Di Rayson, PhD runs theology and climate change conference at University of Newcastle

The doctors Rayson: Di at her graduation ceremony at the University of Newcastle, with her husband Phil. Photo: supplied

The doctors Rayson: Di at her graduation ceremony at the University of Newcastle, with her husband Phil. Photo: supplied

“I have more letters after my name than my husband, now” Di Rayson laughs. 

Her husband is Dr Phil Rayson, of Wingham Family Health Clinic. Now, the couple are “the doctors Rayson”, plural, as Di has completed a PhD, the highest degree awarded by a university.

Previous to the PhD, Di held a Masters in Theology from the University of Newcastle, and a Masters in Public Health, from Curtin University, which she studied by distance.

While Di was officially awarded her doctorate degree in October last year, her graduation ceremony took place on April 15 at the University of Newcastle.

“It’s a real honour to be awarded a PhD because it recognises that you’ve contributed original knowledge and it also acknowledges the amount of research and work that you’ve done to be awarded that,” Di says.

“The thesis doesn’t get the degree, it’s the person, and that’s because you become a researcher, and you become an expert in your field. To think that you’ve crossed over that line is really quite humbling. And it’s great!” she laughs again.

To complete the degree Di undertook three years of rigorous research and writing. Her two-year studies for her Masters in Theology contributed to the PhD research.

To think that you’ve crossed over that line is really quite humbling.

Dianne Rayson, PhD

Di’s thesis is titled Bonhoeffer's Theology and Anthropogenic Climate Change: In Search of an Ecoethic.

“It’s about how from a religious point of view we understand what’s happening with climate change and what we should do about it, so developing an ecoethic,” Di explains.

“For regular people who don’t really think very much about it, it’s hard for them to understand it from a theological point of view. But there’s actually quite a lot of resources within Christianity, and the other major faiths as well, to help us understand what’s going on and why we should be thinking about what action to actually take to deal with it.

Di Rayson with her doctorate supervisor, Em. Prof. Terry Lovat. Photo: supplied

Di Rayson with her doctorate supervisor, Em. Prof. Terry Lovat. Photo: supplied

“Within Christianity there’s been a long tradition of thinking about our relationship with the earth. And I actually usually don’t use the term ‘the earth’ when I’m talking about this, I usually just say ‘Earth’ with a capital ‘E’ to acknowledge that the earth has agency and is one of the created beings alongside the animals and the plants and the humans.

“So when we’re thinking about our relationship, I don’t think only about relationships with people, but what Christianity has to say about our relationships with all of creation, so with the animals, the plants and with Earth herself.”

Putting her thesis to work

While writing a thesis for a doctorate degree is one of the most intellectual tasks a person can undertake, Di is not content to let it rest at that.

She, along with a committee of like minded people, have created the Inspiracy Festival, a four-day festival in Newcastle that is running for it’s second year this coming weekend, Thursday May 17 to Sunday May 20.

The festival starts with a Youth Film Festival on the Thursday night, and continues on the Friday with Di’s part of the Inspiracy program, ‘The Sacred Earth - Conversations in Ecotheology’. Saturday and Sunday’s programs are full of workshops to entice festival goers.

“I’m running Sacred Earth, which is an ecotheology conference but it’s trying to think about climate change and respond to climate change, not just intellectually but also through the arts and through activism,” Di said.

It’s trying to think about climate change and respond to climate change, not just intellectually but also through the arts and through activism.

Di Rayson

“Over the weekend we’ve got a whole range of activities to do with the other parts of our brain so a lot of music and food and workshops on how to do things - how to create community gardens, using poetry as a form of activism, just a whole range of stuff. Even just chilling out with music and chants, and participating in different choral activities.

“The idea is to try and engage people on all levels. Some people are really intellectual and think about this stuff, but other people engage with ideas through music, or through poetry, or through hands-on doing stuff,” Di says.

“We’re trying to say that all of these approaches are valid and are really valuable in trying to deal with the the bigger issue of climate change and climate justice, so we’re trying to meet people at whatever really interests them. wherever their passion is.”

For more information on the Inspiracy Festival visit inspiracy.org.au.

On a more local level, Di is keen to work with local churches and is available for preaching.