The Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice is concerned with the relation of religion and matters of economic and ecological justice.

 

The Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice seeks to inform and support commitments to justice and deep solidarity. Our concerns for religion and economic and ecological justice are expressed in the study and promotion of the flourishing of all, of thriving relationships, of the employment of diversity for the good of the community, and of the agency and the work of all people and the planet.

Housed at Vanderbilt Divinity School, the Religion and Justice Program is strategically located in the Southern region of the United States, where religion continues to play a strong role but has often accommodated itself to the status quo and neglected alternative visions of faith. Seeking new paths of faithful reflection, the Religion and Justice Program pursues fresh engagements with the resources of Christianity, historical and contemporary, local, national, and international, in close conversation with other religious traditions.

As part of our programing, we engage related concerns of racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and interreligious justice. The Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice works in close collaboration with other programs at Vanderbilt Divinity School, such as the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies, the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, and the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collective. These programs address concerns about inequality and injustice along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. The Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice complements and engages these concerns by developing responses to inequality and injustice along the lines of economics and ecology, topics that are closely linked to the development of religious discourse, both past and present.

While the Wendland Cook Religion and Justice Program is rooted in the academy, it is designed to address the needs of non-academic communities, both local and global as well as religious and non-religious. We work with religious communities to assess needs and to develop and promote constructive models of religious life in conversation with broader economic and ecological pressures. We develop resources for clergy, leaders, and community organizers for presentations in congregations and community groups. We hold regular meetings with small groups that include faculty experts, pastors, and community organizers to provide education and resources. Drawing on and developing the long- standing commitments of religious and activist communities, our partnerships with activists, religious communities, and the wider public focus on economic and ecological justice at the local, national, and international levels.

 

Why the need?

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Religion is pulled in all kinds of directions at present. For some, religion is strictly limited to the private realm. For others, religion has become a political tool that sanctions certain party lines. For others yet, religion is determined by their economic commitments.

The question of the Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice is whether religion can still make a genuine difference. Can religion offer solutions at a time when more and more people are struggling to make ends meet (in the United States alone, 43 percent of children live in low-income families according to the National Center for Children in Poverty), and when there is overwhelming consensus that life on the planet is in danger? Or is religion doomed to be a function of personal, political, and economic tastes and preferences?

To be sure, our emphasis on religion and economic and ecological justice zeros in on some of the touchiest questions of our age. Who dares to question the foundations on which our collective well-being seems to rest, and who can provide alternatives? In conversation with other concerns for justice—racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, political and personal—we need deeper explorations of why economic inequality and ecological destruction are so widespread today, how religion is involved, and what to do about it.

While conventional wisdom holds that we have little influence on the weather (or on wealth, for that matter), we are interested in what kinds of influence we do have. In exploring these interests we are joined by increasing numbers of people around the globe, including communities of faith and social movements that are often connected to religious concerns, both past and present. What moves us so that we can move others?

None of us can do this alone, but together we may be able to make a difference. The multi-faceted community at Vanderbilt Divinity School that combines scholarship, commitment, and action provides space for our ongoing efforts to investigate, educate, and organize. Our allies are found in local and regional communities throughout the Southeast of the United States, but also in national and international contexts. We invite you to join us. 

Joerg Rieger

Distinguished Professor of Theology

Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair in Wesleyan Studies

Founding Director of the Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice

 
 

Our Vision

 

Justice, in many religious traditions, is not an abstract idea but tied to the life of embodied communities. To be just means to restore and to build community at all levels, personal, public, political, and economic. At the Wendland Cook Religion and Justice program, we believe that addressing the relation of religion to matters of economic and ecological justice is foundational to the flourishing of all people and the planet.

Our Mission

As part of theological and religious reflection, we study and support matters of economic and ecological justice and implications for religious communities and the wider public. Our educational and organizing resources are developed especially for communities and scholars as they engage religion in working towards economic and ecological justice. Through our strategic partnerships between the academy, religious communities, social movements, and the broader public we aim to inform and support the work of those dedicated to justice and deep solidarity.

 

To be just.

 

In the Hebrew traditions, which have deeply influenced Christianity and Islam, justice is not an abstract idea but tied to the life of specific communities. To be just means to restore and to build community at all levels, personal, public, political, and economic. Religion is tied to all of these levels and cannot be confined to solitary exercises. Justice in these traditions also entails taking the sides of those who experience injustice, as embodied by the divine in the shared Abrahamic traditions of the Exodus and the prophets and expressed in the life and ministry of Jesus.

This Program is strategically located in the Southern region of the United States, where religion continues to play a strong role but where Christianity has often accommodated itself to the status quo and neglected alternative visions of faith. The Program pursues fresh engagements with the resources of Christianity, historical and contemporary, local, national, and international, in close conversation with other religious traditions.

The program investigates matters of economic and ecological justice and their broad implications for religious communities and the wider public as integral part of theological and religious reflection. Research is the foundation of the work of the program because economic and ecological relationships as well as their intersectional relations with race, gender, and sexuality continue to be underexplored even though they play an essential role in the formation and re- formation of religious communities.

The program educates the academy, students, religious communities, activist communities, and the broader public on matters of religion and justice through university course offerings, continuing education events, workshops, trainings, and national and international academic conferences. It also educates by disseminating its findings through academic publications, popular media such as blogs and newsletters, and various means of popular education.

The program supports its constituencies in their work of organizing more just relationships, drawing on and developing further long-standing commitments of religious and activist communities. In the Christian traditions, organizing broadens the horizons of what has traditionally been called ministry and discipleship, in many other religious traditions organizing broadens inherent concerns of community and solidarity, and in activist communities organizing broadens the concerns for advocacy and mobilizing.

 

Activities

 

The program investigates matters of economic and ecological justice and their broad implications for religious communities and the wider public as integral part of theological and religious reflection. Research is the foundation of the work of the program because economic and ecological relationships as well as their intersectional relations with race, gender, and sexuality continue to be underexplored even though they play an essential role in the formation and re- formation of religious communities.

The program educates the academy, students, religious communities, activist communities, and the broader public on matters of religion and justice through university course offerings, continuing education events, workshops, trainings, and national and international academic conferences. It also educates by disseminating its findings through academic publications, popular media such as blogs and newsletters, and various means of popular education.

The program supports its constituencies in their work of organizing more just relationships, drawing on and developing further long-standing commitments of religious and activist communities. In the Christian traditions, organizing broadens the horizons of what has traditionally been called ministry and discipleship, in many other religious traditions organizing broadens inherent concerns of community and solidarity, and in activist communities organizing broadens the concerns for advocacy and mobilizing.