Senior Research Fellow Sarah McFarland Taylor
"What do you hope to accomplish this year as a Martin Marty Center Senior Fellow, and how does the MMC look as a place to do your work?"
I am currently working on two projects at the Marty Center. The first project is a book, entitled Eternally Green: American Religion and the Ecology of Death (under contract with University of California Press), in which I delve into the religious dimensions of the "Green Burial Movement" (ecologically friendly death planning which promotes low-impact, environmentally sound ways to "recycle" human remains). I am interested in why Americans of various religious backgrounds are increasingly making very specific "ecologically minded" directives about how their bodies are to be handled and disposed of upon their death. Furthermore, what might insight into this movement tell us more broadly about American sensibilities toward nature and how these sensibilities change over time? The bulk of my work during the fellowship year centers on this project.
I am also conducting some interviews in the Chicago area for a portion of a larger project on "Religious Responses to Global Climate Change." I am looking at the emergence (within diverse religious and ethnic communities) of prayers, meditations, and rituals specifically directed toward climate crisis. I am curious about how the specter of global climate change is shaping spirituality and religious practice and what religious "innovations" in this area might reveal about contemporary understandings of environmental problems and the interactions between religious communities and the culture of American environmentalism. I am especially interested in investigating how newly created "prayerwork" and ritual performance in response to global climate change do or do not (as the case may be) get coupled with direct political action.
How does the MMC look as a place to do my work? Like Heaven! I see the fellowship year at MMC as offering the perfect combination of sanctuary and engagement with a community of scholars. The program has given me the space away from the regular din and demands of academic life (and the mothering of a toddler) to complete a thought! The MMC has made it possible for me to carve out a space to think seriously about my research, to give my material careful consideration, and to think about creative ways to craft my analysis into written narrative form. I have not had the luxury of letting my ideas marinate like this since graduate school. At the same time, the MMC seminar of Senior Fellows, Graduate Fellows, and faculty from diverse academic backgrounds, provides an ideal way for me to broaden and deepen the ways in which I am thinking about my research and to do so in the company of vibrant intellectuals. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.
Martin Marty Center Senior Fellows Symposium
Thursday, April 16
4: 00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m., Swift Hall Commons
Martin Marty Center Senior Fellows Symposium allows the Senior Fellows to present her or his work in a public forum. Sarah McFarland Taylor's talk is titled "Eternally Green: American Religion and the Ecology of Death." Taylor is currently Associate Professor at Northwestern University's Department of Religion, where she also teaches in the American Studies program and the Environmental Policy and Culture program. She published Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology with Harvard University Press in 2007 and has two book projects currently underway.