry. All are welcome.

Annual Advent-Solstice Evening

Each year at the winter solstice, the faculty and student members of the EAITE facilitate an evening of reflection drawing from the liturgical (Advent) and cosmological (Solstice) seasons. The Advent-Solstice Evening is held at St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish. Please contact the Director of the Institute for further information about this year’s gathering.