Date of Award

Spring 2000

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Paul Brockelman


This dissertation is a case study of monastic nuns in the context of sustainable living. The essential core question is: How has the way of life of nuns in a monastic community been a sustaining one. There are six chapters: Introduction, Historical Context and Overview, Methodology, The Context and People of The Priory of Our Lady of Peace, Analysis of Data, and Synthesis and Interpretation.

The methodology used to get at the case study is, primarily, participant observation and individual interviews with twelve (of the eighteen) nuns; and secondarily, an ecological assessment of the community and buildings, and a questionnaire sent to 26 monastic communities within England and Wales.

There are four values that are explicitly stated in the literature of Turvey Abbey and that I think are significant in terms of sustainability: "living according to the Rule of St. Benedict"; Vita et Pax (life and peace) including liturgy and ecumenism; seeking God by living out Gospel values; and "developing spiritual awareness of the unity of all creation and the simple beauty of everyday life."

There are nine implicit values that I described: "leaving each other free", openness, space to find one's true self, silence, a deep attraction for something more, faith and trust, attachment and change, ordinariness, and "a balanced life": rhythm and regularity.

The main conclusion is not to prove or disprove that the life of the nuns of Turvey Abbey is sustainable. Sustainability is a qualitative study of relationships more than a quantitative study of inputs and outputs, though the latter can be a significant aspect of the former. In fact, the essence of the term "sustainable living" is more accurately defined as "sustaining living"---moving from a goal which has a defined and therefore finite end to a process that is immediate and ongoing.

The nuns have beliefs, attitudes and practices that are relevant to sustaining life, some of which have been in evidence for 1500 years since the origins of Benedictine monastic enclosure. Assessing the buildings and the community of Turvey Abbey, there is no indication of desecration or exploitation in attitude, belief, or practice. In fact, the property of Turvey has a sublime beauty that brings others to transcendence. Transcendence is accepted as a viable (and sustaining) aspect of the natural world, both human and non-human. As a core aspect of the sustaining life process at Turvey Abbey, the nuns are "seeking God." The non-monastic world in "seeking life" may amount to much the same thing, God being equivalent to the life force in secular parlance.