Program for the Evolution of Spirituality

The Program for the Evolution of Spirituality supports the scholarly study of emerging spiritual movements, marginalized spiritualities, and the innovative edges of established religious traditions. It also prepares students for ministry in these movements. Through conferences, field experiences, course offerings, and public lectures, the program expands HDS's expertise in topics such as spirituality among the millennial generation, ecological spirituality, and the ethics of power in spiritual communities. The program is directed by Professor Dan McKanan.

Inaugural Conference: Ecological Spiritualities
Spring 2021

Note: Although we hope to host our inaugural conference on April 7-10, 2021, we are monitoring the progress of the coronavirus and will make a decision in fall 2020 about whether we need to move the date of the conference to fall 2021 – or potentially even later. Therefore, to accommodate difficulties in planning attendance, there will be options for both remote presenting and attending.

The theme of our inaugural conference will be “Ecological Spiritualities.” Presentations and workshops will explore the evolution of earth-based spiritual traditions and highlight innovative spiritual practices that are emerging in response to the painful realities of climate change, mass extinction, biodiversity loss, and the disruption of local and global ecosystems.

We invite professors, doctoral candidates, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the study of religion and related fields to submit paper proposals from a variety of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary perspectives. We also welcome proposals from spiritual leaders, environmental activists, farmers, and others whose work places them at the intersection of spirituality and ecology.

Proposals may be comparative, ethnographic, sociological, historical, textual, constructive, ethical, or practical in their methodologies. We are equally open to scholarship that is accountable to specific spiritual communities, scholarship that is sharply critical of emerging spiritualities, and scholarship that maintains a stance of academic neutrality. Our aim is to present a broad range of papers that address the theme of earth-based spiritualities from a range of methodological approaches in the context of various religious traditions and geographical regions. Possible topics include the ecological revival of animist, shamanist, and pagan traditions; ecology in indigenous and diasporic spiritual traditions; ancient and contemporary practices of herbalism and alchemy; the spiritual consequences of climate change and mass extinction; spiritual sources for environmental activism; cultural appropriation within plant medicine and spiritual traditions; spiritual practices in sustainable agriculture, and more.

Download Call for Papers (PDF)

Registration for the inaugural conference opens in Fall 2020. Registration fees will be kept under $100. Some early registrants will have their registration fee waived, and graduate students and low-income participants will be eligible to apply for small travel stipends.


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Associated Courses and Groups

Course: HDS 2798: Introduction to Religion and Ecology
Instructor: Dan McKanan

“Religion and ecology” is one of the fastest-growing subfields within the study of religion, and our approach to this topic will be broadly “ecological,” which is to say that we will attend to the interconnections linking seemingly disparate phenomena, and to the ways in which all phenomena are continually evolving in mutual relationship. This course explores the intersection between religious traditions and ecological activism, with special attention to current conversations about sustainable agriculture and ethical eating. View scheduled offerings of HDS 2798 in my.harvard.

Course: HDS 3099: Earth-Based Spiritualities: An Anthropological Perspective
Instructor: Giovanna Parmigiani 

This is a course in the Anthropology of Religion, with particular focus on contemporary earth-based spiritualities, such as Contemporary Paganism, Wicca, NewAge, and Core-Shamanism. While often misunderstood in popular culture, these religions are now part of the lives of a growing number of individuals and groups. By engaging with ethnographic works, primarily based in the US and Europe, students will get acquainted with or deepen their knowledge of the main issues, traditions, debates, and research in the field of Anthropology of Religion. View scheduled offerings of HDS 3099 in my.harvard.

Student Animism Reading Group

The Animism Reading Group is a discussion group that studies indigenous cosmologies and Western animist worldviews. It is an open group that welcomes anyone who is interested in this conversation including students, faculty, and community members. We meet bi-weekly to discuss scholarship on animist cosmologies and their implications for politics, ethics, culture, and science. While the primary intent of the group is academic, it also provides validation and community for those whose spiritual beliefs include an animist cosmology. Several CSWR speakers have been invited in connection with the animism group, including David Abram, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Graham Harvey. The group was initiated and is currently facilitated by Mary Balkon under a CSWR research fellowship.



Dan McKanan, Program Director
Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity

Natalia Schwien, Assistant Program Director
HDS MTS Candidate, 2021


The Program for the Evolution of Spirituality
Harvard Divinity School
Divinity Hall, Room 409
Cambridge, MA 02138

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