Thomas S. Hibbs is the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, where he is also dean emeritus, having served sixteen years as dean of the Honors College and distinguished professor of ethics and culture. He is the author and editor of eight books, including Wagering on an Ironic God: Pascal on Faith and Philosophy. The University of Notre Dame Press is thrilled to publish his newest book, A Theology of Creation: Ecology, Art, and Laudato Si’ (August 2023). He recently answered some of our questions about his research and writing processes.
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
The initial idea came to immediately after first reading Laudato Si’ (LS), which I found to be a theologically rich document, expanding previous Catholic reflection on ecology, both natural and human. I was also struck by the overlap between themes in LS and those in Jacques Maritain and artists and poets whom I was studying at the time.
Certainly, these are unprecedented times in the United States, Europe, and around the world. What can readers find in your book that will resonate with them during this era?
As I argue in the book, LS, while focused on environmental matters, traces the roots of our alienation from nature to a deep dislocation of human persons, from themselves, others, nature, and God. These are common themes in Francis’ papacy, especially during the Pandemic. Every era has its own challenges but we seem to be living at a moment when our peculiar challenge is the difficulty of knowing how to frame where we are, what our afflictions are, and how we are to respond. As I put it in the last chapter of the book, one of the key educational and theological tasks of our time is to recover our capacities to see, feel, and say—to recover our place within the cosmos in terms of the threefold relationship described in LS, with God, other persons, and nature. I find that pairing art with the teaching of LS is particularly helpful in these matters.
How did you research this book?
I had been working on many of the texts, authors, and artists in the book for some time. Research was a matter of getting a handle on the relevant secondary sources and then determining on which particular set of texts, paintings, and poems the argument would focus. One important element in the research was reaching out for conversations with scholars working on authors, texts, and artists relevant to the book.
What did you learn while writing A Theology of Creation?
I learned much but perhaps the most important insight is that artists and poets have a great deal to contribute to responses to the most fundamental questions with which philosophers and theologians are grappling and they do so in ways that are at once quite contemporary and surprisingly traditional.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
That would have to do with the ways in which artists and poets are in some sense ahead of philosophers and theologians in responding to the key questions of our time; attending to their work helps us to recover the capacities to see, feel, and say, to understand, be moved by, and to articulate the shape of the human condition in our time.
Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?
Going way back, Ralph McInerny, my mentor at Notre Dame, and the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre; for this particular project, the philosophical work of William Desmond and David Walsh and the art and writings of Makoto Fujimura.
What is your writing schedule like?
Whether I’m teaching or not, I try to write about 10-12 hours a week. I am usually working on two or three projects at a time, which enables me to do what I can for the moment on one and then move on to another. I travel regularly so I seize every opportunity in airports and on planes to write. It helps to make me oblivious to how unpleasant travel has become.
What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?
Writing practices differ from person to person, but a potential author had better already have well developed habits of writing and revising. In developing a book, moving back and forth between whole, the overall structure and goal of the book, and part, the coherence of each chapter or subsection of chapter, is important.
Who would you like to read your book and why?
Scholars in the relevant fields of course but especially those interested in environmental matters who are open to deepening of the foundations and broadening the implications of their work. Conversely, I would hope that philosophers and theologians might read the book and discover ecological dimensions to their own work.
What books are you currently reading?
Blind Spot: The Global Rise in Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It by Jon Clifton (CEO of Gallup) and Natural Law: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim Trialogue by David Novak, Matthew Levering, and Anver Emon.
What projects are you working on next?
I have a number of essays on John Henry Newman, a comparison of his apologetics with that of Pascal and analyses of his critique of civilized or enlightenment religion and morality. I also have a book project on justice as solidarity.