Lea Schweitz

Research Project Title: Enhancing Life in the City: A Theology of and for Urban Nature

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology/Religion and Science; Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Department of Systematic Theology/Religion and Science

Chicago, Illinois; United States of America

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Academic Biography

Dr. Lea F. Schweitz is the Associate Professor of Systematic Theology/Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is also the Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Since 1988, the Zygon Center has been engaging questions, encouraging creativity and exploring connections in religion and science. Schweitz collaborates across disciplinary and institutional boundaries to organize conferences, co-chair the Science, Technology and Religion group of the American Academy of Religion, mentor emerging student scholars, co-edit special sections of academic and denominational journals, and serve on an advisory board with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  As an emerging thought leader in the field, she is a frequently invited to speak on the future of religion and science.  As a theological educator, she was awarded a pre-tenure fellowship for teaching from Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, served as the principle investigator on a curriculum grant from Templeton Foundation that was featured in a special issue on theological education in The Christian Century, and was a keynote speaker at the Pedagogical Possibilities: New Paradigms for Teaching in Ministry conference at Vanderbilt University.  As an interdisciplinary scholar, recent articles have appeared with the University of Chicago Press, Zygon: Journal for Religion and Science, and Oxford University Press on topics ranging from encounter with an opossum to G.W. Leibniz’s view of human life. Currently, she is working on a monograph that claims and reimagines urban nature as a locus for theological reflection and spiritual formation.

Executive Summary

Enhancing Lives in the City has the potential to revitalize the ways we interact with urban nature. Urbanization is one of the inescapable forms of life in, through, and under which the enhancement of life takes place. Population models report dramatic growth in the numbers and percentages of urban dwellers in the last half-century. By 2050, it is predicted that two-thirds of the world’s population will be located in urban centers. The urban context is a permanent aspect of our social imaginaries and an inevitable feature of our planning for futures that nurture the enhancement of life.  The dramatic growth of urbanization increasingly threatens the idea of nature and its embodiment in the city. In this project, oral history, natural history, studies in urban ecology, theology, and the philosophy of nature are woven together to reveal the realities of urban nature and to build an infrastructure of ideas to support alternative, more expansive views of nature.  The project focuses on case studies an urban prairie preserve, a community garden, a repurposed meatpacking plant, and the Chicago River. It culminates in a proposal for an alternate taxonomy of urban space and an outline of a new theology of and for urban nature. This interdisciplinary project aims to reclaim the urban context for thinking theologically about nature in order to help build perceptions of cities as places to connect meaningfully with urban nature for the enhancement of life in human and other forms.