Lea Schweitz

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

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:50-6:10PM

Phenomenology of Urban Ecology for a Theology of Urban Nature

Through an inductive, case study method, this paper brings together urban natural history and contemporary ecology to paint a portrait of two sites on Chicago’s south side: a restored urban wetland, Hegewisch Marsh Park, and an abandoned steel-making plant, the Acme Coke Plant. This paper argues that listening to urban ecology yields productive openings for theologies of the cross and aesthetic concepts such as vibrancy. The result is a political theology of urban nature activated for enhancing lives on an increasingly urban planet.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Integral Ecology: Enhancing Human and Non-Human Life

The task of this Research Laboratory is to provide perspectives from philosophy, history, theology and anthropology about the possibilities for engaging in each other’s lives and in the natural world. Rather than exploring ecology and just the sum of its parts, we explore fundamental aspects of and “integral ecology.” That is, we examine the ways environments and social relationships organize, inspire, and vitalize each other. The laboratory will also look across different societies to explore the ways these integral interactions are mediated by material infrastructures and cultural belief systems. In doing so, we seek to reflect on the webs of mutuality, interdependence, and exchange that can and do enhance the integral coexistence of human and non-human life.

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

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.

Project 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.