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One Complex Planetary Crisis

Since its publication in 2015, Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si´: on Care for Our Common Home’ has had a significant impact globally. It has been inspiring and motivating people from all spheres of society, and has contributed to a new unifying call to think and act more holistically and systemically in a world characterised by interconnected forms of injustice 

Global crises are multiplying deepening inequality, armed conflicts, new zoonotic diseases, rising authoritarianism, shrinking civic space, to name a few – all of which are framed (and exacerbated) by the wider context of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological degradation. These crises cannot be addressed in silos; they demand an integrated response. As Laudato Si’ puts it, ‘if we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.’ (§63)

Recognizing that ‘we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation’ (§48), Laudato Si’ proposes an innovative and constructive methodology to address both in an integrated way, what it calls the “integral ecology” paradigm. This new paradigm invites everyone to adopt a radical new awareness of the wisdom of those whose voices are not usually heard in the corridors of power, including indigenous and other marginalised peoples.

The insights of the integral ecology paradigm have already begun to be applied in the global policy arena, such as in the UN 2020 report ‘Our Common Agenda’ and the Human Development Report 2020: The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene. But more remains to be done, not least in academia.

Responding to the Challenge

How can academic researchers respond to the social and ecological crises we face today, which are deep, interlaced, and systemic in nature? It was with this concern in mind that the Laudato Si’ Research Institute (LSRI) was established in October 2019, at Campion Hall, a Permanent Private Hall at the University of Oxford. What makes us distinctive as an academic institute dedicated to addressing contemporary socio-ecological challenges is the integral ecology paradigm as our research methodology. This allows us to embrace diverse communities of thought and action, especially from Global South contexts, leaving no branch of science and wisdom traditions out

The Story of the LSRI

The idea of setting up the Institute emerged in 2017 as part of a broader initiative of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to bring Laudato Si, with its invitation ‘to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ (§3), to the UK After a lengthy discernment process, Dr Celia Deane-Drummond, then Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, was appointed Director and tasked with establishing the Institute at Campion Hall, the intellectual hub of the Jesuits in Britain.  

In its early days, the Institute’s primary focus was on building its structural capacities, as well as developing a network of partners and collaborators. In 2020 and 2021, the Institute went through a rapid expansion, including the appointment of key new researchers and operational staff to support its vision. The Institute was formally launched in June 2021, with an online conference on Women, Ecology and Solidarity, after a one year delay due to COVID. It now works across a number of research clusters in fields as varied as political ecology, inter-faith environmental theology, the ethics of biotechnology, sustainable agriculture, and endangered cultures and languages. All these clusters are unified by a concern to address the contemporary socio-ecological crisis in an integrated way. Our work is supported by a programme for visiting Fellows and by a global scholarly affiliate network. 

Today, the Institute is steadily establishing itself as a global academic centre based at the University of Oxford. We host seminars, lectures and conferences. We receive distinguished academic visitors. We carry out work on dedicated research grants. And we produce materials for scholarly and broader public engagement, including our scholarly Research Paper series and a library of open access academic books in integral ecology. In all these areas, the Institute actively seeks to include the wisdom of religious traditions and marginalized voices in its approach, paving the way to make a transdisciplinary approach to socio-ecological research mainstream within higher education.

We also contribute to academic research and teaching within the University of Oxford, working with colleagues in theology, anthropology, international development and elsewhere. As Professor Jane Shaw, the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor, puts it: “the focus of the Institute is absolutely in tune with the University’s strategy to promote research that seeks to change the world for the better”.

Looking Ahead

In the next few years, the LSRI will continue to engage in research clusters relating to the contemporary socio-ecological crisis, with new clusters in the pipeline. A major initiative is the ongoing development of the Global Integral Ecology Research Network (GIERN). This will seek to advance collaborative research with scholars and practitioners across the globe, particularly those in the Global South. Once up and running in 2023, the GIERN will both inform and amplify the impact of our work and disseminate our distinctive research methodology inspired by Laudato Si’. In the year ahead, we will also start publicizing our research to a wide audience beyond academia through a new integral ecology website called ‘The Polyhedron Magazine’ with inspiring and thought-provoking multimedia articles, stories and art. 

The decade ahead, and the deepening socio-ecological crisis, is a critical time for academia, and for research which is embedded in action and seeks to transform unjust structures. Our Institute heeds the inspiring words of Berta Cáceres, an indigenous leader from Honduras, who was tragically killed in March 2016 for her work in defending the Gualcarque river and the Lenca people:  


In this spirit, the LSRI seeks to co-create with communities of people, like those of Berta Cáceres, new bridges to link and unite people’s marginalised knowledge and wisdom, and influence decision-making and governance processes that will shape the course of our planetary destiny, our common home.