For the first time, faculty from Yale Law School, Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies are offering a course together.
John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker, who have dual research appointments at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School, will be co-teaching the course “Law, Environment and Religion” with Law School professor Doug Kysar. Tucker said the class was designed as a collaboration between the three schools because each discipline provides a piece of the knowledge needed to understand environmental issues, but on their own fail to give students a comprehensive analysis.
“Environmental issues need to be solved and responded to by many disciplines,” Tucker said.
The course will feature readings from figures who have worked within the overlap of these three fields and discussions with those authors, including William Reilly, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Linda Sheehan, the executive director at Earth Law Center. Students will also conduct podcast interviews with these guest speakers, which will be posted on Yale’s iTunes University site.
Grim said the guest speaker component of the course is intended to give students a closer look at how environmental scholars approach ideas.
“They come to be interrogated,” he said. “[They are] not coming to give a talk, but to be with us as having expert knowledge and life experiences.”
Hannah Malcolm DIV ’16, a participant in the course, said she is most looking forward to learning from James Anaya, a specialist in indigenous peoples’ rights who is scheduled to visit the class in March. She said this interest stems from her background in studying non-Western religious traditions.
Students interviewed said they found the course’s opportunity for interdisciplinary learning to be a big draw.
“We can only hope to conquer environmental problems by opening the conversation between disciplines and I think the ‘Law, Religion and Environment’ class creates a prime opportunity for such a dialogue,” Dena Adler LAW ’17 said.
Associate Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy Josh Galperin, who has been involved in the planning of the course, stressed how important interdisciplinary work is when teaching environmental law.
Galperin also added that including students from the Divinity School in the class will enable law and forestry students to consider economic issues from a more objective perspective. He said students at the Law and Forestry schools can often take for granted that the environment is an important issue, and students from the Divinity School can think more philosophically about why that is.
“Environmental law, more than most areas of the law, requires collaboration with experts and colleagues from all different backgrounds and all different areas of specialization,” he said. “For students, [going] to law school and learning just how to file a brief or operate well in a courtroom won’t prepare them to be a good environmental advocate or practitioner.”
But Grim, Kysar and Tucker acknowledged that the interdisciplinary setting of the course does not come without its challenges.
From the teaching perspective, Grim said it may be difficult that each faculty member is only well equipped in his or her own area of expertise.
Kysar said students in the class, depending on their intellectual background, will be looking at the same set of problems from very different angles.
“There are going to be three different constituencies in the room, each of whom have their own language and set of expectations and paradigmatic questions that they bring to the subject, and those sets are not necessarily going to overlap with each other,” Kysar said.
More specifically, Kysar said the law students in the class will be thinking about legal methods for protecting the environment, such as imposing sanctions, while the forestry students will be thinking about ecological processes, and the divinity students will be concentrating on underlying moral values.
Andrew Doss DIV ’17 said that because the scope of the course is so broad, he is nervous that the class will not delve deeply enough into many of the topics. He added that he feared the speakers might overlap too much with one another since they will not be there to hear what has already been discussed in the class.
However, Tucker said these kinds of challenges did not abate her excitement in teaching the course.
“This is a high point in 40 years of teaching to be offering this course,” Tucker said.