Oil pipelines to writers’ Christian identity, grad conference tackles many topics
February 23, 2012
By Darla Martin Tucker
Seventeen students from Tennessee, New York, and Southern California tackled a plethora of topics during Natures 2012, an annual graduate humanities conference at La Sierra University. Subjects presented in research papers ranged from the controversial Keystone Pipeline project, to the history of medicine in Mexico, to the effect of Christian identity on the works of two postwar fiction writers.
The fourth annual Natures conference for masters and doctoral students was held Feb. 17 with student presentations occurring at various locations around campus. They included an address by Claremont Graduate University student Tamara Ramirez on the divisive Keystone Pipeline proposal and the unexposed belief systems on which the proposal rests.
“The roots of the hotly debated Keystone Pipeline proposal are not fiscal or technological but ideological,” said Ramirez. “The project proposal exists as a result of a set of unsustainable cultural narratives that underlie, yet are not directly addressed, in public discourse about the project.” Those unsustainable cultural narratives include “suppositions about consumption and ‘the good life,’ notions about science, and the perceived separation between humans and non-human nature,” Ramirez said. “These tacit assumptions are the forces driving Keystone XL. And yet, they are virtually invisible in public discourse about the pipeline.”
While Ramirez delivered her presentation in the Dining Commons’ Cactus Room, La Sierra’s Patrick York was giving his presentation to a crowded Palm Room on “The ‘Eternal Silence’ of ‘Something Far Off.’” His paper placed authors C.S. Lewis and Flannery O’Connor “in conversation to demonstrate the positive and negative effects of Christian identity as it relates to the production of postwar fiction.” Neither author sacrificed his religious convictions in his prose, York said. Yet, “many critics argue that Lewis and O’Connor’s Christianity detracts from their works’ literariness and limits their works’ audience,” said York. He argued that the writers’ “religious identity creates the lasting appeal of the authors’ fiction and literary success in their works.”
About 150 people attended the four presentation sessions that took place throughout the day including an afternoon panel discussion by presenters from the City University of New York Graduate Center, the New York Public Library and the Glendale Public Library. They talked about the importance of libraries in an Internet age.
More than 120 students and faculty attended an 11 a.m. plenary talk, “Between Wasteland and Wilderness,” delivered by David Biggs, associate history professor from the University of California, Riverside.
Biggs discussed environmental history and the various, ambiguous views people hold of nature. He pointed out that photographs of environmental devastation, such as a tire dump or an oil spill in the ocean can appear as simultaneously beautiful and terrible. “Our ideas of nature or wasteland are historically framed,” he said, by literature, by experiences, by views such as atheism or Judeo Christianity. Different perspectives by various preservationists result in different beliefs on whether people should manage the wild and “play God,” or leave it entirely alone as a sacred place, he said. He cited the work of noted marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson whose books “The Sea Around Us,” a scientific prizewinner, and “Silent Spring,” a policy-changing bestseller on the dangers of pesticides, attracted a wide following. Biggs also cited the role of nature and perspectives on nature incorporated into feature films such as Avatar. “Environmental history is stories about stories,” said Biggs.
Biggs book, “Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta,” published last year by the University of Washington Press, looks at the mingling of political and ecological goals from the 1860s onward through repeated development and reclamation by various governing entities of the Mekong Delta’s canals, swamps and creeks.
Students in the English and Communications Department organize the annual Natures conference with faculty sponsor, Dr. Lora Geriguis, associate English professor and director of the Masters in English program.
Participation in the conference helps prepare students for professional presentation, said Geriguis. “By participating in and helping to organize Natures, our graduate English students are being trained to perform well at professional conferences across the country,” she said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University