Friend of A Rocha Interview: Dr. Ryan Turnbull

New course explores the ideas of integral ecology and theologies of solidarity

Edited by Zoe Matties, Manitoba Program Manager

April 2, 2024

This month we had the chance to talk with Dr. Ryan Turnbull, who is a good friend of A Rocha, about his new course called Integral Ecology and Theologies of Solidarity. Having grown up on a cattle ranch in western Manitoba, Ryan has a deep interest in the intersection of theology, decolonization, ecology, place, and friendship. You can find him either talking about these things in a cafe or riding around town on his bike with his wife Rachel. He recently completed his PhD in Theology and Religion in December 2023, at the University of Birmingham, entitled “Haunted and Held: A Christian Theology of Place.” Ryan is currently a Visiting Fellow at St John’s College and serves as the Diocesan Discipleship Developer in the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land.

How did you get involved with A Rocha?

I first learned about A Rocha from a family member who’s been involved with the organization for years. I eventually started checking out some A Rocha events locally and more recently I’ve had the good pleasure of working with A Rocha to help plan the Consider the Lilies conferences and participate in some Germinating Conversations events.

Tell me about the course you’re teaching. What inspired you to develop this course?/Why is this topic important right now?

The course I’m teaching is called “Integral Ecology and Theologies of Solidarity” and it is a class in the subdiscipline of theology that we call “ecotheology”. “Ecotheology” is both an ecological and economic critique of theology that interrogates the ways standard theological approaches have contributed to our present climate crisis. I put this course together because I think the climate crisis is a serious existential concern for a lot of people, and I think a lot of Christians are looking for a way to respond as people of faith in a more serious way. The Anglican Church of Canada has articulated care for creation as part of its strategic vision, so as part of my work as Diocesan Discipleship developer, it’s important to develop opportunities for disciples to engage on these topics.

What does “integral ecology” mean? And Why is Laudato Si an important text for Christians to engage with?

Integral ecology is a term that Pope Francis develops in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that emphasizes that everything is intimately connected with everything else. In this encyclical, Francis really demonstrates that ecological justice isn’t a discrete issue among a number of other issues in Christian social teaching. Rather, ecojustice is deeply connected to every other justice issue. Francis shows that the way we treat our forests is connected to how we treat the poor, or the old, or the sick, or the very young. The subtitle for this encyclical is “On Care for our Common Home” and it is addressed not just to Catholics, but to all people of good will. The invitation of this text is to all people, that we might all come together to think critically and lovingly about the way structures of violence and alienation hurt the most vulnerable creatures, and indeed, ultimately hurt us all. The invitation to develop an integral ecology is an invitation to a holism that invites all sorts of opportunities for reconciliation in every part of our existence. And I think that’s a pretty good picture of how big and incredible the gospel is.

What do you see as the most pressing challenges that pastoral workers face in the context of the climate crisis, and how does your course aim to address these challenges?

I think a major challenge that pastoral workers are going to face in the coming years is an intense outpouring of grief and anxiety as the scale of the crisis continues to grow and we come to terms with what we have lost and are losing, as well as realize how intractable the problem is. The temptation might be to offer hope, but I’m quite concerned that offers of hope might be hope for the wrong things. We’ve seen our leaders point to renewable energy, carbon taxes, EVs, etc. as silver-bullet solutions to this problem, but then the malaise and cynicism only deepens when these too are shown to be false-hopes. I think we need to learn first to speak truthfully about the problems, and to be able to hold space for the grief and anxiety that this provokes, and then through these practices of telling the truth and creating space, we might be able to begin to find good work to do, good dreams to dream, and build a sort of hope against hope. 

Is this course only for those in ministry, or can anyone take it? What do you hope students will take away from your course in terms of their understanding of ecological issues?

This course is absolutely open to everyone and anyone. There is obviously a focus on Christian theology in it, but there will be some classes where we get quite critical about Christianity, so for those out there who aren’t too sure about religion, I think there will be something for you here too! I’ve structured the course in two halves, the first half is dedicated to “ideologies of alienation” – all the forces that have contributed to our current crisis. The second half is dedicated to “ideologies of reconciliation” and this highlights possible trajectories toward a hopeful future, or at least mark out some work that can be done on the way to discovering such a future. Students will leave the class having a good understanding of the structural issues of the climate crisis, and will have developed some practical skills for practicing grieving well, growing in resilience, and cultivating a difficult hopefulness.

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More Ways to Learn

Looking to connect with others who are interested in creation and climate care? Register for the upcoming Consider the Lilies Conference. A weekend of connection, learning, and equipping for the work of caring for creation.