The 2021 fall conversation series, “Weather Reports: The Climate of Now,” continued November 1 with a conversation between HDS Writer-in-Residence Terry Tempest Williams and celebrated author and journalist Michael Pollan.
Pollan’s work has covered our relationships with the animals and plants that sustain and teach us, and his most recent book is This is Your Mind on Plants, published earlier this year. Charles M. Stang, HDS Professor of Early Christian Thought and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religion, served as the respondent to the conversation.
I should mention that the Harvard Gazette has already published a very good article on the conversation. In this space, I hope to speak to the luminescence of being in the room with the conversation.
Due to the pandemic, the conversation series has been virtual so far. I have tapped into these digital conversations every week and taken then up in Diane Moore’s “Weather Reports” class, while others have responded to the series in the weekly fire salons that Williams leads to discuss and debrief the Weather Reports conversations. Members of Professor Moore’s class and fire salon participants were invited to sit as the audience to this conversation, the first to be recorded live. (Recorded video below.)
We often talk in our classes about how religion is a social enterprise in which we come together around and create the sacred. The conversation series has demonstrated that the climate crisis is a social enterprise as well, in which we must come together, around each other, to grapple with its existential threats. On November 1, in the renovated Swartz Hall’s Braun Room, I found myself deeply aware of that community.
Everyone in the space was engaged with Pollan’s thoughts on hope for the future and the ways that psychedelics may be able to open new doors into our relationships with our surroundings, potentially adding to and complicating their sanctity. This communal effervescence continued as Stang brought up animism in his respondent questioning, opening the door for conversations about scientific and religious practice and their interweaving, and was enrichened in a question-and-answer session that reiterated that we are all in constant dialogue with each other here at HDS.
In the heat of the moment, I sometimes forget how special that sense of common purpose and engagement is, and I was grateful when, at the end of her conversation with Pollan and Stang, Williams looked around at the assembled room and said something along the lines of, “This is why we’re all here, at this university—to have access to spaces and conversations like this.”
We’ll be back on Zoom for tonight’s conversation, with novelist Chloe Aridjis and conservationist Wanjira Mathai, and I look forward to holding a continued sense of the community, brought forth particularly strongly in a single room last week. but there no matter where you listen in from, that these conversations contain.
As always, we hope you’ll join us.
—by Owen Yager, MTS candidate