Tomas B. Berry

Tomas B. Berry

Doctor of Letters

An American Passionist and cultural historian, Reverend Dr. Berry is a recognized leader in the field of ecology and religion. Born in 1914, in Greenbo, North Carolina, he entered the Monastery of the Passionate Community (New England Providence) in 1934; was professed the next year, and ordained to the priesthood in 1942. From 1943 to 1947, he pursued graduate studies in History at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A dissertation entitled The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico was published in 1949, the same year in which his Doctor of Philosophy degree was conferred. He pursued additional studies at the Chinese Language School in Peiping, China from 1948 to 1949, and studied the Sanskrit Language at Columbia University from 1960 to 1961. His public professional roles include serving as a Professor of Asian Studies at the Centre for Asian Studies, St. John's University; Professor of World Religion in the Department of Theology at Fordham University; and President of the American Teilhard Association. In 1970, he established the Riverdale Centre for Religious Studies, Riverdale, New York, and served as its Director until two years ago.

Dr. Berry's published writings include Buddhism, The Religions of India, the New Story, The Dream of the Earth, The Universe Story (co-authored with Brian Swimme), Befriending the Earth (co-authored with Thomas Clarke), and many journal articles.

He is most renowned for his work in religion and ecology. In the early 1970s, he began to turn his academic skills in that direction. As a cultural historian, he understood the ecological crisis to be indicative of the modern cultural crisis, and associated the intensity of the human instrumenalization of nature in the modern West with the breakdown of a unifying story out which former generations of Christians had lived. This story was a blend of the biblical story and Greek cosmology. It existed until approximately the end of the Middle Ages, and gradually disintegrated in the face of the Black Death in the eleventh century and later during the scientific revolution. While this amalgam had its shortcomings and distortions, it had provided a functional basis for life. Furthermore, it was a cosmological story in which the nature of the universe had constitutive meaning for society. Cosmology, Berry felt, must again become a functional part of human history.

Since the 1960s, he has been an international leader in the area of religion and ecology. Saint Mary's University was one of the first Universities in North America to offer a course in religion and ecology, that being one that was planned and introduced by Professor Emeritus, Dr. Emero Steigman, in 1972-1973. Dr. Berry was a major inspiration to Dr. Steigman in initiating this course. His writings have consistently formed part of both the vision and the actual texts for this course down to the present time.

This course provided the basis from which the Saint Mary's student organization for the environment (ECOSS) was started. An additional course entitled Religion and Ecology Issues in the Developing World was added to the Religious Studies curriculum in 1995-1996, by Dr. Anne Marie Dalton, who was greatly influenced by the thinking and writings of Dr. Berry. These two courses presently attract students from all faculties, and are cross-listed in the International Development Studies and Environment Studies areas. The Philosophy Department at Saint Mary's has received approval for a new course, Environmental Ethics, and in the faculty of Commerce, Dr. Cathy Driscoll is researching the area of Business and Environmental concerns. It is, therefore, obvious that environmental issues are already a cross-disciplinary concern at Saint Mary's University. Hence, it seemed to be an appropriate time to recognize the significance of addressing the environmental crisis and giving public exposure to Saint Mary's commitment to educating young people on the many dimensions of these crises - religious, cultural, economic, and scientific. Therefore, the granting of an honorary degree to Dr. Berry is an important symbolic gesture in this regard, as well as a recognition of his considerable cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural contribution to this important field.

Reverend Dr. Thomas B. Berry, C.P., will receive a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) degree.