Assumption Awarded Grant to Create Course to Explore the Influences of Hispanic Culture on Pope Francis’s Environmental Advocacy

May. 15, 2019
Office of Communications
Assumption students in the classroom.

The Assumption College Department of Modern & Classical Languages and Cultures was awarded a competitive Curriculum Development Grant from Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) to develop a course that explores the Right of Nature in the Hispanic world as they relate to the spiritual perspectives of His Holiness Pope Francis.

Prof. Grijalva will use the grant funding to develop a new course entitled Pope Francis and the Rights of Mother Earth in Latin America, which will be offered in spring 2020. The course will offer an introduction to the study of the Rights of Nature (Mother Earth) in the Hispanic world, emphasizing the spiritual perspectives of his Holiness Pope Francis and Latin American Indigenous peoples. Rights of Nature is the recognition that the inhabitants of the natural world -animals, plants, forests, etc. – possess rights. Rather than treat nature as property, rights of nature acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.

“In the case of Latin American indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories, the respect and defense of human and nature rights are socially, economically, culturally and politically problematic,” said shared Juan Carlos Grijalva, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature. “This course will empower students to analyze, understand and debate the challenges and complexities of defending indigenous human rights and rights of nature in Latin America.”

In the first section of this course, students will explore and familiarize themselves with fundamental ideas about human and nature rights: why do humans and nature have rights?; what are these rights?; what is their importance?; and how are human and nature rights interconnected? Students will read and discuss the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). In addition, other key manifests and declarations of indigenous rights and rights of nature will be also discussed.

The second section of this course is dedicated to Pope Francis, whose papacy can be defined by his contemporary views as an environmental thinker and defender who hails from Latin America.

“Pope Francis’s Encyclicals Laudato Si and Evangelii Gaudium are widely viewed as a strong critique of consumerism, irresponsible economic development, and environmental degradation,” said Prof. Grijalva.

Pope Francis has written, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘ex­ploited but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’” (Evangelii Gaudium 46). These Encyclicals call all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action” regarding human rights and rights of nature.

The third and last section of the course will explore different economic, cultural and ecological perspectives on the rights of nature, including the environmental and spiritual views of Latin American indigenous peoples; new legal rights of nature in current Latin American constitutions; and some specific cases in which indigenous defenders from Ecuador, Panamá, Colombia or Brazil have successfully defended their natural territories from being destroyed.

According to IFYC, the nonprofit provides grants to college faculty to fund the development of undergraduate courses that engage interfaith themes and pedagogies. The grants are funded by the Mellon foundation and support scholarly work among many disciplines who seek to engage in “interfaith studies in creative and rigorous ways.”