Master of Arts in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion California Institute of Integral Studies
Cultivating hope in a time of socio-ecological crisis
Climate change and biodiversity loss are among the greatest existential threats humanity has seen. Further, these ecological challenges represent a crisis of values and consciousness. Our program allows students to cultivate the knowledge and wisdom to respond to these existential threats from integral and transdisciplinary perspectives. Students gain skills and insight to transform practices, worldviews, and consciousness in service of a more just, sustainable, and flourishing planetary future.
Our unique curriculum explores worldviews and cultural heritages to help us understand and address ecological trauma. We further ask what roles spirituality, philosophy, and religion have both in generating and responding to ecological challenges.
Our program is a nurturing community engaged in revitalizing relationships to our earth and exploring intersections of eco-spirituality, eco-justice, indigenous traditions, and eco-feminism. Our faculty include Elizabeth Allison, Robert McDermott, Jacob Sherman, and Brian Swimme, all of whom work to shape the global dialogue linking spirituality and cosmology with ecology and sustainability.
Planetary Crises and Religion
Numerous interlocking ecological crises, including mass extinction of species, climate change, desertification, and poverty, mark the twenty-first century as a time of unprecedented change and challenge. This ecological devastation calls forth scientific, economic, and policy responses. Yet such standard responses often appear inadequate to the scope of the crisis.
Many leading thinkers have come to understand that the ecological crisis represents a crisis of human consciousness, and requires fundamental re-visioning of cultural values. The pace of global change calls for an understanding of the process by which humanity came to this crossroads in planetary history. It also calls for more enlightened ways of thinking and being in the world. The world's religious and spiritual traditions offer deep insight into the human condition, along with profound teachings about how humans should relate to one another and to earthly life. Questions about the role and meaning of humankind have illuminated religious quests for millennia; these same questions inspire the contemporary search for ecological sustainability.
Students learn facility with ecological principles and practices. They develop the knowledge and wisdom to respond to the ecological devastation from healing, integral, and transdisciplinary perspectives. They acquire skills and insight to transform practices, worldviews, and consciousness in service of a more just, sustainable, and flourishing future.
Spirituality is woven through all academic programs at CIIS, and is essential to understanding ecology, spirituality, and religion together. The spiritual commitments of both modern environmental activists and indigenous peoples deserve additional reflection in the context of the environmental crisis. As a nonsectarian and pluralistic institution, CIIS provides the ideal context in which to engage in further reflection on the connections between spirituality and ecology.
Philosophical reflection focuses on questions of meaning and purpose—the questions that the world's religions strive to address. Religions also require critical reflections of philosophy. Our program recognizes that philosophical and religious reflection occur in tandem and inform one another. We create a unique atmosphere for deep critical reflection relevant to ecological concerns.
Our courses employ cosmological understanding to place human creativity within the history of the 13.7 billion-year-old expanding cosmos, providing an important context for understanding the connections between human and cosmological history. The cosmological perspective places environmental challenges into their larger context in time and space, allowing access to new analytical tools for the genealogical understanding of environmental problems, and to a new, broader context for ethical and moral inquiry.
While philosophical inquiry into the nature of being—metaphysics—is out of vogue in many philosophy departments, such inquiry is essential to analyzing and understanding the appropriate human role with regard to the rest of the cosmos. Metaphysical inquiry allows philosophy to take a broader approach to the meaning and nature of existence. It is a core component of our program.
Our faculty stress the role of human imagination in interpreting texts and phenomena. They teach world literature, art, music, meditation, and philosophical Romanticism to open up new avenues of perception. Imagination—the ability to see beyond what currently exists—is urgently needed for reshaping the human relationship with Earth.
Students in our program are encouraged to use their intellectual discoveries and commitments in the larger community, to put their knowledge into action. MA students participate in a three-unit, 100-hour practicum, in which they provide service to an organization working to repair the relationships between humans and the natural world. Through these fieldwork experiences, students gain both practical, hands-on experience and professional connections, both of which will help them to devise productive opportunities following graduation.
Taking inspiration from such visionaries as geologer Thomas Berry; His Holiness the Dalai Lama; systems theorist Joanna Macy; Nobel laureate and Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai; World Resources Institute founder Gus Speth; Forum on Religion and Ecology founders Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim; and many other leading thinkers, our program invites students into an emerging discussion in which they will generate new knowledge and contribute to a growing field of academic inquiry and activism.
The program's uniquely integrated curriculum explores such questions as: What is the role of religion, spirituality, and culture in the ecological crises of our time? What ecological insights does the world's religious heritage offer? How can exploring worldviews help to understand and address ecological trauma? Our program is designed to help students to address these and related questions with rigor, insight, and efficacy.
About the Program
Our M.A. emphasizes an embodied, engaged approach in which contemplative practice and career exploration complement the rigorous study. Our students are motivated by their deep concern for the state of Earth and their determination to find healing solutions for the future. Students earning an MA in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion will be at the forefront of an interdisciplinary field that has grown rapidly over the past decade. Graduates will be well prepared to engage environmental issues in multiple spheres or to pursue doctoral-level study.
Our program requires 36 units of coursework. The curriculum progression includes two introductory courses; coursework in religion, philosophy, spirituality, and ecological issues; a fieldwork practicum; electives; and a capstone experience.
- Develop familiarity with one (or more) religious tradition(s).
- Gain facility with some approaches to the philosophy of religion.
- Acquire thorough knowledge of at least one ecological issue.
- Understand and navigate the epistemological challenges in studying religion and ecology together.
- Integrate their insights from their coursework into a coherent final capstone experience.
Course offering vary from year to year.
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