Thursday, September 13

Kitchen to Classroom: Sustainable Spirituality

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

A weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. 

Next week, Duke Divinity School asks scholars to dig deeper than the potluck church social to understand connections between God and food. Their sixth annual Reconciler’s Weekend, “Making Peace with the Land: Embracing God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation,” examines Christian approaches to sustenance and sustainability.

Conference attendees will consider the interdependence among humans and creation, with emphasis on the land, environment, food, and other creatures. They will also explore contemporary Americans' increasing disconnection from the origins of their food. Organizers hope to understand “reconciliation with creation [as] an essential part of…redemption…and practices for faith communities seeking a reconciled relationship with creation.”

Connections among spirituality, sustenance, and sustainability are timely issues. Last year, Duke Divinity School professor and conference keynote speaker Norman Wirzba authored Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating to set forth his theological view of foodways and to consider how appropriate use of the land and animals that make up the food chain can exalt God.

The community garden at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Durham, NC. Photo courtesy of Duke Divinity School.
At last year’s SFA Symposium on the Cultivated South, Ragan Sutterfield, author of Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, examined the relationship between chicken farming and Christian stewardship. Sutterfield described the modern industrial food system as one that “mined the land instead of cultivating it.” Chicken processors who promote evangelical practices in business but raise genetically modified produce in crowded, stench-filled houses, according to Sutterfield, have a different understanding of the sacred.

Sutterfield went on to explain that more progressive ways of raising chickens, on the other hand, recognize the value of the animal as part of God’s creation. Such producers respect their moral responsibility to the animal and the broader spiritual importance of promoting sustainability. As a discipline—regardless of your religious views—theology can provide a new lens by which to view issues important to the contemporary food movement. Duke’s conference should offer a good start toward fostering this new understanding.

—Angela Jill Cooley

*More academic news from North Carolina: UNC-Chapel Hill is launching a PhD program in American Studies, which joins the university's long-standing MA program in Folklore...and yes, foodways is a potential area of focus. Sounds pretty cool to us! For more info, click here