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Department ofReligious Studies


Religion and Natural Disasters

The intersection of religion and natural disasters with Paul Schutz and Akiba Lerner

On Thursday, October 26th, the department hosted a lively discussion of the intersection of religion and natural disasters led by new RS faculty member Paul Schutz and moderated by Prof. Akiba Lerner. At the event, students and faculty engaged numerous topics, including cultural perspectives on natural disasters as so-called 'acts of God' or as acts of divine retribution. Then, using the ancient story of Job, recent hurricanes and fires, and the Las Vegas massacre as points of reference, they pondered traditional questions of "theodicy": Why do good things happen to bad people? How could a good God let bad things happen or, worse, be responsible for such catastrophes? Or is it right to call such events 'evils' at all?

This discussion led participants to engage deeper questions about human responsibility for evils in the world, including how––often in the name of religion––human action and inaction  factor into natural disasters and so can be instances of moral evil or sin. At the conclusion of the discussion, Prof. Schutz reflected that as in the Book of Job, as throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, God is first and foremost the God of life, who stands against suffering and uses creation imagery to put humans in their place within, rather than over and above, other creatures. This, participants concluded, moves the discussion away from questions of theodicy and divine responsibility ("Why did God do this?") to the question of where the God of life can be found when events like these occur. This further emphasizes the need for human action for the good of all creatures, great and small.