The universe is not simply a place but a story.
Mary Evelyn Tucker wants to share this concept. She’s a senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale University who spent 10 years devoted to that story alongside evolutionary philosopher Brian Swimme.
“Journey of the Universe” is the result. Through a book and Emmy Award-winning film, “Journey” explores the complex role humankind has assumed in shaping the future. Each chapter illustrates the grandest ideas of the universe’s expansion to the humblest beginnings of single cells.
“This whole thing opens up, I think, a sense of belief,” Tucker said.
Their project gives name to the Interfaith Lecture Series theme of this season’s opening week. The stage is set for dialogues of different denominations, environmental concerns and theories of the universe.
Native American, Abrahamic, South and East Asian responses will sound throughout the week’s lecture. Joan Brown Campbell, Department of Religion director, is excited to see what conversations such an array of perspectives will spark on the grounds.
“In my 14 years, this is the most religiously diverse week that we have had,” Campbell said.
But before one can glance side-to-side, Tucker suggests one must first gaze upward.
“We need something that brings together our scientific understanding of evolution and our religious understanding with an appreciation that is a great epic,” Tucker said. “It’s a narration of where we come from and why we’re here, where we’re going.”
“Journey” was shown at the Chautauqua Cinema last night, and will be shown again tonight at 5:30 p.m. The film explains a self-organizing dynamic of the universe made possible only by the adaptive nature of life.
It’s a concept difficult to grasp in humankind’s short window.
“We have to expand our sense of the nature of religion, the nature of being human,” Tucker said. “And that’s the great challenge for the religions but the challenge for education, as well — how to integrate this perspective.”
Tucker’s areas of study include ecology and religion — specifically, those of Asian culture. She will speak again at Friday’s Interfaith Lecture about Confucianism.
“The study of world religions has obviously opened my understanding of belief, religion and spirituality,” Tucker said. “But the study of the universe has opened it up even more.”
Only in the last two decades, Tucker explained, have we learned the universe’s age.
“I don’t think it’s helpful to claim full truth on any side of our understanding of the universe or of Earth,” she said. “Humility, constant reflection and constant exploration, I think, is absolutely necessary.”
Her husband, John Grim, contributed to “Journey” as an executive producer and special advisor. He will speak on Tuesday about the Native American response to environmentalism.
Grim, Tucker and Swimme found inspiration for “Journey” in a 1978 article by the late Thomas Berry. Berry was a cultural historian of world religions, who eventually acted as a special adviser to their project.
In “The New Story,” Berry began: “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories.”
There is the “Old Story” and the “New Story,” Berry wrote, and the Old Story is no longer sufficient. Humankind is past it. Yet, there is not a New Story. Not yet. But Berry believed it should include geology, biology and anthropology. And it must consider literature, art, history, religion, medicine and law.
“We need a story that will educate man, heal him, guide him,” Berry stressed.
The producers of “Journey’s” wanted to read that story.
And so, they wrote.