Willa Swenson-Lengyel

Willa Swenson-Lengyel

Research Fellow


Willa Swenson-Lengyel is a Catherine of Siena Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethics at Villanova University, having received a Ph.D. with distinction in theological ethics from the University of Chicago Divinity School in August 2018. She is the author of several articles and chapters on hope, moral psychology, and the climate crisis, and acted as the guest editor of the January 2021 issue of the Journal of Religion on death and afterlives.

Research Project:

Inaction and inattention to global environmental degradation is startling. While for many years it was sufficient to claim ignorance as a primary root of people’s inaction, this analysis becomes inadequate in the face of widespread knowledge and continued environmental recalcitrance. This persistent climate inaction raises questions for environmental thinkers that are not solely normative, but are also psychological and anthropological in nature. One emerging focus within these moral psychological and anthropological conversations, central to my project, is on the role of hope and hopelessness in human life and, in particular, in what way hope enables and inhibits moral action, generally and in response to climate change. However, when one examines work on hope and action, two seemingly contradictory positions emerge as prevalent: hope is either portrayed as motivating moral action or as the pacifier that keeps us from proper moral engagement. Given this tension, my project is motivated by the questions that remain: what is the role of hope and hopelessness in our moral psychology? How is that role playing out in response to the problem of climate change? My contention is that theological anthropological symbols coming out of the Christian tradition can provide fruitful lenses for interpreting hope in the human life. Hope analyzed via these symbols can a) help to cohere the differing positions in the ongoing debate regarding hope’s value, b) respond to and make sense of the empirical data regarding people’s ambivalent and complex responses to climate change, and c) give resources for overcoming some climate inaction and inattention.


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