Thursday September 24th St. Mary’s University hosted its first ever Liberal Arts Roundtable. This collaborative and interdisciplinary discussion marked the beginning of a series of Liberal Arts Roundtable events to be hosted by St. Mary’s. This event was historic in many ways including it was the first time a discussion was made available to community members wherein the public could engage in conversation with our incredibly talented faculty. Five of St. Mary’s faculty participated in the dynamic dialogue including: Dr. Peter Baltutis, Dr. Mary Ann McLean, Dr. Michael MacLeod, Dr. Timothy Harvie, and Dr. Michael Duggan who acted as Moderator.
This discussion focused on the Pope’s most recent encyclical, a document that has been making headlines globally. The Encyclical, entitled “Laudato Si”, is inspiring dialogue and action worldwide by people within and outside of faith communities. The messages of social change and hope for the world, as well as Pope Francis’ challenge to all inhabitants of this globe to take action have sparked conversation about the topics of climate change and environmentalism. These issues are not only timely, but increasingly relevant as they become priorities for governments and organizations on a global scale.
This panel discussion was unique in that it was the first to include Indigenous knowledge and perspectives alongside Western knowledge. St. Mary’s was privileged to welcome Blackfoot Elder and knowledge-keeper Casey Eagle Speaker to the dialogue. In response to the Pope’s call to action Casey Eagle Speaker presented the notion that “we can all listen, [however] the gift is to hear. As adults we have forgotten how to hear, we need to relearn this to fully appreciate the environmental catastrophe we are experiencing”. As Dr. Hyland-Russell states “Over the last three years [St. Mary’s has] intentionally been engaged in dialogue with learning from our elder Indigenous brothers and sisters, becoming more educated about the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of Canada’s First Peoples, the historical and political impact of Canada’s policies and decisions on First Nations peoples and communities, and what we as a community at St. Mary’s need to learn, know and be in order to become a culturally safe and respectful place of learning for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike”. The Liberal Arts Roundtable offered the perfect platform to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into dialogue with our internal community as well as the public–an occasion worth celebrating. Casey Eagle Speaker deftly argued that “we are caretakers of the land, and we are all integrally related”, further supporting the need for a multidisciplinary approach to global issues.
The evening included responses to the Pope’s encyclical from each panellist, as well as a discussion period between panellists, and finally a dialogue between audience members and the panel. Each panellist brought a unique perspective to the discourse. These included: theological, biological, political, philosophical, historical, and Indigenous. This multidisciplinary approach laid the foundation for a profound and thought-provoking discussion on environmentalism, and our responsibility as citizens of the earth to take action. Audience participation kept the panel on their toes as a variety of questions on topics including: veganism, factory farming, population control, and poverty were brought to their attention. Despite the many differing opinions, perspectives, and beliefs the panellists seemed to agree that issues of climate change and poverty require a multidisciplinary solution. This belief was supported by Dr. MacLeod’s insight that Pope Francis argues “we need a cultural and spiritual change, as well as economic and political”.
The evening ended on a high note as audience members, including many St. Mary’s students, continued to discuss the topics with panellists during the reception following the formal program. This event set the stage for future Liberal Arts Roundtable discussions, which will be hosted on an ongoing basis at St. Mary’s University. As Dr. Baltutis pointed out “wisdom requires that all voices be present, we must come together in dialogue […] to see change. By bringing like-minded people together and starting from a place of humility while looking at issues from a global perspective, we will see change”. St. Mary’s will continue to come together in dialogue at future Liberal Arts Roundtable events and hopes to see increased public participation as we promote positive change in our community and on a global scale.