With environmental issues topping the national and global agenda, college campuses across the country have committed recently to cutting their ecological impacts.
Dr. Christopher Doran, a first-year Pepperdine professor of religion and 1998 alumnus, says he thinks it’s time the university put ecological concerns at the forefront of the university’s mission statement. He said Pepperdine faces the unique challenge as a Christian university of considering its environmental effects in a Christian context.
He incorporates this belief into his Religion 301 course, Christianity, Ecology and Public Policy, as well as into the research project he’ll be conducting in Malibu starting this summer.
Over the next several years, Doran will be researching what Pepperdine is doing — and isn’t doing – concerning environmental issues on campus. He and a team of student researchers will perform a series of audits, in which they will gather data from different Pepperdine departments about their water consumption, waste disposal and other ecological issues.
But Doran says he is concerned with more than just Pepperdine’s numerical environmental impact. Although Doran studied biology as an undergraduate at Pepperdine, his other love is for Christianity. He graduated with a Master of Divinity from Pepperdine in 2002. When he joined Pepperdine’s full-time staff this semester, Doran said the university knew his research plans to audit the school.
This audit project will integrate Doran’s two fields of academic study, religion and science, by examining the school’s measurable ecological effects as well as the role of Christians and Christian institutions in a world of environmental instability.
Doran said his project “is about asking the broader question of what a Christian university should and should not do” in its environmental policy.
“I think that Christian universities should be the leaders in the field, not the followers,” Doran said. This is in part because of Christianity’s commitment to the social justice and human rights issues closely tied to ecological ones.
For example, students in Doran’s Religion 301 course study how the world’s poor are disproportionately hurt by environmental problems like polluted air and water.
Sophomore Jessica Fullman summarized the underlying theological question of the course, asking, “If you’re polluting the environment, depleting the earth of its natural resources and not taking into consideration the plants and animals that live here, is that showing the Christian love we say we have as God’s people?”
Doran said he thinks theologically, Christians have to consider all these environmental justice issues.
This summer, Doran will most likely begin his school-wide audit of Dining Services, in the first leg of his multi-year project.
Though the details are not yet finalized, Doran said Dining Services is a good place to start because the Waves Café is an area of high energy consumption and high student visibility.
“Students can see a snapshot of what the University is doing [ecologically] through the cafeteria,” Doran said.
If Doran chooses to audit Dining Services this summer, he and his student researchers will focus on gathering raw data from the department regarding their environmental practices. The team will research how much water and energy the department uses, how much waste it produces and how the department disposes of excess food.
Doran will also reflect theologically on the results of the audit, asking whether the University dining system is promoting environmental justice issues. For example, he said he would ask whether the food served in the Waves Café is grown in local areas, supporting local farm families, or if it is shipped from the Midwest, requiring longer transportation and therefore more gasoline and energy?
Junior international management major Kat Hakim will join Doran this summer as one of his student researchers, conducting the audit and also investigating other colleges’ environmental policies. Though Hakim is neither a science nor a religion student, she wanted to work on Doran’s project because she believes in the importance of environmental consciousness at Pepperdine.
“We [as humans] have done a lot to add to the environmental degradation that is leading to ugly effects like global warming,” Hakim said. “I personally believe that it’s an area where we need to focus our interests as a community and take even the smallest of steps to reverse its disastrous effects.”
Hakim and Doran’s other one or two student researchers will also be analyzing faith statements at Pepperdine and at comparable Christian institutions to see whether they incorporate ecological concerns into their University missions.
Along with Dining Services, Doran also plans to audit Pepperdine’s water use, energy use, transportation, solid waste, paper use and landscaping over the next several years. He hopes to not only identify areas in which the University can do more to reduce its ecological impact, but also to highlight programs Pepperdine has already implemented that do so in the Malibu community.
“We’ve got a lot to give to our local L.A. area and Malibu,” Doran said. “I think Pepperdine’s got a lot of good ideas.”
Doran’s Religion 301 students are also participating in his research project, by generating audit questions in class that he can later distribute to the different departments.
Fullman said she thinks Doran’s use of her class’s assignments offers students a chance to aid in faculty research.
“The questions that me and my group made [will have] played an important part in his research, which is going to be published,” Fullman said. “It’s a really cool opportunity.”