Élan Young (@YoungElan) is a writer living in eastern Tennessee. She writes about the environment, arts and culture, disability, social justice, and engineering.

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Mapping the Way to Climate Justice

by Élan Young 10-19-2021
Cartographer Molly Burhans is leveraging GIS technology to transform the Catholic Church's land use.
Illustration of human hands touching various layered types of maps

Illustration by Israel G. Vargas

MAPS ARE NOT just drawings of a place; they are also windows into a perspective. In the era of European colonial expansion, maps were essential tools.

The 15th century imperial edicts known collectively as the Doctrine of Discovery theologically and politically justified the brutal seizure of land not inhabited by European Christians. This set into motion a new worldview that is the basis for all modern property ownership and established a relationship to the land based on colonization rather than habitation. As a result of this and other political arrangements, the Roman Catholic Church controls about 177 million acres of land around the world.

Molly Burhans is a Catholic, an activist, and an entrepreneur. She is also a cartographer and geographic information system (GIS) analyst who sees the church’s landholdings as an opportunity for a global spiritual and ecological transformation. If church maps in the past too often represented cultural oppression and land domination, the maps Burhans creates are powerful tools for ecological regeneration and social repair.

‘Same God’ Shows True Solidarity Is Always Costly

by Élan Young 01-23-2020
Larycia Hawkins’ solidarity with Muslim women shows that many evangelicals worship “a Jesus who is about cultural power.”

Larycia Hawkins photo courtesy of Same God film

IN THEORY, FACULTY with tenure have safety to pursue academic freedom, but four years ago Dr. Larycia Hawkins, then an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, exposed the reality that for women of color tenure is vulnerable, even to online trolls. When Hawkins became the center of a national controversy over a Facebook post expressing solidarity with Muslim women during a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric sweeping the nation, her employer did not protect her. Instead, it hung her out to dry. Now Hawkins is at the center again, this time as the subject of the documentary film Same God, directed by Wheaton alumna Linda Midgett.

Wheaton, an elite evangelical liberal arts school in the Chicago suburbs, touts a proud abolitionist past as a stop on the underground railroad and the first institution of higher education in Illinois to admit a black man. “Doc Hawk,” as Hawkins’ students lovingly call her, was celebrated as the first African American woman to receive tenure in the school’s 159-year history.

Same God begins in the aftermath of the mass shooting on Dec. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, by a Muslim couple influenced by Islamic extremism. Barack Obama was president and Donald Trump was on the campaign trail, promising a ban on all Muslims entering the country. Two days later, Jerry Falwell Jr. escalated tensions from a stage at Liberty University. “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us,” he said, after cavalierly asking the cheering audience if it was illegal to pull out the weapon he hinted was in his back pocket.