IN THE AUGUST issue of Sojourners, Ph.D. candidate and writer Céire Kealty highlights the spiritual significance of the desert in the Christian tradition and why the clothing dump in the Atacama Desert should be a concern for ethicists, environmentalists, and theologians alike. Editorial assistant Liz Bierly spoke with Kealty about her research, the ethics of today’s garment industry, and how readers can take action to combat clothing waste. Read Kealty's full feature.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Liz Bierly, Sojourners: From your undergraduate studies to your ongoing Ph.D. candidacy, you’ve concentrated on religious studies and theology. What drew you toward this path?
Céire Kealty: I was raised in the Catholic Church and attended parochial school [starting in] kindergarten, so I have had a long-standing fascination with religion and theology. It was through my childhood education, the materiality of my faith, and my proximity to the natural world that I came to realize the numinosity cradling the world. I was convinced that Holy Mystery permeates all, especially the most mundane parts of our lives.
This may come as a surprise given my childhood and my C.V., but I had no plans to study academic theology. I began college as a business major! I bought and sold vintage and designer clothes as a part-time gig before college, so business school seemed like a wise place to land.
Luckily, I attended a liberal arts college, where I had to complete humanities courses as part of the core curriculum. I remember the first religion class I took: I learned about Catholic social teaching alongside Sr. Helen Prejean’s anti-death penalty work. I couldn’t get enough of the readings and class discussions, so I sought out more and more religion classes. By the end of my sophomore year, I had declared a second major in religious studies.
Throughout college, I maintained these twin interests in business and religion, with special attention given to the garment industry. I knew I couldn’t abandon these interests and go off to an accounting firm. I had seen how my interdisciplinary studies had complexified my interest in clothing, and revealed striking insights about consumption, community, and responsibility. I wanted the space to “play” with these insights and share my findings with others– and graduate school gave me that space.