The GCRE Chronicles

Conference Themes & Highlights

GCRE 2017
1st Graduate Conference in Religion and Ecology
Coordinators: Julia Johnson and Peter Wyrsch

The first ever GCRE didn’t have a theme in an effort to not limit submissions, and the response was overwhelming - there were many more submissions than anticipated! “The first year followed a strict schedule because we had welcomed papers from many topics and that was a big obstacle! I made sure to have multiple disciplines represented, which also included a music performance on climate change in Marquand Chapel. We had incredible vegan and vegetarian food and the conversations were robust,” said coordinator Julia Johnson (YDS, ‘18).

Students descended upon YDS from all over North America and the response to this conference, birthed from Harvard’s 20th anniversary conference of the World Religion and Ecology Conference series, was the start of something special. The strong response from the academic community, “ is what inspired moving the GCRE to two and a half days the following year,” noted Johnson.

GCRE 2018
2nd Graduate Conference in Religion and Ecology
Coordinators: Julia Johnson and Emily Bruce

Building upon the successes of the first GCRE, the second conference added a film screening, a worship service, and multiple meals to continue fostering deep dialogue. Second-time coordinator Julia Johnson reflected, “After both years, the most empowering piece was seeing how many students were eager to attend, participate, and engage within the field of religion and ecology. And now seeing the conference continue throughout the years is simultaneously humbling and invigorating, while providing me hope for the future health of our common home.”

GCRE 2019
3rd Graduate Conference in Religion and Ecology - Exploring Energy
Coordinator: Anna Thurston

Exploring Energy, the theme of GCRE 2019, partnered with the yearlong 2018-19 initiative sponsored by Yale Environmental Humanities to explore the intersection of energy with human culture. We particularly invite proposals on the conference theme in addition to welcoming presentations on other topics related to the fields of environmental and ethical dialogue. The first keynote speaker was Dr. Erin Lothes, Associate Professor of Theology, College of Saint Elizabeth, who wrote Catholic Energy Ethics: Commitments and Criteria. The second keynote speaker was Ms. Kehkashan Basu, whose resume includes being the 2016 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize, the Global Coordinator for the UNEP’s Major Groups for Children and Youth, founder and president of the Green Hope Foundation, and winner of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence award.

“I and a few other YDS students attended the Harvard 20th anniversary Religion & Ecology conference which was the inspiration for the founding of GCRE,” said 2019 GCRE Coordinator and organizing committee founder Anna Thurston (YDS, YSE ‘19). It was under Thurston that the conference created significant infrastructure to ensure the continuity of the conference in the long-term by establishing official partnerships and developing resources that would allow the conference to thrive in the future.

GCRE 2020
4th Graduate Conference in Religion and Ecology - Reimagining Ways of Being: Religion and Spirituality in Ecological Activism
Coordinator: Jenna Van Donselaar

The team and I wrestled over what we wanted our theme to be. After several discussions, we landed on the theme of “Reimagining Ways of Being- Religion and Spirituality in Ecological Activism.” We felt this theme captured the organizing committee’s commitments, and felt like thinking about imaginative activism was a powerful way to academically respond to the global climate strikes of the fall of 2019, the push toward environmental justice, and the resources available in spiritual and religious traditions,” remarked Coordinator Jenna Van Donselaar (MAR ‘20)

Van Donselaar reflected, “One phrase that has stuck with me since that day was by one of the community panelists– the man from the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs mentioned that he “wasn’t hopeful about the climate crisis.” This was a powerful perspective shift– he wasn’t looking for hope, but for action. In the midst of highly religious language, and fluff, this was really striking to me and I am still wrestling with the implications of such a shift in perspective,” Van Donselaar reflected.

From the conference program -

What does it mean to practice or teach religion during a time of rapid societal and ecological change? How can practitioners of religion and the arts anticipate worlds to come - and remember those left behind? This conference explores themes of imagination, lifeways, and activism in the context of religions and ecology. Presentations span a breadth of religious and spiritual traditions, addressing both textual and contemporary issues. The conference includes student presenters from Yale and beyond; a keynote by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, lecturer in American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos; and a panel of local leaders in faith-based ecological engagement sharing about their work.

Learn more about the history and ongoing impact of the GCRE.