Skip to main content

Thomas Berry papers.


ABSTRACT: Personal papers documenting the life and activities of Thomas Berry. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, lecture notes, diaries, calendars, notes, audiotapes, videotapes, artifacts, artworks, awards


  • 0000-2999


The Thomas Berry papers are currently being processed and access is restricted. Upon completed processing, the collection will be opened for research during the regular hours of the archives. Please consult the Archivist for more information at 617-496-4958


The Thomas Mary Berry Papers are the physical property of the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives, Harvard College. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.


1 collection

***NOTE: The Thomas Mary Berry Papers have not yet been processed. This is a preliminary finding aid.***

Berry, Thomas, 1914-2009

"Cultural historian, recognized leader in the field of ecology and religion; b. Greensboro, NC, 9 November 1914. Thomas Berryentered the Monastery of the Passionist Community (New England Providence) in 1934 and was professed 15 August 1935. He was ordained to the priesthood 30 May 1942. From 1943-1947, Berry pursued graduate studies in history at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. He spent 1947-1948 in Peiping, China, where he began a study of Chinese language, a study he continued in the United States. He also studied Sanskrit from 1961-1963. His public professional roles included professor of Asian Studies, Center for Asian Studies, St. John's University, Jamaica, Ne, 1960-1966; professor of World Religions, Department of Theology, Fordham University, 1966-1979; and president of the American Teilhard Association, 1975-1987. In 1970 he established the Riverdale Center for Religious Studies in Riverdale, New York, and was its director until 1995. Berry's principal writings include his dissertation, The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico (1949), Buddhism (1967), The Religions of India (1971), The New Story (1978), The Dream of the Earth (1988), The Universe Story (1992), co-authored by Brian Swimme, and many journal articles.

Berry is most renowned for his work in religion and ecology. He began to turn his academic skills in that direction in the early 1970s. As a cultural historian, he understood the ecological crisis to be indicative of a modern cultural crisis. Berry associated the intensity of the human instrumentalization of nature in the modern West with the breakdown of unifying story out of which former generations of Christians had lived. This story was a blend of the biblical story and Greek cosmology. It existed until approximately the end of the Middle Ages and gradually disintegrated in the face of the Black Death in the eleventh century and later of the scientific revolution. While this amalgam has its shortcomings and distortions, it provided a functional basis for life. Furthermore, it was a cosmological story in which the nature of the universe had constitutive meaning for society. Cosmology, Berry felt, must again become a functional part of human history

The contemporary scientific cosmology provided Berry with the basis for a story in which the evolution of the physical universe could be seen as a history of nature. The Universe Story was an attempt to create such a story. As an extension of human history, this story located the human species in integral relationship with the rest of nature. In its religious interpretation of the evolution of the universe as a mediation of divine activity (analogous to that in human history), it sought to ground a normative spirituality and praxis in relationship to nature.

Berry attributed to Augustine's City of God his idea of story as a vehicle of reform. Dante's Divine Comedy and the works of Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin also received privileged mention. These thinkers, he said, had achieved a creative integration of the biblical story with the vital insights that seemed to be going forward in their time.

There are also many references in Berry's work to such groups as the Cambridge Platonists, alchemists, romantics, transcendentalists, natural history writers, and North American Natives, as well as to Chinese and Indian sacred texts and contemporary scientific theories. He identified with the counter-cultural stance of some of these traditions and saw them all as potential sources of alternative ideas to the hegemonous culture of the West. While Berry has been considered a romantic and naive primitivist by some, it is difficult to support such an interpretation of his work in light of his own statements to the contrary and his insistence on the necessity of maintaining a sense of history and the critical insights of the modern sciences.

Berry's sense of the sacramentality, purposeful order, and the graciousness of creation is preeminently Catholic. The idea of a history of nature is reminiscent of efforts by Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor, and others to maintain the biblical notion of creation over time. However, critics have often drawn attention to his inadequate treatment of doctrines of redemption, the transcendence of God, and social justice themes. While these criticism are justified to some degree in the articulation of his proposal, they are more easily met when Berry's work is located methodologically as a descriptive rhetoric, a performative speech, intentionally focused on the ecological crisis. In the light of that crisis, the authentic performance engendered by Berry's rhetoric and story itself mediate redemption. Furthermore, he was not engaged in the explanatory task of theology, but in the description of a new spiritual experience of the natural world made possible by the insights of modern science.


The first receipt of the Thomas M. Berry Papers were acquired in 1999 as a gift from Thomas M. Berry. The Archives received donations as they were prepared by Mr. Berry's sister, Dr. Margaret Berry.

Accession number: 1999/2

Processing Information

Processed by Amy Christensen:

November 1999-present

Berry, Thomas, 1914-2009. Thomas Berry papers: Guide
Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives, Harvard College
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the ESPP Archives Repository

The Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives (ESPPA) has materials in the fields of environment and sustainability science, related public policy, and cultural perspectives on the environment. There is a strong but not exclusive emphasis on international environmental governance, including climate negotiations. The ESPPA is a global center for researchers interested in the history of climate change policy, toxicity and native peoples, and the standout success story of stratospheric ozone diplomacy.

Lamont Library
Harvard Yard
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 496-6158