Inside USD

Where Sustainability Meets Catholic Social Thought

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

sustainphotomainA trip to the Dominican Republic gave University of San Diego faculty members the chance to explore principles of Catholic social teaching and their relevance to efforts toward sustainability and economic justice.

The travel immersion seminar, sponsored by USD’s Center for Catholic Thought and Culture in January, culminated in a presentation Monday by professors from the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business Administration.

Faculty presentations examined the principles of Catholic social teaching and their relevance to the natural environment and applied reconstructed concepts to environmental problems and solutions underway in the Dominican Republic, where low-income residents in rural communities are looking for ways to balance economic growth with environmental protection.

During his presentation, “What Is It Good For: The Need for Value in Environmental Ethics,” Ron Kaufmann, associate professor of marine science and environmental studies, talked about the deforestation caused by pursuit of  short-term economic gains and the need for an environmental ethic to help prevent further damage. Christianity and other faiths suggest the notion of “stewardship,” a responsibility to preserve resources “not just for ourselves but for subsequent generations,” he said.

In a presentation on “Church as Community: Solidarity and Sustainability in El Cercado,” Mary Doak, assistant professor of theology and religious studies, outlined the important role of the Church in promoting cooperative farms to raise foods organically and sustainably and efforts to reverse deforestation.

Such changes “are having a huge impact on the standard of living of people in El Cercado,” a small city about 153 miles from Santo Domingo near the border with Haiti, noted Andrew Narwold, professor of economics. But their environmental impacts are “local (and) regional rather than global,” he said in his presentation on “Micro vs. Macro Catholicism.”

Also looking at the global picture, Thomas Reifer, associate professor of sociology, examined nature’s sometimes devastating effects in under-developed nations like Haiti in a discussion on “Natural History, the Fall and the Apocalyptic Imagination: Liberation Ecologies/Theologies for the 21st Century.” He called for a “justice of universality” where developed nations share their abundance in a more equitable fashion.

In her talk on “The Taste of Justice: Faith-based Efforts to Support Farmers Using Sustainable Practices,” Mary Sue Lowery, professor of biology, talked about how change can begin to happen when affluent consumers make a practice and commitment to buying food grown under sustainable practices. Holding up bags of fair trade-approved coffee and cocoa, she said these efforts could ”bring together” aspects of community, micro-economics, practicality and even spirituality.

The combination of faculty from various disciplines made for “an incredibly enriching dialogue,” said Maria Pascuzzi, professor of theology and religious studies and director of the center. “The seminar was a model of the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue that we need to continue to enable and encourage not just once a year for a few faculty, but often.”

The dialogue continues next week when the remaining professors give their presentations. Topics include “Stewardship: The Earth as Farm, Park or Machine” and “Anthropocentrism and the Status of Animals in Christianity and Hinduism.” The university community and public are invited to the free event from 3:30 to 5:30  p.m. on March 30 in the Warren Auditorium of Mother Rosalie Hill Hall.

— Liz Harman

USD faculty photo courtesy of Ron Kaufmann

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