Op-Ed: Religion Faculty Call for Divestment

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Op-Ed submitted by members of the Religion Faculty

To the Swarthmore Community,

We, the undersigned members of the Religion Department faculty, are writing in solidarity with our students in the department who recently called for Swarthmore College to divest its endowment holdings from the fossil fuels extraction industries. We believe that continued investment in the extraction industries directly implicates our community in exploitative ecological destruction.

Ten years ago, Jim Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said “We are on the precipice of climate system tipping points beyond which there is no redemption.” In acknowledging the truth of Hansen’s perspective, we are, at the same time, optimistic that with the concerted efforts of individuals and of local, national, and international communities, we can change the course of a warming planet, or at least slow down its effects. We remember other positive environmental changes – the banning of DDT in the U.S. in the 1960s and the general eradication of ozone-depleting CFC’s in the 1980s – and believe it is time to extricate ourselves from the Big Oil economy that was even then destroying the planet. And we recall the definitive reports by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007, based on tens of thousands of studies by hundreds of climate researchers over many years of investigation, that made clear to us that our fossil fuel economy is the most important factor driving the dangerous climate changes we now see all around us.

Every generation has the opportunity to seize the moment and battle its own forces of oppression and degradation so that future generations can live safer, healthier, and more meaningful lives. Many of the great social movements in our country’s and Swarthmore College’s history – the abolitionist groundswell of the 19th century, the suffragist associations of the early 20th century, the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and, most notably in recent history, the LGBTQ and divestment movements today – were energized by prophetic campus leaders, students, staff, and faculty alike, who brought together their passions for justice to animate a moral force for change more powerful than any other force to stop them. To paraphrase William James, and in the face of cataclysmic climate change, today we must wage the moral equivalent of war by becoming more disciplined, more resourceful, and more visionary in fighting the causes of global ecological depredation. Fossil fuels divestment is one such strategy in this effort, and, in concert with Swarthmore Mountain Justice and Religion students, we call on Swarthmore College to divest from extraction industries that are ruthlessly exploiting the environment for economic profit.

Steven Hopkins, Professor of Religion
Tariq al-Jamil, Associate Professor of Religion
Helen Plotkin, Visiting Assistant Professor
Ellen Ross, Associate Professor of Religion
Mark Wallace, Professor of Religion


  1. This is by far the best argument for divestment I have read thus far. As someone neither involved with MJ nor particularly sympathetic to them, thank you for this!

  2. As one of the people involved in writing the letter from Religion department students, I very much appreciate the support of our faculty. Of course we need to talk about the practical and financial implications of divestment, but also to hear it simply said, “We believe that continued investment in the extraction industries directly implicates our community in exploitative ecological destruction.”

    This article helps show that we’re not just talking about a student issue–there are lots of faculty, staff, Board of Managers members, and others in our community who are of like mind. Let’s all keep the ball rolling!

  3. Ye are all sinners even you students of Swarthmore because your tuition pays Swarthmore to burn fossile fuels while it heats buildings in the winter and cools them in the summer. Everyone of ye breathes out carbon dioxide including you, you self righteous religious faculty of Swarthmore. How dare you call for divestment, divest of yourselves you carbon dioxide breathing dragons! Oh and how do you commute to teach Prof Hopkins, and Prof Jamil, Plotkin, Ross and Wallace. How do you go to your religious conferences or to shop and feed yourselves. You use vehicles that burn fossil fuels and manufacture that deadly gas carbon dioxide. And you call yourselves men of God! What a disgrace!!

  4. These articles are still being posted? Seriously?

    Prioritization of issues is not a strong suit of the Swarthmore Community right now.

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