The goal of the first Lilly Fellows National Research Conference is to identify where ecology, history, philosophy, and theology intersect, and to explore how that intersection might affect and shape environmental ethics and environmental policy.
The conference will begin with an examination of a concept central for many years to the study of ecology – the "balance of nature." In the past, ecologists often assumed a dichotomy between a pristine, stable nature and disruptive human activity. Many contemporary ecologists, however, conceive of nature as undergoing continual change. Ecologists increasingly include humans and their activities within a model of a changing environment. They find the "flux of nature" a more accurate metaphor than the "balance of nature" to describe the shifting patterns of species interaction and ecosystem function.
In the second section of the conference, historians will lead an examination of the ways metaphors of nature have changed and how these changes reflect and affect changes in social thought.
In the conference's third section, participants will explore, within a Judeo-Christian framework, the implications of contemporary ecology for human action. The theological and ethical implications that followed from the conception of nature as a stable equilibrium and of humans as more or less disruptive latecomers have been reasonably clear: Humans had a moral obligation to nature – perhaps also a religious obligation – to serve as stewards of a stable, balanced creation. The implications of the newer ecology are less clear. They involve determining which sorts and what rates of flux should be prevented and which protected. What, in other words, is the moral status of different fluxes of nature and their causes?
At the conference, leading scholars will represent their respective disciplines while being committed to exploring their common ground. The challenge for participants will be to integrate contemporary scientific perspectives into environmental discourse in history, theology, philosophy, and ethics.
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