The Universe Story and the University: Education for Justice and Sacred Earth

The Universe Story and the University: Education for Justice and Sacred Earth

August 30, 2017

Evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme explains that the sciences in the last 100 years have produced vast empirical knowledge about the universe but that human civilizations have not lived in accordance with the knowledge. On the contrary, we have produced colossal environmental crises that now undermine our very existence. We need to shift from this anthropocentric story where humans are the primary reality to a story of the universe – one that takes into account the well-being of the entire Earth community in which humans are a dimension (Swimme & Berry, 1994). As the institution of higher knowledge, universities play a fundamental role in this shift. Environmental Studies professor David Orr (1994/2004) observes that without the Earth in mind, education only produces smart but ecologically illiterate graduates who continue the path of destruction. As world-renowned Earth scholar and “geologian” (and Greensboro native) Thomas Berry (2006) argues, all subjects of education must begin with the awareness of the Earth’s primacy, for it is a foundation of all education and all professions. In light of such, this year-long Ashby Dialogue brings students, staff, faculty, and community members together to explore an Earth-based pedagogy.

A flyer for each event will be distributed.

Ashby DialogueSeptember 2017: Sustainability and a Sound Ecology

  • September 7, 3:30-5:30p.m., Virginia Dare Room, Alumni House
  • Speaker: Dr. Jeff Todd Titon (emeritus professor of ethnomusicology at Brown University)
  • Synopsis: We will begin with one of the most ancient connections humans have with the rest of the biosphere – sounds. Ethnomusicologist Dr. Jeff Titon will speak about how sound connects humans with non-humans: “The problem of sustainability is not only a problem of science and engineering, but it is also a problem of ethics and epistemology. Sound-worlds offer an opportunity to experience a connection among beings missing when experience is directed at texts or objects. A sound connection offers an opportunity to think through a sound epistemology that may lead to sound economies, sustainable communities, and a sound ecology that foregrounds the interdependence of all beings.”
  • Facilitator: Aaron Allen, Associate Professor and Director, Environmental & Sustainability Studies Program

October 2017: Universe story (or big history)

  • October 19, 3:30-5:30p.m. (Room: TBA)
  • Synopsis: We will engage the story of the universe as a way to understand the origins of life and the current environmental and social challenges and to (re)member humans’ integral role in the story. We will watch the film, Journey of the Universe (2013), as a springboard for the discussion. The film’s co-executive producer, Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, from Yale University will be our guest speaker.
  • Facilitator: Ann Somers, Biology

November 2017: American Indian sacred places

  • November 14, 3:30-5:30p.m. (Room: TBA)
  • Synopsis: In conjunction with the Native American Heritage month, we will focus our attention on understanding American Indians’ spiritual and cultural connections to place and what others can learn from such connections. We will watch Apache Stronghold as a way to begin the discussion and consider humans’ place in the universe story. The film, a part of the RISE series, depicts the San Carlos Apache’s fight against U.S. government’s transfer of their sacred land to Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company.
  • Facilitator: Greg O’Brien, History

February 2018: Environmental racism and environmental justice

  • Synopsis: In conjunction with the African American History month, we will examine environmental racism and environmental justice. The environmental justice movement has its roots in the Warren County, NC where the residents (75% African Americans in the 1970s) stood up to protect their community from PCB dumped in their neighborhood. We will look at this beginning and the present cases of environmental racism and how we are connected to these issues. We plan to involve the African American and African Diaspora Studies and potentially inviting Tara Green to be co-facilitate this discussion.
  • Facilitator: Etsuko Kinefuchi, Communication Studies

March 2018: Recovering agrarian roots and agrarian ethics

  • Time/location – TBA
  • Synopsis: Agrarianism is central to the universe story and reintegration of humans into the biosphere. With the assistance from the guest speaker, Norman Wirzba, research professor of theology, ecology, and rural life at Duke Divinity School, we will explore human spiritual, cultural, and ethical connections to place.
  • Facilitator: David McDuffie, Religious Studies

April 2018: Climate justice for the universe story

  • Time/location – TBA
  • Synopsis: In conjunction with the Earth Day, we will end the dialogue series by taking up climate justice – the most pressing ecological challenge we face today with severe consequences to human civilization and the integrity of the earth. We plan to invite local experts, community members, and students to participate in a teach-in of climate justice and how we may continue engaging the universe story.
  • Facilitator: Sarah Dorsey, Director of the Music Library, Sustainability Series Coordinator, Sustainability Fellow.

*The aim of the Ashby Dialogues is to implement the vision of the late Warren Ashby that the University should be a community of inquiry, with faculty and students engaged in the pursuit of understanding both in and out of the classroom. Please direct any question on this particular dialogue series to Etsuko Kinefuchi, Communication Studies,

Final Report