Program for the Evolution of Spirituality

The Program for the Evolution of Spirituality (PES) 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 on "Ecological Spiritualities"

Wednesday-Saturday, April 27-30, 2022

On April 27-30 2022, Harvard Divinity School’s Program for the Evolution of Spirituality will host its inaugural conference on “Ecological Spiritualities.”  The conference will feature presentations and workshops exploring the evolution of earth-based spiritual traditions and highlighting 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.

Speakers will be joining us from across the globe. They include professors and students from a variety of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary perspectives. We also welcomed proposals from spiritual leaders, environmental activists, farmers, and others whose work places them at the intersection of spirituality and ecology. Paper topics span from interspecies interdependence to textual analysis to Indigenous cosmologies to spiritual appropriation to race and environmentalism to issues in contemporary paganism.  We hope that this broad range of methodological approaches, religious traditions, and geographical regions  creates space for open discussions and a fruitful opportunity for deep learning among scholars, spiritual leaders, and others who care about the intersection of spirituality and ecology.

While the exact character of our structure will depend on the public health situation at the time of the conference, we intend to host a hybrid conference with both presenters and attendees able to participate either remotely or in-person. If the public health situation does not allow for in-person gathering, we will transition the conference into an entirely remote event.

Register, view schedule, and learn more about the presenters and presentations.

Virtual Colloquia on “Power Dynamics in Alternative and Emerging Spiritual and Cultural Organizations”

This ongoing series of colloquia features a variety of speakers, including practitioners, scholars, survivors, and activists, who come together to talk about their experiences around power dynamics, both positive and negative, in emerging and alternative spiritual and cultural organizations. Launched in February 2021 with a virtual panel on “Abuse of Power in Alternative and Emerging Spiritual and Cultural Organizations," this series reflects the Program for the Evolution of Spirituality's commitment to sponsoring scholarly conversations that fully include both practitioners of emerging spiritualities and persons who have experienced harm within spiritual movements. 

We continue to host talks around complex and sensitive topics such as transparency and accountability in spiritual leadership, productive and respectful dynamics with interlocutors from marginalized spiritual traditions, and gender dynamics in intentional communities. We hope these conversations will be productive, illuminating, and empowering as well as a source of education on creating structures of accountability. 

Read more and view past colloquia.


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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 centered on interspecies intersubjectivity, posthuman ethics, relational ontologies, kinship-based science, and the implications of these topics on politics, ethics, culture, and religious experience. While the primary intent of the group is academic, the group 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 by Mary Balkon, MDiv '20, under a CSWR research fellowship, and it is currently facilitated by Natalia Schwien, MTS '21.


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

Natalia Schwien, Assistant Program Director


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

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