My name is Jason Brown. I grew up in Yorba Linda, California. My neighborhood growing up is located in the traditional territory of the Tongva and Gabrielino indigenous peoples and there was a village located not far from my house (now a major freeway overpass).
With the arrival of Europeans and flood irrigation, my neighborhood was transformed into an agricultural paradise, and many of the streets are still lined with eucalyptus trees planted as windbreaks and boundary markers for the avocado and orange groves that arrived in the early 1900s. As a child, I loved catching lizards and snakes in the arroyos behind my house. As a teenager I loved music, photography, painting and wanted to be a great writer.
I was raised in the Mormon tradition but had some tumultuous teenage years. At 21, though I was uncertain about my own faith, I decided to join thousands of other Mormon young people as a missionary. I was sent to the Santiago Mission in the northern half of the Dominican Republic for two years. It was in the Dominican Republic that my love of ecology blossomed. The tropical green and lush biodiversity set my mind on fire for the earth, and my spirituality became deeply connected to Creation.
When I returned from my missionary experience, I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I eventually decided to major in anthropology with a minor in international development so that I could continue to explore the relationship between people and the environment. During my fourth year, I was lucky enough to be part of a summer field school in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. My research looked at the power dynamics between traditional Mayan and government-sponsored forestry practices. However, what really fascinated me was forests as both complex ecosystems and powerful spiritual ecologies.
So, I continued to explore these ideas by earning joint master’s degrees in forestry and theology from Yale (after one rejection, I was accepted the second time). The work of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, scholars of religion and ecology, was instrumental to my development as a scholar and spiritual ecologist. My writing at the time explored both Mormon eco-theology and the LDS sacred grove as a Sacred Natural Site. I also worked with the US Inter-tribal Timber Council, which promotes economic and ecological sustainability among timber producing Native American tribes.
After my graduate work, I moved back to Utah and taught ethics and religion courses at Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College. I also managed to get a job as a forester for the US Forest Service during the summer months. It was such an amazing balance between my passions! It was at the beginning of this phase that I decided to officially walk away from my practice as a Mormon after many years of wrestling, discernment and prayer. I immersed myself in the mountain forests of Utah and began a meditation practice.
While I was in Salt Lake, I had a very powerful spiritual experience at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. I also began reading Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk who wrote about the power of silence and contemplation in a Christian context. I never knew that Christianity had a contemplative tradition, and I began to pour over the mystical and contemplative classics. Merton’s love for his monastery landscape in Kentucky and his practice of photography deeply resonated with my own experiences, and I eventually began attending Catholic and Anglican Masses and centering prayer groups.
Despite loving my work as a professor and forester, there was not a lot of advancement opportunities, job security or paid benefits in either post. So, I decided to apply for a PhD program in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 2013, I packed up my truck and moved to Vancouver and began my program with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia. My supervisor was an interdisciplinary anthropologist, and she allowed me a lot of room to develop my ideas and interest in spiritual ecology and the environmental humanities. I graduated in 2017, and my dissertation research focuses on the spiritual ecology of monastic landscapes in the American West. My additional research and writing interests include ethics, eco-theology, religion/spirituality and ecology, phenomenology of landscapes and sacred sites, forest studies, and contemporary debates surrounding nature and wilderness.
It was during my time in Vancouver that I began The Holyscapes Project which is simply an exploration of the inner and outer landscapes we inhabit, explore and call home. In my day to day life and in my travels, I look for the convergence of place, ecology and spirituality. I am currently teaching environmental humanities courses Simon Fraser University and occasionally other universities in the Salish Sea Bioregion.