Professor, Department of Religious Studies
Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Director, Pace Institute for Environmental and Regional Studies
Senior Fellow for Environmental Affairs, Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies
Adjunct Professor, Dyson College
Michelle D. Land
Director, Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities
Director, Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies
Adjunct Professor, Dyson College
Marine Transportation Department
SUNY Maritime College
Adjunct Professor of Economics
The New School
2016-2017 nominations now being accepted.
Do you know someone deserving of The Great Work Award? Someone whose work in higher education has furthered our understanding of the environment or environmental issues? Perhaps she or he has had an extraordinary influence on students, or advanced our knowledge in one of the many disciplines essential to our environmental future.
All around us the life's work of friends and colleagues is improving the relationship between humans and nature, without proper recognition. This is one reason the award was created.
Assist us in identifying those special individuals by
sending an email with your nomination.
Deadline for nominations: November 30, 2016.
The Great Work will be presented by the Environmental Consortium at its annual meeting on Friday, March 3, 2017 at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The Great Work Award recognizes individuals in higher education whose work exemplifies Berry’s admonition that colleges and universities should "reorient the human community toward a greater awareness that the human exists, survives, and becomes whole only within the single great community of the planet Earth."
The award is named for and honors Thomas Berry, whose vision for the role of the university in a New Cosmology that celebrates the inherent interconnectedness of humans and nature, inspired the formation of the Environmental Consortium in 2004.
The Great Work Award was established in 2012 to acknowledge and further the idea that higher education has a unique and profound role in society, as described by Thomas Berry in the chapter “The University” of his book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future.
In the book’s introduction, Berry wrote: “Of the institutions that should be guiding us into a viable future, the university has a special place because it teaches all those professions that control the human endeavor.” He continues in “The University” chapter:
“…that the religions are too pious, the corporations too plundering, the government too subservient to provide any adequate remedy. The universities, however, should have the insight and the freedom to provide the guidance needed by the human community. The universities should also have the critical capacity, the influence over the other professions and the other activities of society.”
“The Great Work,” as described by Berry is “… is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.”
The purpose of the Award is to recognize and encourage teaching, scholarship, service, leadership and other educational activities that embody Berry’s vision for the university to educate students about “how to move out of this alienation of the human into a more viable mode of presence to the natural world.”
Nominees must demonstrate a dedication to teaching, scholarship, service, leadership or other educational activities that have resulted in significant achievement or impact while reflecting the essence of Thomas Berry’s vision and philosophy. The nominee does not necessarily need to have directly referenced Thomas Berry, so long as his ethic is expressed.
- Self-nominations and nominations by others accepted.
- Nominees must be affiliated with an institution of higher education within the boundary of the Hudson and Mohawk River watershed (though not necessarily a member of the Environmental Consortium).
- Open to full-time, part-time and adjunct faculty, as well as staff and administrators.
- Students are not eligible for nomination.
- Though not required, work that promotes interdisciplinarity, cooperation and collaboration within or outside of academe is encouraged.
- Award Committee will consider nominations of teams, projects, or collaboratives.
- Awardee will be expected to give a presentation at the Consortium’s annual meeting reflecting his or her work as it is connected to or otherwise references Thomas Berry’s vision.
The Great Work Award is administered by the office of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges & Universities at Pace University. Recipients of the award will be recognized at the Consortium’s annual conference in the Fall, where the recipient will share with Consortium members their work related to the Thomas Berry ethic.
An Award Committee, comprised of individual members of the Consortium, oversees the competition and is actively seeking a diverse range of nominations and applications. The Award Committee shall meet soon after the submission deadline to recommend an award candidate to the Consortium Steering Committee, whose decision shall be final. None of the Award Committee members may nominate or be related to any nominees.
Wonder, celebration, mystery, dream, story -- the Thomas Berry lexicon evokes a child ever awestruck by the universe around him. One can imagine the young Tom wandering the meadow across the creek from his family home in Greensboro, North Carolina; the "magic moment" when "the white lilies rising above the thick grass" imprinted the wisdom he would share with us all the decades of his life.
Thomas was one of the greatest environmental thinkers of our time. Throughout his writings and lectures, and effortlessly in personal conversation, he spoke to our special place in nature, and the universe. He found equal inspiration in the limitless cosmos, the "Earth community," and the Hudson River bioregion.
He called upon us to "renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe"; to discover "the dream of the Earth, the dream that is carried . . . in the depths of our genetic coding"; and to embrace our role on the Hudson as "the instrument whereby the valley celebrates itself."
Wrote his sister and aide, Margaret Berry, “He has, in fine, bridged the centuries-old chasm between humans and nature so that the part is reconciled with the whole and the ideal is achieved of a mutually enhancing relationship between humans and Earth.”
Thomas was a priest of the Passionist Order, "a priest, and a prophet," said fellow Passionist, Father Alex Steinmiller. At Catholic University he immersed himself in history and theology. He spent many years studying and teaching the cultures and religions of Asia. He lived in China in 1948 where he met Confucian scholar Ted de Bary, now Provost Emeritus of Columbia University. Their collaboration led to the founding of the Asian Thought and Religion Seminar at Columbia University. Thomas’ essays on religion are collected in The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Columbia University Press and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth by Orbis Books.
The teachings of Jesuit priest and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin (1891-1955) inspired his integration of the sacred, ecological, and cosmological, and moved him to serve as president of the American Teilhard Association from 1975-1987, and to collaborate with Brian Swimme to write The Universe Story (HarperOne, 1994). For more than two decades he served as director of the Riverdale Center of Religious Research, in Riverdale, NY. There began his lifelong love of the Hudson River.
Thomas published three volumes of collected essays on the environment: The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1998), The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (Random House/Bell Towers, 1999), and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club/University of California Press, 2006).
The Great Work is his masterpiece. In it the humanist and cosmologist stand side by side, encouraging us to understand that out of humanity's darkest times have emerged its most creative works, just as life itself emerged from the cataclysm of the Big Bang. Our next Great Work, he wrote, is to transform our hostile relationship with Earth into a new, ecologically-centered mission. He saw a special role for higher education, which he believed is the only of society’s institutions that offers the multiple disciplines, the critical capacity and the duty to community necessary to change humanity's destructive environmental course.
For Thomas the relationship of human to home to planet to universe was of a piece. We are connected yes but, even more, we are dependent one upon the other -- a mystery he did not pretend to understand fully, but one he embraced completely. It finds expression in this paragraph from The Dream of the Earth:
"We who live here in the Hudson River Valley constitute a single organic community with the river and the lowlands and the surrounding hills, with the sunlight and the rain, with the grasses and the trees and all the living creatures about us. We are all in some manner needed by one another."