Research is an important part of Redeemer University. In the past year, faculty members held 25 research grants and wrote or contributed to 133 articles, books, external presentations and creative works. 25 per cent of full-time faculty’s time is spent on research and academic development. Faculty members are consistently engaged in cutting-edge research and creative work in the natural sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences, informed by the belief that academic inquiry is a form of worship.
Published in November 2023 by Routledge, Christian Environmentalism and Human Responsibility in the 21st Century: Questions of Stewardship and Accountability is an example of this emphasis on research, featuring works from eight Redeemer faculty members and alumni: Dr. Deborah Bowen (emerita), Dr. Karen Dieleman, Dr. Ben Faber, Dr. Doug Sikkema ’06, Dr. John Van Rys, Liane Miedema Brown ’17, Dr. Erin Goheen Glanville ’03 and Dr. Samuel Martin ’05. There is a strong Redeemer presence in the book, as well as a cluster of works focusing on the Hamilton region. Few research endeavors in the university’s history have involved this many scholars from the Redeemer community.
The book is a collection of scholarly essays and creative works, with contributions from 16 academics in disciplines such as English, theology and environmental studies. Through literary and cultural criticism and creative reflection, this collection explores a range of topics and vantage points related to the themes of Christian ecocriticism, environmental activity, practical ethics, environmental spirituality and human responsibility. The book is part of Routledge’s Explorations in Environmental Studies series.
“We are so proud of our faculty and alumni for their work in this volume,” Dr. Peter Neumann says, vice president, academic. “This effort aligns well with our mission at Redeemer to contribute thoughtfully and skillfully in scholarly and creative expressions to significant current issues.”
Sikkema, assistant professor of core studies and English at Redeemer, is the author of the included memoir, “Practicing Enchantment.” The idea of re-enchantment found in the piece is inspired by Wendell Berry’s call to “practice resurrection,” recognizing and revealing the sacred around us. Sikkema seeks to recover the posture that, even independent of human use, there is intrinsic and mysterious value in our ecology.
“The natural world, as God’s creative word, as the song that he’s still singing and sustaining and upholding, is not just an idea. It’s actually a summons to us to respond.”
According to Sikkema, Christians have a distinctly important voice in environmentalism because of their belief that, rather than from its usefulness or divinity, creation’s value comes directly from its Creator. He feels hopeful that Christians can have influence in this conversation.
“In my opinion, there’s no other way that is as intellectually credible and existentially satisfying.”
What shapes, what new shapes, will hope take, especially in the face of devastations that seem so hopeless?
Van Rys, professor of English and associate dean of arts, is another contributor to the book with his short story “Bandits,” followed by an afterword. The story follows young Evan and Mae who move out to the countryside and encounter some mischievous racoons. This comical tale encourages readers to grapple with the position of humans in the created order and its implications on human responsibility.
“It’s about learning how to coexist,” Van Rys says. “Realizing that even with your best intentions, you can mess things up. Realizing that there is this difference between domesticated nature and wild nature, yet learning to live alongside both.”
Van Rys says it strikes him how the book is in line with other conversations being had across campus and that “it speaks to a larger culture of concern at Redeemer around this issue [of environmental stewardship].”
Martin, a high school teacher and creative writing professor, contributed the memoir “‘Can you make this all run again?’ The Art and Environmentalism of Margo and Rein Vanderhill” to the collection. It follows the true story of a family’s encounter with a disastrous flood, followed by some reflection about what faith and hope look like in the face of environmental disaster and economic hardship, asking the foundational questions of Christian belief.
“These questions are too comfortably answered when your home is untouched by flood and your job and income are secure,” Martin says. “What shapes, what new shapes, will hope take, especially in the face of devastations that seem so hopeless?”
According to Martin, “[t]here are no pat or easy answers in the book.” Instead, “there are many deep, and some costly, encounters with real people facing real environmental devastations or problems.” He is particularly fond of the text because of how it represents the necessary skill of listening to others, both inside and outside Christian faith, “embodying this sort of multi-voiced discourse.”
Dr. Katherine Quinsey, professor in the department of English and creative writing at the University of Windsor, is editor of the collection. She hopes that the book brings clarity on the intrinsic connection between caring for the environment and Christianity.
“The book is partly intended to correct some preconceptions, held by many secularists as well as by some Christians, that Christian belief is antithetical to environmentalism, reminding readers instead that sensitivity to the nonhuman Other as autonomously reflective of God’s glory, and our ethical responsibility of care (or stewardship), are historically orthodox principles, rooted in Christian spiritual practice and ethical imperatives.”
People will not be convinced to change based on data and graphs. They are going to be changed by poetry and art—beauty.
Redeemer faculty members are not new to approaching the environmental sciences with a Christian worldview. Redeemer offers a number of related programs, such as environmental sciences, environmental studies, biology and biochemistry that prepare students to have a Kingdom-vision in scientific scholarship and beyond.
Dr. Edward Berkelaar, professor of chemistry and environmental science and associate dean of natural sciences and mathematics, says that the topics in the book are commonplace in his classrooms: “What’s going on in the world, what’s broken, why do we think it’s broken and what are some solutions?” To Berkelaar, it is important that Christians care about the environment.
“The flourishing of the nonhuman world is directly connected to our own flourishing … This world is made by God, it’s owned by God, we have a responsibility to care for it, and at the same time, we’re utterly dependent on it.”
Berkelaar believes that appreciation precedes action. This is why projects like this collection excite him.
“People will not be convinced to change based on data and graphs. They are going to be changed by poetry and art—beauty. They might then want to go to the data and graphs to see, ‘Now, how shall I live?’”
The book is dedicated to contributor Dr. Bowen. Inspired by her research interest in poetry and ecology, the collection represents a celebration of her academic legacy.
Christian Environmentalism and Human Responsibility in the 21st Century can be purchased at 21Five, the Christian bookstore at Redeemer University.