All Creation is Connected

Voices in Response to Pope Francis's Encyclical on Ecology

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Editor(s): 
Daniel R. DiLeo
  • Winnona, MN: 
    Anselm Academic
    , January
     2018.
     238 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781599828749.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In June 2015, Pope Francis promulgated what was surely one of the most anticipated papal encyclicals of all time: Laudato Si’. It was addressed to all people on the planet and concerned with the urgent need to take up duties to care for our common home. One of the central features of the encyclical that has resonated amongst Catholic intellectuals, particularly in North America, is the notion of integral ecology. In its most basic formulation, integral ecology understands everything within the cosmos to be connected. For Francis, this cosmos is both a spiritual and physical reality; hence, the natural world is understood as God’s creation. Synthesizing these basic insights generates the impetus for the main title of Dan DiLeo’s edited volume, All Creation is Connected.

Pope Francis frames concerns for social justice, substantive peace, and ecological health as converging under contemporary conditions. The subtitle invokes the imperative that the Pope names for people to attempt to make these realities their own as a response to intertwined social and ecological crises; Voices in Response to Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Ecology refers to chapter length contributions by United States-based scholars. This group, as explained in DiLeo’s introduction, originally came together for a three-day conference in November 2015 at the Catholic University of America, which was framed around the encyclical’s relationship to the American Catholic Church and designed to allow people working in socially-engaged ministries to integrate the content of Laudato Si’ into their work.

These origins explain a lot about the tensions that emerge in the volume when viewed from an academic perspective. With a few laudable exceptions, All Creation is Connected does not contain much analysis. This is understandable given both that the volume was crafted during a period of initial reception of the encyclical and the document was welcomed by many Catholic thinkers for the spaces it opened up for dialogue about social and ecological issues. Moreover, the timing of the conference meant that the contributors simply did not have the advantage of being able to engage the growing body of secondary literature on the encyclical. The sections within the contributions are also often very brief and therefore many chapters feel truncated. The result is an expository tone. Additionally, there are a few grand claims that do not receive adequate scholarly support. To cite one of the examples found later in the volume in a generally interesting and cogent chapter the connections between individual and social change that can be made in the spirit of Laudato Si’, David Cloutier invokes the importance of studies consistently showing a connection between ecological literacy and environmental action without any citation. More substantively, and despite numerous endorsements from prominent scholars and inside cover material listing three important US-based academics as having reviewed the work in progress, a few chapters are marked by conjecture where firmly supported argumentation would have better served the point asserted.  

Yet, this edited volume’s strengths and weaknesses are intertwined. Taken on its own terms and understood as representing an accessible way to think through some of the implications of Pope Francis’ teachings, All Creation is Connected is a remarkably rich book that gives its reader new insights into to the topics associated with integral ecology. Access is afforded to fourteen learned and US-based voices, many of whom have been prominent in the area of Catholicism and ecology well before 2015. These contributors offer a compelling map of what from their perspective are the innovative and cogent features of Laudato Si’. These features come more sharply into focus via what has been called “the Francis effect”: the wide appeal of the particular pope who promulgated the encyclical. In the process they also articulate resonances within Catholic traditions that help situate Francis’s teaching. To cite two prime examples, Dawn Nothwehr poignantly connects a Franciscan spirituality of liberation to the moral imperatives associated with integral ecology, while Jame Schaefer effectively names select  confluences with virtue ethics. Moreover, what will for many be a new vocabulary is offered for those seeking to engage socio-ecological issues, such as Daniel Scheid’s concept of the “cosmic common good” and Tobias Winright’s naming of “integral peacebuilding.”

Laudato Si’ itself is in many ways about grounding integral ecology in order to better care for our common home. The present volume can act as catalyst for such transformative integration. Indeed, that process is facilitated within the pages All Creation is Connected by the pedagogically helpful feature of separate sections dedicated to review and in-depth questions that close each chapter. In line with the theme of the conference from which it originated, the tone and features of the volume will be particularly useful for parish and undergraduate study groups that are centered on normative goals of growing social justice, substantive peace, and ecological health in this world. Additionally, there are many nuggets of wisdom and renderings of possible antecedents for the encyclical that are sure to intrigue and inform even the most committed scholar of Laudato Si’. As a result, All Creation is Connected operates on a number of levels that make it a valuable read.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Hrynkow is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan.

Date of Review: 
March 28, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Daniel R. DiLeo is Assistant Professor and the Director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program at Creighton University in Omaha.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments