The Constellation Project

Terry Tempest Williams (author and Harvard Divinity School writer-in-residence), Charles M. Stang (director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School), and Dr. Sam Myers (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health principal research scientist and Planetary Health Alliance director) have launched The Constellation Project. The Constellation Project — a collaboration between the Harvard Divinity School, the Planetary Health Alliance, and the Center for the Study of World Religions—explores the spiritual crisis that underlies the ecological and public health crises associated with destruction of Earth’s natural systems. How do we share news stories about our relationship to each other and the natural world that could help set us on a different path? The Constellation Project aims to feature faith leaders bringing science into their sermons; scientists giving ‘reverence for life’ alongside their analyses; and scholars and students finding a place for their spiritual life.


Upcoming events:
Cup of Tea Series - Fall 2021

This series is a Constellation Project in partnership with the Center of the Study of World Religions, Religion & Public Life, and The Planetary Health Alliance. Brian Kirbis of Theasophia Teas will open each conversation with Tea. Each conversation will begin at 7:00 p.m. EST and end at 8:30 p.m. virtually conducted by Terry Tempest Williams, writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. HDS Development Office will assist in publicity and production of Zoom Meetings.

September 20, 2021: THE POLITICS & POETRY IN SACRED LAND PROTECTION   --  Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior (INVITED)

September 27, 2021: CAN WE LOVE THE EARTH ENOUGH TO CHANGE? --  Larry Rasmussen, Theologian (INVITED)

October 4, 2021: A NEW GENERATION, NEW STRATEGIES FOR ENGAGEMENT -  Morgan Curtis, HDS Student, Class of 2024                               Brontê Velez, Black-latinx transdisciplinary artist + Climate Activist                      

October 18, 2021: BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVES ON THE SENTIENCE OF ALL BEINGS  -- Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies and the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at HDS School.

November 1, 2021: CHANGING OUR MINDS IN THE TIME OF CLIMATE COLLAPSEMichael Pollan, Writer, This Is Your Mind On Plants, How to Change Your Mind

November 8, 2021: GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM & THE ARTS -- Chloe Aridjis, Writer’s Rebel, UK, Novelist, The Book of Clouds & Wanjira Maathai, Regional Director for Africa at the World Resources Institute (INVITED)

November 15, 2021: THE NATURE OF THE FUTURE Elizabeth Kolbert, Journalist, Author, Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future

November 22, 2021: THE MINISTRY OF THE FUTUREKim Stanley Robinson, Writer of Science Fiction

November 25, 2021: BIOMICRY: LEARNING FROM NATUREJanine Benyus (INVITED), Biologist, Biomicry – Innovations Inspired By Nature  

November 29, 2021: VIRTUAL CLOSING TEA CEREMONY WITH THEAOSOPHIA Brian Kirbis*

Past events:
February 6, 2018: Film Screening and Discussion: Albatross
October 17, 2018: Taproot: Stories of Nature and Restoration 
April 4, 2019: The Land and the Waters are Speaking: Indigenous Views on Climate Change

Media:
The Harvard Gazette, Project Offers Holistic View on Environmental Issues
The Harvard Crimson, Divinity School Event Explores Humans’ Relationship to Nature
The Harvard Gazette, Putting ‘the Language of the Earth on the Agenda’ 


"A constellation is a group of stars connected by the imagination.  We look up at the night sky and see a map of stories created by our need to understand the world around us and beyond.  

And yet at home, on the ground, our perspectives can be limited.  

We are at a critical moment in human history. We are only just beginning to comprehend the significance of what Martin Luther King described as “the fierce urgency of now.”  Most of human civilization has taken place during a geological epoch: the Holocene, characterized by remarkably stable biophysical conditions. But about the same time that our first Apollo astronauts stepped onto the moon and were overcome by the stunning beauty of Earth rising above the moon’s horizon, we entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, where the press of our species now registers as its own geologic force disrupting natural processes at the fastest rates in the history of our species.

Consider these facts: To feed ourselves, we annually appropriate about 40% of Earth’s land surface for pastures and croplands. We use about half of the planet’s accessible fresh water to irrigate our crops; and we exploit 90% of global fisheries at, or beyond, their maximum sustainable limits. In the process, we have cut down half of the world’s forests and dammed more than 60% of its rivers. The quality of air, water, and land is diminishing around the world because of global pollution. Our production of greenhouse gases is changing Earth’s climate. These and other processes are driving species to extinction while the numbers of individual  mammals, fishes, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have fallen by half in the past 45 years. We are holding Nature under siege.

We are trying to respond. The global health community is beginning to understand that environmental degradation is not only an ecological crisis but also a human crisis. This is the genesis of planetary health.

Just as we recognize the interconnectedness of our health and the health of the planet, we recognize the rupture of our relationship with Nature. The ongoing destruction of Earth’s natural systems is the result of decisions, made daily, by billions of people. These decisions are voluntary and involuntary at once, collective and personal. Reverence and awe for Nature have lost their authority.  The question must be asked: what is driving our actions?  How do we reignite and reimagine a spiritual relationship to this beautiful, breaking planet we call home?  

How do we nurture empathy, restraint and resiliency, sacrifice, and faith grounded in action?  How do we acknowledge the grief we feel in relationship to our changing world from the devastation rendered by fires, floods, and hurricanes?  Can we as humans broaden our definition of community to include all species, not just our own?  And what might a different kind of power look like, feel like, as we extend our notion of power to include the legal rights and standing of rivers, mountains, and all manner of life on Earth?

As we address these enormous challenges, the emerging field of planetary health in partnership with an earth-based spirituality can create a more ethical stance toward life evolving within the era of the Anthropocene.  We need new stories for a new era of planetary consciousness.

The Constellation Project—a collaboration between the Harvard Divinity School, the Planetary Health Alliance, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Center for the Environment, and the Center for the Study of World Religions—celebrates conversations between disciplines that have been in dialogue only with themselves.  This kind of academic apartheid has for too long oppressed the imagination and stifled creativity.  We need robust and creative conversations where scientists can speak honestly from the depth of their breaking hearts about what they are witnessing: the loss of species and habitats, the death of coral reefs, the rise of infectious diseases. We need to experience the emotional register of music, poetry, and films that are reexamining what it means to be human in an increasingly fractured world. 

The Constellation Project is committed to this deeper exploration of people in place.  Call it an ecology of residency. What stories do we tell ourselves that wound the world and its inhabitants, rather than allow all life to flourish? What kinds of stories are emerging that could help set us on a different path?  

The Constellation Project is lit up by questions that hold us to account. 

The territory where science, the arts and humanities, human health and spirituality meet is where the Constellation Project shimmers. Our intention is to create an atmosphere of witnessing, where diverse voices from all disciplines, geographies, traditions, and practices are invited to speak to create a wider community of care.  We are calling together the Storytellers who share a common reliance on Nature as a taproot to an evolving consciousness.  By identifying this taproot of care and engagement, we can better anchor our humanity to a bedrock of planetary compassion.

We imagine these gatherings will stimulate an awakening  for us as individuals and as a community.  We want priests bringing science into their sermons; we want scientists to feel permission to give ‘reverence for life’ authority alongside their analyses; we imagine scholars and students finding a place for their spiritual life.

The Constellation Project is committed to drawing new maps that will guide us toward a future of abiding strength and presence where our embrace of humanity becomes an embrace of the Earth, interconnected and interrelated. This is the place where inspiration, imagination, and courageous actions can dwell."


Written by:  

Dr. Samuel Myers is a physician and principal research scientist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Planetary Health Alliance.  His research focuses on the many ways that human-caused changes to the natural environment impact human health. He is the author of over 50 peer-reviewed research articles and is co-editing “Planetary Health: Protecting Human Health on a Rapidly Changing Planet” with Howard Frumkin.

Terry Tempest Williams is Writer-in-Residence at the Harvard Divinity School.  She is the author of the environmental classic, “Refuge – An Unnatural History of Family and Place.”  Author of 17 books including “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” “The Open Space of Democracy,” and most recently, “The Hour of Land – A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks,” her work has been published and translated worldwide.

Charles M. Stang 
is Professor of Early Christian Thought and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His scholarly research focuses on the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world; but he is interested, more broadly, in how religion and spirituality can be a resource for addressing the global environmental crisis.

Planetary Health Alliance

The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 120 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health.
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