Foundations

Living Systems

Our program draws upon living systems models for active engagement with the environmental and sustainability issues of our times. The curriculum develops an empirical understanding of the interconnected nature of living systems and applies this framework to change processes at different scales in social domains. Incorporating emerging developments in science, which regard the earth as a living system capable of responding intelligently to change, the program explores its cultural, social, and environmental implications. New science embraces the concept of a participative universe with self-organizing systems whose dynamics and patterns operate throughout the whole system.

Studying groups and organizations as living systems, students learn to recognize group dynamics, apply conflict resolution skills, and manage organizational change. Students develop a number of tools for generating and maintaining creative, functional groups in any organizational or community setting. Current sustainability policies and practices are studied and analyzed to evaluate how such practices are being designed and implemented in a variety of organizations and communities.

Contemplative Practices

One of the unique features of the MA in Environmental Leadership is the inclusion of contemplative practices such as mindfulness and listening exercises as a vital theme throughout the curriculum. The new paradigm of mature leadership requires leaders who are spiritually awake, inwardly confident, and capable of deep listening to self and others. Mindfulness practices, nature-based meditation, and ecopsychological practices develop capacities for compassion, attentiveness, flexibility, and non-judgment. Genuine self-awareness leads to an understanding of one’s personal leadership style and a basic trust in collaborative, co-creative problem solving.

These meditative practices are also offered as a key to personal sustainability as a leader in working with the complexity and uncertainties of our times. In mindfulness practices, such as sitting or walking meditation, students get in touch with their interior lives, learn to be more fully present to each moment, discover more open thinking capacities, and sharpen insight and concentration, all of which support academic study and future endeavors.

In addition, the student’s personal relationship to nature is specifically enriched through a period of solitude and fasting (optional) in a wilderness setting. Deep connection with nature assists students in clarifying their path and integrating the first year of study.

Multidisciplinary and Multicultural Approach

In today’s complex world, those at the forefront of institutional and social change must work across cultural, national, and political boundaries as well as be inclusive of gender, religious, ethnic, and racial differences. At Naropa we respect and welcome diversity and incorporate that perspective into our concerns for environmental and social justice.

Students study key theoretical perspectives in environmental justice and examine personal worldviews, cultural identity and cultural assumptions, which impact their attitudes, behavior, perceptions, and skills as leaders. Through exposure to various worldviews, both ancient and modern, students learn how to assess the ethical implications of environmental policies, decisions, and actions from a multidisciplinary and multicultural perspective.

Experiential Application

Students demonstrate an integration of theory, method, and leadership skills in an Applied Environmental Leadership Project in an organizational or community setting. Students design, implement, and assess a substantial project that benefits the goals, mission and functioning of an organization of their choice. An organization or community setting can include a business, nonprofit, government agency, neighborhood association, or other activist group. A formal, professional-level report and presentation complete the project.

Ongoing personal and group work, field learning, engagement in collaborative problem-solving, and opportunities for internships anchor theory and academic study in lived experience.

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