May 5, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2003

Eiseland, Nancy
Candler School of Theology


Project Summary

As we indicated on our application for the 2003 Piedmont Project (PP), we were looking for ways to incorporate environmental issues into a new course, tentatively titled “Social Movements and Religious Change. We are planning to offer this seminar Spring 2004. Our planned seminar appears quite different from those most of our peers in the PP are designing: (1) We are designing it as a graduate seminar, rather than an undergraduate course. (2) We are co-teaching this course, sharing and alternating responsibility for different segments of the course. (3) We come from different divisions within Emory and will offer this course with graduate students in Sociology as well as the Candler School of Theology in mind.

Consequently, we face two brain teasers: We need to find a way to structure this course in didactically useful manner, so that we can expose students to the requisite theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches common in both fields. We know this will be a challenge, because we are essentially bridging the social sciences and the humanities, and the PP is not designed to help with that aspect of course development. We have decided that Nancy will lead the first segment (weeks 1-3), Regina will lead the second segment (weeks 4-6) and we will truly co-teach and lead class discussion for the remainder of the semester. More specifically, the PP has been useful in helping us address the second challenge, i.e. the need to incorporate environmental concerns as a substantive issue into the course.

This course builds on two specialty graduate seminars each of us has taught: Nancy’s “Contemporary American Religion” and Regina’s seminar on “Social Movements.” We were struggling with whether we should simply have one section (i.e., 1-2 weeks) deal explicitly with the environmental movement, or whether we should have the environment run through the course like a red thread. Keeping in mind that our prime goal is to make religion the red thread connecting all course sections, we were leaning towards the former approach, as it is very difficult to select readings that “hit” all three targets at once: mobilization, religion, and the environment. But as a result of the PP experience, we have decided to rethink our premise that all targets must be hit simultaneously, and at all times. Thus, we have expanded the inclusion of readings dealing with environmental aspects of social movements, so that we highlight environmentalist issues from the point of view of several, seemingly unconnected movements.

As the preliminary syllabus we attach illustrates, we attempt to do so e.g., by approaching the issue of abortion in the women’s movement from a “zero population growth” perspective (see Staggenborg, Buechler), rather than relying solely on policy or ideological analysis of the two opposing camps. Similarly, our treatment of the civil rights movement includes readings on environmental racism, our segment on the labor movement will contain readings on hazardous work conditions, because those affect humans directly (as workers) and indirectly (via water and air quality, the food chain). Our segment on the disability movement will take a global perspective and illustrate mobilization with the 1998 anti-landmine treaty in mind.

Overall, we feel we have benefitted greatly from our participation in this year’s PP. It has helped us move beyond the “idea for a seminar” towards a concrete goal and structure for our course. Moreover, we think that the most important strengths of the program consist in the deft combination of presentations and group discussions. While the former helped trigger ideas of where (which segments/movements) environmental issues might be incorporated into the syllabus, the latter helped us brainstorm with peers about how to incorporate these issues more concretely. Feedback from our colleagues was particularly useful regarding suggestions for literature and classroom discussion formats. The interdisciplinary make-up of our group greatly enhanced out experience and the payoff from these brainstorming sessions. Because we all approach environmental issues from different angles, the presence of our peers from across the university helped highlight areas of inquiry and raise questions about which we would otherwise never think. Finally, the experience has already spurred Regina to think about redesigning her course on race relations, to reflect a larger component on environmental issues in the undergraduate as well as graduate versions of her course.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Werum202620Eiesland_2003.pdf (126.1 KB)

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