A Tribute to Thomas Berry (1914-2009), Scholar, Visionary, Planet Lover

The late Thomas Berry

“The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamics brought forth the continents and the seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.”

—Thomas Berry, "The New Story" from The Dream of the Earth

A journey of nearly four decades with Thomas Berry has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, as it has been for countless others.

What is it that we all share—those of us who admire his unflagging spirit, his self-effacing manner, his compassionate visage, his penetrating insights, and his comprehensive vision?

It is a feeling of deep companionship that Thomas evokes—we are walking together somehow. Yes, the journey is long, and difficult. We may stumble or lose our way. But with Thomas another future is possible for the Earth community, and he empowers us to engage in the great work of imagining that future. In a time saturated with false promises and misplaced hopes amidst ecological destruction and economic unraveling, his steady evocation of an emerging Ecozoic era ignites human energy in vibrant and unexpected ways.

Thomas, in his brown corduroy coat, year after year while teaching at Fordham University and beyond, called us into the vast sweep of evolutionary dynamics. He lit up our imagination with a story of universe emergence from star birth and galaxy formation to life on Earth.

But there was more. Thomas wove us into the story—seeing us as beings who are biologically and historically grounded. He understood us as arising out of an immense journey of Earth and universe. He helped us to see our connections from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from the great flaring forth to the beauty of flowers and seeds, fish and birds. Thomas’ enduring appreciation for the communion of subjects in this process is something that has profoundly reshaped our minds and hearts.

Thomas’ inclusion of all of life in his own large embrace is what fills us with an ever greater capacity to enter into life’s rhythms and demands—shaping, against all odds, the clay of a life-giving future. There is no one who has held us to such high aspirations so steadily and with such humor and grace.

It is this remarkable gift that we celebrate in Thomas. Over and over again he stuns us with language that evokes companionship on a great journey—universe formation, Earth’s unfolding, life’s arising, human dreaming. He calls us to find our deep alignment with the powers that have sustained this remarkable epic.

Here now in the early 21st century, a new journey is beginning where the life story and the human story are becoming realigned. Thomas has planted the seeds to sustain this great transition and given us remarkable companions for the road ahead. For all of this gratitude, indeed, abounds.

A Brief Biography of Thomas Berry (1914-2009)
Thomas Berry was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1914. From his academic beginnings as a historian of world cultures and religions, Berry developed into a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes. He described himself as a “geologian.”

He received his PhD in European Intellectual History with a thesis on Giambattista Vico's philosophy of history. Widely read in Western history, he also spent many years studying the cultural history of Asia. He lived in China and traveled to other parts of Asia. He authored two books on Asian religions, Buddhism and Religions of India (distributed by Columbia University Press).

For two decades, he directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research along the Hudson River just north of New York City. During this period he taught at Fordham University where he established and chaired the history of religions program. He attracted students from all over North America and directed some 25 doctoral theses. Along with Ted deBary he founded the Asian Thought and Religion Seminar at Columbia.

In 1995 he “retired” to his home city of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he continued to write, lecture, and receive visitors. His major contributions to the discussion on the environment are in his books The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988 reprinted, 2006), The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (Random House, 1999) and, with Brian Swimme, The Universe Story (Harper San Francisco, 1992). Sierra Club Books and University of California Press jointly published his collection of essays, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community in 2006.

Two new books of Berry's will be available this fall: The Sacred Universe (Columbia University Press) and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Orbis Books).

Mary Evelyn TuckerMary Evelyn Tucker and her husband, John Grim, are long-time editors of Thomas' work. They were graduate students of Thomas at Fordham University and he inspired them in founding the Forum on Religion and Ecology which they direct at Yale University.

See a more complete biography and some of his essays at

YES! Archive
The Great Commmunity of Earth by Thomas Berry
At a special event held during the 2001 UN Summit for Religious and Spiritual Leaders, Thomas Berry told these stories of our common dreams for the Earth.

Moments of Grace by Thomas Berry
The stories we tell ourselves are at the core of everything else we believe and do. Do we think we belong in the place and community where we live? Or do we feel embattled, trying to make it into a hostile climate? Do we tell stories of a distant and vengeful deity or a divine presence that is close and full of compassion?

Does Anyone Else Feel This Strange Music? by Carol Estes
The universe is fond of odd pairings. Electrons appreciate protons. Flowers like bugs. Forests need fire. How else can we explain the partnership—and the love—between the rebellious Gen-X spoken word artist Drew Dellinger and the erudite cultural historian Thomas Berry, three times his age?

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