Artistic Contributions

We are excited to include creative and artistic submissions in the conference for the first time.

Art, imagination, storytelling – all these are vital tools for living during the climate crisis and inspiring new insights and solutions. Special thanks to the artists whose work has below has greatly enriched this year's conference.

Created to Bloom

Sujatha Balasundaram

Master of Theological Studies, Duke Divinity School

Created to Bloom is a 'reverse' mandala influenced by Madhubani art. As a meditative tool, the artwork emphasizes the relationship of the vibrant flower to the void in the center of the flower. The ornate floral patterns that fill the double outside lines and the vibrancy of saturated colors are the Bharni-Kachni characteristics of Madhubani art. The Indian folk-art form illuminates the Creator-creation relationship of the Christian tradition. We are created from nothing (center) and invited to participate with the Creator God in keeping God's creation (Genesis 1-2).

The complexity of Hope in today's ecological grief lies in embracing our purpose and reliance on the Lord of the Sabbath. There is much work to be done in rectitude of the environmental crisis. But work without the Creator is futile. In contrast to the density of colors and patterns in the other rings, the blank seventh ring depicts dependence on the Creator. The day of rest or the Sabbath is significant for the work that we do. Hope lies in the rhythm of creative participation with God and rest in God.

We are created to bloom!

The Estuary

Sujatha Balasundaram

Master of Theological Studies, Duke Divinity School

The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the river of God flowing out of the temple into the sea, making the meeting space the estuary, fresh and teeming with life and healing in Ezekiel 47: 8-12.

The Estuary envisions the river of God in light blue, mingling with the sea in dark blue. There are various kinds of fish and trees at the estuary. The vibrance of life comes with intermingling—the performance of faith in the community.

This piece has visible roots in Madhubani art techniques like double lines and ornate floral patterns signifying abundance. Grief is recognized in the distance between the energetic drawing and the ecological crisis, showing the disbelieving world the beauty of Creation. Madhubani art is usually hopeful and festive. Faith performed through loving God and the neighbor will close the gap between the current state of ecological health and this exuberant vision of life.


Wesley Simmonds

Master of Divinity '23, Duke University Divinity School

A lack of environmental justice in ecological restoration efforts exacerbates ecological grief in marginalized communities. White European settlers have historically drawn on the conquest narratives from the book of Joshua to appropriate Indigenous lands, which still shapes the United States today. Currently, the billionaire Ted Turner owns more than 200,000 acres of Oceti Sakowin treaty land in South Dakota. Yet, on Thanksgiving of 2022, Ted Turner tweeted his foundation would "Restore buffalo to Indigenous tribes #saveeverything." To restore ecological devastation, humans should consider how environmental justice and reckoning with past wrongs can be a part of the solution. In the sculpture, a snare made from discarded Atlanta Braves beer cups, a team formerly owned by Ted Turner featuring Indigenous people as a mascot, surrounds the buffalo.

Read De Nada

Peter Fousek
Master of Arts in Religion '23, Yale Divinity School

Inspired by and incorporating a section of my mother's poetry, "De Nada'' is an expression of grief and a manifestation of mourning: for the planet and for the people who raised me. It makes a case for the ecospiritual lens that has been vital to my grieving, coping, and strategizing against systemic sources of shared suffering. The diverse and interwoven ecosystems we inhabit can serve as a site for reconciliation and synthesis if we let them, between the perception of the tragic self and the revelation of unity. They remind us that all elements of our existence are collaborative, in ways both obvious and unseen. This poem attempts to model that spirit of interconnectedness and mutualism: it is an intergenerational dialogue undertaken in the face of cataclysm, attempting to portray the hope that comes from stepping back and remembering to breathe. It is dedicated with love to the memory of my grandmother, Rosa Maria Crum.

Healing the Human Soul: A Sermonette on Eco-Spirituality

Nedelka F. Prescod
Musician, Educator and Community Member
Yale Divinity School, MDiv candidate '24

In a sort of Game of Thrones, striving to attain power can miss the mark on compassion. The absence of compassion or empathy is an inter-human and human-to-planet condition manifesting in many physical forms, including showing up as an ecological issue. Unfortunately, history has taught us that power comes through domination, yet true power comes from something more gentle, patient, loving, kind, and with a willingness to do what it takes for a common good. Ultimately, the stakes are high with potential for a crisis... one that affects human thriving and existence.

To an oystercatcher found at low tide

The sea left you lying

as if mid-flight.

Quill wings lifted

to catch a last breeze, one leg

hitched high, gut-red beak

poised to nip the sea

and, trailing from your skull

a wimple of bootlace-seaweed.

Once, frilled with silk

you made flotsam

of oyster pearls

dined an epicurean, your call

folding along waves

cockled the grey.

You beaked bobbins

of polymer yarn, tapestried

your frame, unravelled

your days. The sea

left you lying

as if mid-flight.

Your cheek, laced

a widow's black

and with a dressmaker's

blind popper, you eye

my empty face

undone by unmaking.

Liz MacWhirter
Theology through Creative Practice, University of Glasgow, UK

Beautiful even in death, the body of a sea bird pulls ecological grief into focus. The preciousness of material reality, in accord with the medieval contemplative theology of Julian of Norwich, is brought together with lament for how we are 'unmaking' this world. Poetry slows the moment. My PhD research enacts through creative writing the principles of trauma theology, following Professor Shelly Rambo: in bearing witness, change may come. This poem emerged from field notes made on the Isle of Islay.

  • Hope is Ceremony by Haley Rains

"Hope is Ceremony": What a Tribal College Community Can Teach Us about Hope in the Face of Ecological & Cultural Crises

Haley Rains (Muscogee Creek)

Ph.D. Candidate, Native American Studies; University of California, Davis

Haskell Indian Nations University, originally called the United States Indian Industrial Training School, was founded in 1884 in Lawrence, Kansas. It was an Indian boarding school operated by the US Federal Government designed to forcibly assimilate Native American children into Western culture. Haskell, like the hundreds of other Indian boarding schools constructed by the US Federal Government in the mid-19th century, was designed to "Kill the Indian, save the man" (Richard Henry Pratt). Today, Haskell is a four-year university that serves students who represent more than 150 different tribes, each tribe possessing its own distinct culture, language, and history. Each Haskell student embodies a rich, unique personal story, and collectively, these stories have shaped Haskell's history. By celebrating tribal resistance, redefinition, sovereignty, cultural survivance, and hope – in all of its diversity, color, and vibrancy – the Haskell community collectively remembers and grieves the school's traumatic past while reflecting on the impact that Western policies, religion, and development have had (and continue to have) on traditional Indigenous cultures and sacred tribal lands. In this series of photographs, which I captured during my time as a Haskell student, I reflect on the question of what it means to grieve the past (and present) while cultivating hope for the future.

In order of appearance:

Haskell Cemetery, 2016: An inconspicuous cemetery sits in the southeastern corner of the Haskell Indian Nations University campus. Surrounded by a tall, black metal fence, four long rows of small, white, weathered headstones emerge from the vivid green and yellow grass.

Headstone and Trinkets, 2016: On the headstones are trinkets, tobacco, and other little, sacred offerings left by visitors. A small, dirty blue teddy bear sits propped up against a gray and rust-colored headstone.

Infant, 2016: The word "INFANT" is engraved boldly at the top of a weathered headstone partially covered by an overgrown shrub. It is an unusual sight. Not many universities have graveyards on their campuses, but Haskell is not a typical university.

The Seeker, 2018: A Muscogee (Creek) man overlooks the sacred Wakarusa Wetlands, where countless Native American children perished when they ran away from Haskell during its boarding school years.

The Sun Sets on the Wakarusa Wetlands, 2018: The Haskell community considers the Wakarusa Wetlands sacred because this location is the final resting place of countless Native American children.

A Bridge Over Wetlands, 2018: Local Indigenous community members gather here to reflect on Haskell's tragic past and work to collectively heal from the intergenerational trauma caused by the US Federal Government's Indian Removal and Assimilation policies.

Water Protector (Sumer Mohsen - Comanche), 2018: In the late 90s and early 2000s, Haskell students and administrators tried to halt the development of a four-lane, closed-access trafficway across the sacred Wakarusa wetlands by conducting sacred ceremonies and staging protests.

A Good Ceremony, 2016: Tragically, the Haskell community was unsuccessful in its attempt to halt the construction of the trafficway; however, it continues to hold ceremonies to honor the sacred land and grieve the losses of those who perished there.

Here He Found Himself, 2016: Haskell holds powwows multiple times a year. Tribal members from across the country travel to Lawrence, Kansas to participate in these events.

Time Immemorial, 2016: Natives and non-Natives alike attend these events and pay respect to the memory of those who perished during the boarding school era.

Powwow Baby, 2017: Many view these powwows as opportunities to both remember the past and collectively heal from it.

Dolls (created by Marty McKinney), 2017: These large events also include moments of prayer, dance competitions, and displays of Native American art and jewelry.

Dream Catchers, 2016: Dozens of Native American vendors sell handmade food, artwork, and clothing and share their tribal histories with those who stop to visit with them.

He Wore Some Feathers, 2016: Haskell's history is undeniably tragic, but its community is committed to honoring the strength and resiliency of Haskell students (past and present) through remembrance and celebration.

Hope is Ceremony (Sequoia Obe), 2016: Haskell is also committed to instilling in its community a sense of tribal pride, self-determination, and above all else – hope.

About Us

Hosted at Yale University, the Graduate Conference in Religion and Ecology reflects a desire to provide a space for students to engage in dynamic, interdisciplinary conversations across curricular boundaries, and strives to connect ethos with ethics, and ethics to applicable practicality.