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Students Analyze Human Ecology Through Inter-Religious Perspectives at Mysterion’s 2023 Spring Conference

Mystērion, Boston College’s undergraduate theology journal, hosted its second annual spring conference on Saturday morning, highlighting inter-religious perspectives and the future of human ecology.

 “We had hoped to encourage submissions from a variety of fields and perspectives in the hope of generating fruitful dialogue about the broad intersection between human ecology and theology,” Caroline Brewster, Mystērion’s editor-in-chief, said. “Such an intersection has become increasingly imperative in today’s world, helping ensure a brighter, more ethical future.”

Student speakers from different colleges presented their theological papers at the conference, each centered around the theme “Human Ecology and the Challenges of the 21st Century: Inter-Religious Perspectives on Our Path Forward.”

 Olivia Kenney, Bowdoin College ’25, was the first student to present, sharing a paper she had written about the role of diversity in theology and ecology—the study of interactions between humans and their environments.

 “Diversity can be considered a fact and challenge that occurs inevitably as communities shift, and it is easily connected to the ecological concept of competition,” Kenney said. “In ecology, competition is considered a basic type of interaction between species.”

Kenney added that competition in the face of diversity is a foundational aspect of many religions, citing Islam as an example.

“Conflict between the Quraysh community, which did not yet identify itself as a religion, and the pagan tribes from which Muhammad originated, is central to the narrative of the religion’s foundation,” Kenney said. “The hostility with which the Quraysh treated Muhammad’s community became so intense that Mohammad and his followers relocated from Mecca to Medina, marking a turning point in the early years of what would become Islam.”

 Ariela Rosenzweig and Tema Zeldes-Roth, both Brown University ’24, then shared a paper about how anorexia mirabilis, the practice of medieval Catholic women fasting for holy reasons, has symbolic roots in the Gospel of John.

 “Of the 170 female saints canonized by the Catholic Church from the year 1200 to the present, more than one half could be described as experiencing the phenomena of anorexia mirabilis,” Rosenzweig said. “This miraculous loss of earthly appetite is closely related to John’s directive: ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures from eternal life.’”

Amoggrajat Venkat, LSEHD ’26, also presented an analysis of the ecological implications of Laudato Sí, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on climate change and integral ecology, and “the Ramayana,” a Sanskrit epic from ancient India.   

“The components of ecology in religion broadens the spectrum of interpersonal bonds,” Venkat said. “This leads to a necessity in the unity of communities and non-human beings, and a great deal of themes resembling a symbiotic relationship between nature and human beings arise.”

 Venkat said that although the texts served different purposes, themes of living peacefully with nature are exemplified in both.

 “In the Ramayana, when the army of animals aid Ram in his journey, he shows no discrimination to any of them: Ram sees each of their values and treats them as equals,” Venkat said. “Similarly, in the Laudato Sí, we must see other living creatures as brothers and sisters. To provide nurture for God’s creation is what Pope Francis encourages.”

 Dyson Ye, MCAS ’23, shared his paper on Catholic-Confucianism dialogue between Jesuit missionary Rev. Matteo Ricci, S.J., and the Ming Dynasty. 

 “Ricci suggests that a gentleman should approach nature with the same conduct and respect as if he were a fellow human,” Ye said. “What he is trying to do here is to synonymize the Confucian ideal with the Catholic notion across creation.”

Ye concluded that the publication of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si a few centuries later rekindled this Catholic-Confucian dialogue by presenting a familial relationship between humans and the environment, a key Confucian view of nature.

 “A universal family is, quite literally, a family, because we are siblings in creation and we share a single father,” Ye said. “Just like Matteo Ricci employed a shared language to spread the gospel four and a half centuries prior, we can embrace concepts and traditions to advance our own worldview.”


March 19, 2023