Alumni CLASnotes Fall 2002

Ethics and the Academy

Bron TaylorBron Taylor has worn many hats so far in his life: professor, program director, board member, lifeguard, editor and environmentalist to name a few. These experiences have shaped his career as a pioneer in the field of religion, ethics and nature, and he brings his expertise to UF as the first Samuel S. Hill Chair of Christian Ethics in the religion department.

Perry Foote, Jr., a Gainesville physician, made the new chair position possible through the pledge he made during the "It's Performance That Counts!" campaign. Foote wanted to honor UF Emeritus Professor of Religion Samuel S. Hill. Hill taught at UF from 1972-1994 and served as department chair from 1972-1977. "It is gratifying to have your name associated with anything positive, and I'm thrilled that Dr. Taylor has been brought in because he is well-suited for this position," says Hill. "I'm glad there is specific attention given to ethics because it's a topic our students need to learn about more than ever these days."

Taylor grew up in southern California and received his bachelor's degree, double majoring in religious studies and psychology, from California State University, Chico in 1977. He later earned a master's degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1980 and his PhD in social ethics from the University of Southern California in 1988.

During his college years, Taylor worked as a lifeguard along the Southern California coast, where he saw the California Brown Pelican disappear due to DDT poisoning and reappear, years later, after the pesticide was banned. "As I was finishing my dissertation, exploring the impacts of affirmative action policies on ordinary people, and using my own empirical data as grist for ethical reflection about these policies, I noticed that environmentalists had begun to deploy sabotage in their efforts to arrest environmental decline," says Taylor. "I soon surmised that, like the liberation movements I had studied, the emerging, 'radical environmental' groups were animated by religious perceptions and ideals. Intrigued, I left for the woods to learn more."

This turned into a long-term research trajectory exploring the many dimensions of and forms of contemporary grassroots environmentalism, especially the most radical ones. One book he edited about such movements, Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism, has been adopted by more than three dozen universities for classroom use.

At UF, Taylor will continue crafting the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, the first encyclopedia focusing on the relationships between religions, cultures and ecosystems. The two-volume work will contain more than 1,000 entries from 700 scholars.

Taylor also brings strong program building experience, having founded the environmental studies program at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and serving as its director for nearly ten years before moving to Florida. He will play a key role in UF's new PhD program in religion. In the fall of 2003, the religion department will inaugurate doctoral programs in three areas of specialization: religion and nature, religion in the Americas and religions of Asia. Religion Chair Sheldon Isenberg says Taylor's appointment comes at an opportune time. "Bron Taylor is the anchor for our PhD track in religion and nature, which is the first such program in the world. He has helped define this field of research, and prospective students are already knocking on the door."

Taylor will teach courses in religious, social and environmental ethics and is also writing two books. "It's wonderful to be at a first-rate research school because I will be able to more rapidly complete my research. Next year, when the first cohort of new graduate students arrive, we will begin to develop a variety of collaborative research projects. This will provide another exciting opportunity to help shape the field."

--Allyson A. Beutke

Jane Dominguez

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