YDS establishes endowed professorship in environmental ethics

By Joseph Becker

With the support of an anonymous $3 million gift, Yale Divinity School has established an endowed professorship in environmental ethics. A burgeoning field, environmental ethics pursues critical reflection and action to ensure the well-being of the planet and its ecosystems. The search for an internationally distinguished scholar is underway, with the inaugural chair expected to join YDS next September.

“One of the greatest challenges confronting all of us is the climate crisis,” Dean Greg Sterling said. “This is not only a scientific and technological issue. It is a moral issue. For this reason, we are searching for an ethicist who can help address the moral dimensions of this threat to life on the planet.”

The philanthropic gift was made by a Yale College alumnus as part of his estate planning. “This donor is deeply committed to our mission and, in particular, to the intersection of science and theology,” said Barbara Sabia, Senior Director of Alumni Engagement and Development. “A devout man and a STEM professor, he shares our belief in the power of religion and the strength of Yale Divinity School to move society forward in ethical ways.”

Dean Sterling first announced the milestone achievement on October 11 as part of Convocation activities related to groundbreaking for the Living Village, another project made possible by philanthropy. Setting new standards for sustainability, the regenerative residential hall is a key component of Yale’s Planetary Solutions Project, and its programming will be informed by the work of the forthcoming endowed professor.

YDS breaks ground on historic Living Village project: Learn more.

In a conversation with Yale President Peter Salovey, Sterling discussed the importance of the Divinity School having a leader in environmental ethics on its faculty: “If universities are here to address the major issues that confront us in our lives as a global community, what’s the role of a divinity school? It is to offer a moral and ethical window into how you address those issues,” Sterling said.

“I’m hoping we will help prepare people who will be notable figures within the environmental movement, and who will do so from a religious perspective—not to be embarrassed by that, but to own that and to champion it, because you can motivate more people than if you appeal only to the intellect.”

The professor of environmental ethics will build upon a strong institutional foundation in ecotheology, much of it started by recently retired faculty members Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim of YDS and the School of the Environment (YSE). The new chair will benefit from close collaborations with current faculty, including Jennifer Herdt, the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at YDS, as well as those in the broader Yale community, including at YSE, Architecture, and Public Health.

YDS currently offers an M.A.R. in religion and ecology concentration and a joint-degree program with the Yale School of the Environment. The Divinity School recently received funding for conferences devoted to issues of social justice in ecological ethics.

The $3 million donation, which supplements an existing faculty budget line, helps sustain “the faculty excellence that has long distinguished Yale Divinity School,” said Sterling, who holds an endowed chair himself as the Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. Currently, 16 faculty members at YDS are endowed professors.

The priority to endow a professorship in environmental ethics was established as part of “We Are Called: The Campaign for Yale Divinity School.” Launched in 2022, the campaign has raised approximately $120 million toward a goal of $140 million. The Divinity School’s effort is part of Yale’s larger “For Humanity” campaign, which is raising $7 billion for the sciences, the arts and humanities, increased financial aid, and integrated responses to the world’s greatest challenges, including the climate crisis.

As part of its campaign, YDS also seeks funds for student support, the Living Village complex, and to endow justice initiatives and academic programs. These include initiatives in Black Church Studies and Prison Ministry, a Professorship in Asian Christianity, and a Professorship in Latino Christianity.

November 30, 2023