When you've gone on in your fieldwork, what's something that's impacted the way you continued your studies?
Recently Hope for Creation communications assistant Tanai Dawson sat down with Cybelle Shattuck, WMU faculty and author of Faith, Hope, and Sustainability: The Greening of US Faith Communities, to learn more about her story. Cybelle is an Associate Professor with a joint position in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University. We'll share segments of her interview over the next few days, in anticipation of her talk on February 18.
One of the things that I see that's really fascinating is that there's an intergenerational element that I see in the faith communities and in the environmental justice organizations. In the healthy faith communities that I visit and in the environmental justice organizations that have longevity, the leaders work with young people, and they hold them up and they celebrate them, and they nurture them so that they become leaders. In their 20s, right in their teens. You see this intergenerational appreciation with the young people expressing respect for the elders and their wisdom and their knowledge and the elders expressing respect for the young people as the future with their energy. And there's just this loving relationship that I see in some of the communities that I've visited that I find very inspiring. I think that's one of the keys in the communities where I truly see durable movements. It's the sharing of energy and wisdom across generations.
I've worked with groups that were doing environmental work really well, going to them to try to find out from the people who do it well, how do they do it? And that, just by itself, is encouraging because I'm working with the best of the best. It also helps me see why maybe other groups might be struggling. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to transfer over the abilities and skills that make some groups so successful but I can see where there might be ways to help groups taking on faith-based environmental projects. And if they can get past the first year, that’s a great thing because most new projects die out really quickly. For example, everyone loves the idea of starting a garden, but it is so hard to keep a garden going. You need the most people at the time when fewer people are available during the summer, and you really want it to be intergenerational. The times when I've studied faith groups that have created durable environmental projects, it's really enlightening and just really inspiring. For me as an introvert, it’s so great to see other people who can do this, it's really humbling.
Remember, I wasn't planning to go back to teaching after doing a degree in Natural Resources and Environment. But because of organizations like Hope for Creation and being on the Green Sanctuary Committee at my own church, I can do both, right? I have my hands in the dirt, my feet on the ground and a community with which to try to implement things. Then I can turn around and analyze research data and do the academic side. I can have the best of both worlds. One of the things that has changed my work is the events of the last few years. That wasn't just the pandemic, it was also the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, coinciding with the pandemic. It has changed what the students are focusing on, which makes it really interesting to be here teaching about environmental justice at this time. We're kind of at a point where we kind of need co-management with the students of what education should be going forward, because the students want to help define the curriculum and where they focus in really interesting ways.
Find out more from Cybelle Shattuck in her compelling interview on faith and sustainability daily in anticipation for her event on February 18th!