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Speaker relates hydrology and theology

| Thursday, October 1, 2015

Most people do not associate fresh water scarcity and religion, but visiting speaker Dr. Christiana Peppard suggested a definite correlation in her lecture “What does Hydrology have to do with Theology?” on Tuesday night at Saint Mary’s.

Peppard said the United Nations and the Vatican have demonstrated a link between the two concepts, establishing that the accessibility of water exists is also a life issue.

“Water should be regarded primarily as a human right and not as an economic commodity,” Peppard said. “It is a good of creation intended for all, now and in the future.”

She said although water is a fundamental right, many still cannot access it, but people who use this resource every day may grow used to it and dismiss its importance.

“Water becomes invisible because it’s clean, we don’t need to think about it and we take it for granted,” Peppard said. “It cannot be substituted or replaced by anything else. Because it is non-substitutable, it is something that fits in uncomfortable ways with economic logic.”

Disparity in accessibility to water serves as a major ethical issue, according to Peppard.

“The invisibility of water in our lives is a privilege,” Peppard said. “Many people in the world don’t share that privilege. Many people in the world spend parts of their days wondering whether or not the water will be available today in the faucets or in a town pump, and if it’s available, how long it will run for, and if it runs for a while, whether it will be clean. Still others lack any kind of water infrastructure at all.”

Peppard said a relationship between hydrology and theology can be traced back to the book of Genesis in the Bible, as water existed even before humans and animals did.

“Before there was life, there was water,” Peppard said. “Human survival has always been linked to the availability of sufficient quantities of fresh water.”

She said scholars of religion and ecology discovered connections between these two studies through a detailed analysis of where water appears both in Bible passages and in religious traditions.

“The landscape is in the text, in a certain way,” Peppard said. “You could also think of rituals and practices. Baptism is the foundational sacrament for the Christian community, of course. What do we learn about water’s theological or ethical significance through that sacrament?”

People share a global responsibility to make the world a better place through understanding the moral significance of water, she said.

“The fact of the matter is that access to water is a condition for any kind of life, and it is vital,” Peppard said. “The absence of clean, fresh water in so many places is what has brought this issue to the attention of the U.N., the Vatican and numerous environmental and social justice organizations.”

According to Peppard, the omnipresence of water makes it an elaborate issue, but that does not mean people should not attempt to understand its complexity.

“No matter what stage of your education you are in, there are questions all of us can ask,” Peppard said. “Your career choices are also ethical choices. Where you put your energy and actions are ethical choices, not just pragmatic choices based on your degree.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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