Ph.D. in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion California Institute of Integral Studies
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 Ph.D. 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.
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.
About the Program
Interdisciplinary scholars wishing to engage in a rigorous study of ecology and religion study with faculty renowned for their cutting edge approaches. Students will investigate the role of worldviews, philosophies, and religions in understanding and responding to global challenges. Doctoral students in our program develop advanced research, writing, and inquiry skills to prepare them for roles in higher education and public sector leadership.
The Ph.D. requires a minimum of 36 units of coursework, which is followed by two comprehensive exams, a dissertation proposal, and original research to write a dissertation reviewed by a committee of three experts. Doctoral students publicly present their research findings at least twice during the course of their studies at relevant conferences at CIIS and nationally.
Coursework for doctoral students addresses religions and spiritualties; ecology and environmentalism; cosmology; the philosophy of religion; and transdisciplinary thinking. Additionally, all doctoral students take at least two courses in research theory and method, including Theory and Method in the Integrative Study of Religion and Ecology. Additional language or methodology courses may be required by the student's advisor. Students admitted with an MA in a field other than philosophy, religion, or environmental humanities may need to take up to 18 supplemental units of philosophy and religion courses.
Most courses are between one and three units; course offerings vary from year to year. Below are sample outlines. The two comprehensive exams, proposal writing, and dissertation carry 0 units and are charged at a flat fee each semester.
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