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Yale sacred music center launches climate change art initiative

Initiative director said he is open to including pagan perspective

The Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University has a new initiative that seeks to combine art, religion and concern for “ecological crises.”

Titled the “Religion, Ecology, and Expressive Culture Initiative,” the program’s aim is to “amplify cross-disciplinary and integrative work at the intersection of religion, ecology, and expressive culture,” according to its website.

Ryan Darr, the postdoctoral researcher who runs the program, told The College Fix via email that the goal is to “support and disseminate the work of scholars, artists and practitioners both at Yale and beyond.”

“Going forward, we hope that most of the initiative’s energy and resources will go to supporting the proposals of others,” Darr said in his email.

“Our plans for the initiative this semester include a webinar series titled ‘Mass Extinction: Art, Ritual, Story and the Sacred,’” Darr said. The initiative also plans an “art exhibition in April with Angela Manno called ‘Sacred Biodiversity: Icons of Threatened and Endangered Species.’”

Manno is an iconographer who “has brought the same kind of religious ‘reverence’ to nature by featuring endangered animals in her art,” the Yale Daily News reported.

“We’re also involved with the ‘Breath of Life’ concert, including a roundtable before the conference on images of Eden and the garden,” Darr told The Fix.

The Fix asked if these plans seemed similar to earth worship and if the initiative planned to include pagan and Druid and other earth-focused religions.

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He said he would be “happy” to consider those points of view.

“Our goal is to encourage work on religion, ecology and expressive culture from people working across the humanities and in all religious, sacred, and Indigenous traditions,” Darr said. “While we have no current plans for events focused on pagan or Druid religions, we would be happy to receive proposals for such events.”

“While we’ve done most of the event planning this semester, we’re now inviting others to submit proposals for events (conferences, concerts, exhibitions, webinars) on the themes of the initiative,” Darr said, when asked for the plans for the project.

A Catholic sacred music and liturgy expert called the Yale project “bizarre.”

“This seems a rather bizarre initiative to me,” Peter Kwasniewski told The Fix via email. “It’s one thing to celebrate the theme of divine creation in music (there’s an abundance of sacred music devoted to the praise of God in His handiwork), but quite another to ‘celebrate’ ecology, environment, biodiversity, etc., for their own sakes, or as if they were sacred themes.”

Kwasniewski has taught music and theology at several universities and also is a composer.

He said there is a “danger” in trying to subordinate the arts to a “political agenda.

“There is here a palpable danger of subordinating what was inspired by and dedicated to the glory of God to some human political agenda, which denatures and even prostitutes the fine arts,” he told The Fix.

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About the Author
Claire Anderson -- Northern Virginia Community College