Dan Spencer

Photo of Spencer, Dan

Dan Spencer

Associate Professor

Website: http://www.cas.umt.edu/evst/people/facultydetails.cfm?id=735

Office Hours:

Fall Semester 2014:

MTWR 11:10-12:00 and by appointment

Personal Summary

I have traveled several different paths to get to UM’s Environmental Studies program, with each path contributing an important thread.  My undergraduate studies in geology at Carleton College had a strong field orientation, and I taught field camp for several summers in the Tobacco Root Mountains of SW Montana, as well as field seasons in Costa Rica, the Yukon, and the Cascades.  Graduate programs at Union Theological Seminary in New York helped me to integrate my natural sciences background with ethical and social justice issues, particularly Latin American liberation theology.  During the 1980s I was actively involved in human rights issues in Latin America while directing Latin American programs at the Center for Global Education (www.augsburg.edu/global/) in Minneapolis.

Prior to beginning teaching at the University of Montana in 2002, I taught for ten years in a Philosophy and Religion program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.  There I focused on issues of sustainable community and sustainable land use, and first began to work on ecological restoration in several projects to restore the tall grass prairie.  I also organized several classes around “Greening the Drake Campus” where students developed projects such as urban gardens and wind power to try to make the campus more environmentally sustainable.  Each spring I took a group of Drake students to Latin America to learn about environmental and social justice issues.


Ph.D. Environmental Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York

B.A., Geology, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota

Courses Taught

ENST 230:       Nature and Society

ENST 391:       Earth Ethics: Moral Dimensions of Environmental Issues

ENST 410:       Environmental Justice in Latin America (2 week travel seminar to Central America)

ENST 487:       Globalization, Justice, and the Environment

ENST 495:       Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development: Views from Guatemala

ENST 495:       Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development: Views from Nicaragua

ENST 491/595: Society, Economy and the Environment of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

ENST 491/595: Climate Change Effects and Adaptation in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

EVST 530:       The Greening of Religion: Religion, Nature, and the Environment

EVST 570:       Ethical Issues in Ecological Restoration

EVST 594:       Globalization and Free Trade: Ethical Issues and Alternatives

Research Interests

I have three primary areas of interest that inform my teaching and research: community participation in ecological restoration, environmental and social justice issues connected to economic globalization, and the intersection of religion, ecology, and environmental ethics.

My partner is a restoration ecologist, and I have become interested and involved in a diverse set of projects in Montana involving community participation in ecological restoration.  My 594 class, Ethical Issues in Ecological Restoration, focuses on the upper Clark Fork River watershed and the superfund process now under way to clean up the Clark Fork River and restore the riparian zones.  I have partnered with the Clark Fork Coalition (www.clarkfork.org/) in this class where students work with community members in and around Deer Lodge, Montana, to design projects that aid the community’s participation in the restoration of the Deer Lodge valley.

I have been leading two-week travel seminars to Latin America with the Center for Global Education (www.augsburg.edu/global/) since 1984, and each year I continue to organize and lead a two-week travel seminar to Nicaragua and Guatemala in alternate years (Guatemala: 2004, 2006, 2008; Nicaragua: 2005, 2007).  I am working to place interested graduate students in field sites in Central America for thesis work with the diverse nongovernmental organizations working there on issues of environmental sustainability, social justice, and sustainable agriculture.

I remain active in the Religion and Ecology section (www.religionandnature.com/aar/) of the American Academy of Religion (www.aarweb.org/), which I chaired for several years in the 1990s.  My graduate class, “The Greening of Religion: Religion, Nature, and the Environment” examines how diverse religious traditions are responding to the environmental crisis and what resources religion and spirituality can offer toward a constructive response.  One of our main sources for this investigation is Harvard’s Forum on Religion and Ecology (www.religionandecology.org/).

Field of Study

Globalization and the Environment; Environmental Issues in Latin America, Ecological Restoration and Community Participation in Restoration; Environmental Ethics, Philosophy, and Theology; Religion and Ecology


Currently I serve on the Missoula Open Space Advisory Committee (http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/505/Open-Space-Advisory), a citizen advisory board charged with "doing everything in its power to implement the Missoula Urban Area Open Space Plan and provide the Council with written recommendations concerning open space conservation proposals, including proposed acquisitions and trail development proposals, pursuant to the guidance of the Missoula Urban Area Open Space Plan." Other recent board service includes the Wild Rockies Field Institute (www.wrfi.net/) and the Alumni Board of Union Theological Seminary (www.uts.columbia.edu/).  I also have served on the History and Culture Committee of the Milltown Working Group, a citizens group working to restore the Clark Fork River and its communities once Milltown Dam (5 miles upstream from Missoula) is removed (see: www.cfrtac.org/ ; www.friendsof2rivers.org/ ; http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/mt/milltown/).  I am interested in community involvement in ecological restoration, and in June, 2006, I gave the keynote opening address to the Montana Governor’s Forum on Restoration in Billings.  I belong to and try to be active in several local and regional environmental groups, including the Clark Fork Coalition (www.clarkfork.org/), Five Valleys Land Trust (www.fvlt.org/), the Montana Wilderness Association (www.wildmontana.org/), and Wilderness Watch (http://www.wildernesswatch.org/).

Selected Publications


Gay and Gaia: Ethics, Ecology and the Erotic.  Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1996.

In process: Ecological Location: Reintegrating the Social and Ecological into an Ethics of Place.


“Restoring Earth, Restored to Earth: Toward an Ethic for Reinhabiting Place.” In EcoSpirit: Religion, Philosophy, and the Earth, Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller, eds.  Fordham University Press, 2007.

“Evolutionary Literacy: A Prerequisite for Theological Education?”  In Worldviews, Vol. 11, 2007, 83-102.

“Community Supported Agriculture.” In the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Bron Taylor, ed. Thoemmes Continuum, 2005.

“Keeping Body, Soul, and Earth Together: Revisioning Justice-Love as an Ecological Ethic of Right Relation.” In Keeping Body and Soul Together II: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice, Marvin Ellison and Sylvia Thorson Smith, eds. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004.

"Ecological and Social Transformations and the Construction of Race and Place: A View from Iowa."  In Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Vol. 53:3-4, 1999, 85-99.

"From Dislocation to Eco-Location: The Concept of Ecological Location and Autobiography as the Starting Point for Critical Reflection in a Liberationist Ecological Ethic."  In A Rainbow of Religious Studies, J. Michael Clark and Robert E. Goss, eds. Las Colinas, Tx: Monument Press, 1996, 119-139.

"Pedagogical Issues and Teaching Models for Eco-Justice."  In Theology for Earth Community: A Field Guide, Dieter Hessel, ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996, 208-221.

"The Liberation of Gaia: An Assessment of Rosemary Ruether's Gaia and God and John Cobb's Sustainability, Economics, and Justice from a Liberationist Perspective."  Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Spring, 1994.

"Whose Home?  A Response to "To Go Home Again: The Importance of Social Location in Seminary and Global Education." In The Globalization of Theological Education, Alice Frazer Evans, Robert A. Evans, and David A. Roozen, eds. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993, 204-212.

"La Iglesia Costarricense frente a la crisis ecológica."  Vida y Pensamiento, Vol. 2, No. 2,  Julio-Diciembre, 1982.