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The Nature of Nature in a Post-Natural World Oct. 10

October 6, 2006

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MACOMB, IL - - Human beings do not have a relationship with nature, we are nature, according to John Simmons, a noted authority on diverse world religions, the powerful presence of women on the world religious consciousness and alternative religions in America. However, in the name of progress, science and technology have created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between human beings and the natural environment.

Simmons, who is a professor and chair of Western Illinois University’s philosophy and religious studies department, will discuss these ideas in his lecture “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The Nature of Nature in a Post-Natural World,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10 in the University Union Heritage Room.

“Organized religious systems, grounded in ontological dualism, have contributed to human alienation from nature. This presentation will focus on strategies we can use to reaffirm our "not-twoness" with nature, encounter the sacred and grow spiritually in a post-natural world,” Simmons said.

His presentation is part of the Fall 2006 Nature and Spirituality series coordinated by Western Illinois Art Professor Emeritus Fred Jones for the University’s First Year Experience (FYE) program. The lecture is open free to the public.

The series, which complements the 2006-07 University Theme, “Global Challenges and Personal Responsibility – Cultural Diversity,” has included two lectures and a concert to date, with three more Tuesday lectures plus an art exhibit and gallery walk scheduled:

  • Oct. 17, Lorraine Schwartz will speak on the “Return to Nature: The History of the County Villa;”

  • Oct. 24, Art Gallery public reception for Jones’ exhibition “Landscape, Time and Spirituality;

  • Nov. 7, John Hallwas will present “Nature and the Sacred Dimension: The Midwestern Landscapes of Fred Jones;” and

  • Nov. 14, Diane Sandage will talk about “Mother Earth Spirituality: A Return to the Land.”

The series is outlined on the Nature and Spirituality website at

Simmons, who trained as a historian of American religion and as a sociologist of religion, publishes regularly in the area of women-led emergent spiritual movements in late 19th and early 20th century American history. He has more than 30 publications to his credit including a co-authored book, several book chapters, journal articles, encyclopedia essays and teleclass study and instructional guides.

Simmons pioneered an Illinois higher education system teleclass "Beliefs and Believers," an introduction to world view analysis of religion which highlights religious rituals and phenomena of diverse religions. Under a licensing agreement with Adult Learning Satellite Services of PBS, “Beliefs and Believers” has enrolled more than 25,000 students at more than 75 colleges and universities across the U.S. In 1999 a second edition of the teleclass debuted as interactive self-paced CD-ROM course to sailors in the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE). Simmons created two other teleclasses – "Women in Religion" and "Religion in America: A Historic Perspective" – which have been recognized for excellence by the National University Continuing Education Association. The teleclasses are available on the Internet.

Simmons was named Western’s 1998 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, the 1994 Outstanding Teacher in the College of Arts and Sciences and earned seven consecutive WIU Faculty Excellence Awards (1989-1996).

Jones, who designed the Nature and Spirituality series, recently returned from his homeland where his work, “Journey to Wales,” is on exhibit at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

The exhibition, which opened Sept. 23 with a formal ceremony, will run through Nov. 4. In addition, Jones’ celebrated “Illinois Portfolio,” which includes the prints of six artists and six poets whose works deal with the Illinois landscape, is on exhibit in an adjacent smaller gallery.

The product of several journeys Jones made to Wales from 2003-2006, the paintings in “Journey to Wales,” accompanied by small photographs which show the locations of the countryside portrayed, are divided into 10 regions, depicting Jones’ journey through the length and breadth of Wales. They also incorporate four themes: the beauty of Wales, its timeless scenery, the landscape’s transformations and Jones’ identity as a Welshman.

Jones joined the WIU faculty in 1968 after teaching two years at Chester College of Art in England. He first came to the U.S. from his home country of Wales in 1964 as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. He has integrated computer graphics technology and interdisciplinary mixed media into Western's art curriculum, and in 1995 he was named the WIU Faculty Lecturer for his scholarly achievements and contributions to the University. In April 2000, Jones was recognized by the WIU chapter of Phi Kappa Phi honor society with the Outstanding Artist Award.

Jones has won numerous awards in national and regional competitive exhibits and has received six commissions for the Illinois Percentage for Art program for his landscape works for public buildings. Many of his works are in public and private collections in the U.S. and U.K.

A significant part of Jones' artistic production at Western was through the Western Illinois Folio Press, which he founded in 1980. He has produced five interdisciplinary portfolios, which are available to view online at

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