Ecology and Religion Conference Breaks New Ground with “Flightless” Model (From the 2019 ITS & Libraries Magazine)

From September 18-21, 2019, scholars from around the world will gather for the Ecology and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference. However, unlike traditional academic conferences, nobody will travel by plane or more than 500 miles on the ground to enjoy the international conversation.

Avoiding flights matches the spirit of the conference, taking seriously the ecological impact of the time-honored tradition of gathering for academic conversation. “Although most academics agree that climate change is a reality the vast majority of conferences operate as if it is a fiction,” said Dr. Joshua King, Associate Professor & Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies. “By prohibiting air travel and restricting in-person participation to ground travel this conference respects the fragility of our common home while extending opportunities for participation well beyond the walls that normally confine such scholarly exchanges.”

Since 2016, the Environmental Humanities Initiative at the University of California at Santa Barbara has hosted all-digital conferences, in which scholars pre-record presentations and interact online through moderated comments.  This approach highlights the key challenge to flightless conferencing: approximating the valuable face-to-face conversations that take place during traditional academic meetings.

The Ecology and Religion conference offers a hybrid approach with onsite gatherings at four locations: Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library, the University of Washington, Georgetown University and Lancaster University in the U.K. Participants can gather at these sites for local sessions and keynote sessions digitally linked across multiple sites. Scholars who live more than 500 miles from these sites can watch live-streamed sessions and participate in the conversation through social media and comments on the conference website.

“By removing costly barriers of travel, we are widening our audience while spurring new forms of personal connection,” King said. “Onsite, participants will interact through panels and special activities—such as visits to local environmental initiatives—while also engaging across time zones with individuals presenting from the other locations and their own devices. Panels and roundtables will involve online viewers through a Twitter feed and comment forums on the website.  Already some digital presenters, such as Chris Adamson from Emory University, have been inspired to expand the network of physical gatherings by planning group viewings and discussions at their home institutions.”

Linking these sites and providing live-streamed sessions involves several different technologies. Ben Wong, academic consultant for the Baylor Libraries, has been working with conference organizers to select the proper platforms to produce the online conference experience. “We will be using Facebook Live through Cisco Webex as our streaming platform. This will allow us to share and publish content from multiple sites during the conference,” Wong said. “We will also use Webex to link sites together for keynote sessions and then publish everything to the conference site for offsite participants.” This blend of technologies will harness the dynamism of typical conference engagement yet keep the event flightless.

The Ecology and Religion in Nineteenth Century Studies Conference will bring together 70 leading scholars from cross-disciplinary fields. Norman Wirzba at Duke and Michael Northcott at Edinburgh are leading voices in ecological theology who will be virtually linked with Baylor’s Susan Bratton and Robert Creech to talk about the theological inheritances of the current ecological crisis. Eminent literary scholars Gauri Viswanathan of Columbia, Meredith Martin of Princeton, and Michael Tomko of Villanova will participate in a keynote conversation on poetry, religion and ecology that will be broadcast to all conference sites and available online. Other conference sessions will address ecological interconnection and sociality; prayer, poetry and the body; world ecologies, missions, and contact zones; and transatlantic ecopoetics and rhetorics.

“What most excites me about the Ecology and Religion conference is the incredible possibilities it creates for exploring, revealing, and discovering interconnections between two disciplines whose relationship offers rich and diverse approaches to the climate crisis,” said Professor Emma Mason, Head of the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. “The affective, ethical, and emotional potential of religious language, culture, and history is immense, and I look forward to debating and discussing this potential with colleagues in both the arts, theology, and the sciences”.

Anyone with an Internet connection is welcome to participate in the Ecology and Religion in Nineteenth Century Studies Conference. Visit to register and engage with the sessions, and follow #EcoReligion19c on social media.

This story originally appeared in the 2019 Baylor University ITS & Libraries Magazine. To join our mailing list for future editions, email us at

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