Understanding Katrina


HDS 2822

Professor M. Christian Green

Harvard Divinity School 

Fall 2006

Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00-11:30 (plus hour to be arranged)

Andover Hall, Room 102


This course will examine the theological, ethical, practical and political problems presented by Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005 and its effects on the city of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Underneath over-arching theological themes of invisibility, marginalization, otherness, suffering, resilience, transformation, and hope, we will examine the effects of Katrina—with particular attention to issues of race, class, gender, poverty, health, environment, labor, diaspora, senses of place and home, and the theological and political requirements for relief and recovery.  Theological readings will draw heavily from womanist and liberation theologies and from narrative accounts of theodicy, suffering and evil. The practical theological focus will incorporate literary, artistic, cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions of these problems.  This course should be of interest to students with practical, political, and pastoral interests in helping communities recovering from natural disaster, war, and other instances of violence and disruption. 


Week 1—Introduction

September 18Introduction: Images and Response


  • A optional packet of opinions, editorials, and short essays on the Katrina—then and one-year later—will be a brown enveloped outside of Professor Green’s office for students to photocopy and read at their discretion.  A list of these articles will also be posted on the home page of the course website for students who wish to seek them online through Lexis/Nexis or similar search vehicle.

September 20—A Public Theologian Speaks Out: Toward a Prophetic Theodicy

Short Video:

  • “Katrina: Racial Lessons Lost?,” Interview with Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC


  • Dyson, Come Hell or High Water, esp. chs. 1-3, 10
  • Williams, “Like a Hurricane,” in Enough, pp. 168-87
  • Lavelle and Feagin, “Hurricane Katrina: The Race and Class Debate”

 Week 2—Race, Class, Poverty and Disaster in America: Historical Perspectives

September 25—The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and Gulf Coast Racial Diversity Yesterday and Today 


  • Barry, Rising Tide, Chs. 8-11, 15, 22, 25-27, 32-33
  • Kao, “Where Are the Asian and Hispanic Victims of Katrina,”223-31
  • Miles, “Vaya Tormenta!: In the Shadows of Katrina”
  • Navarrette, “There’s More Than One Color in the Rainbow”
  • Baum, “The Lost Year,” New Yorker

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Powers, “A Matter of Choice: Historical Lessons for Disaster Recovery,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster

September 27—The “Other America” in the 1960’s and the “Two Americas” Today


  • Harrington, The Other America (entire)
  • Ignatieff, “The Broken Contract,” New York Times, September 25, 2005 (handout)

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Joseph, “Left Behind,” in The Sky Is Crying

 Week 3—Biblical Traditions and Contemporary Applications

October 2— Theodicy, Suffering, and Hope


Hebrew Bible

  • Genesis 1-4
  • Psalms 9:6, 12, 40:1-3, 46:1-3, 55:4-8, 69, 107, 137
  • Job
  • Lamentations (entire)


  • Bruggemann, “A Disaster of Biblical Proportions,” Christian Century (October 4, 2005): 23
  • Cohn, “Biblical Responses to Catastrophe,”
  • Wells, “God in the Hurricane,” Christian Century (October 4, 2005):8
  • Meacham, “God, Satan, and Katrina,” Newsweek, 147:12 (March 20, 2006):53
  • Safire, “Where Was God?” New York Times, January 10, 2005 (handout)
  • Steinfels, “The Scarcely Heard Question Is How God Could have Allowed the Catastrophe to Occur,” New York Times, September 10, 2005 (handout)
  • Rothstein, “Seeking Justice, of Gods or the Politicians,” New York Times, September 8, 2005.
  • Gutierrez, On Job:  God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent (chapters to be announced)

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Davis, “Retribution as First Response: Did God Punish New Orleans?”  in The Sky Is Crying
  • Pinn, “Shouting at an Angry Sky: Thoughts on Natural Disaster,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • Kennedy, “When Trouble Comes,” Job 1:7-11

October 4— Prophesy, Poverty, and Justice

Guest Lecturer: 

Brent Landau, Ph.D. Candidate in New Testament, Harvard Divinity School


Hebrew Bible

  • Isaiah 1, 24, 58, 59
  • Jeremiah 4:19-31, 22
  • Ezekiel 22
  • Amos 2:6-8, 4, 5, 8. 9:1-6
  • Zechariah 7:8-14

New Testament

  • *Luke 13:1-5, John 9:1-3 (disaster and sin)
  • Matthew 5:1-11, 19:16-30, 25:31-44, 26:61-13
  • Mark: 10:17-27, 12:41-44, 14:3-9
  • Luke 4:14-21, 6:17-38, 18:18-27, 21:1-4
  • John 12:1-8


  • Hengel, Martin, “Property and Riches in the Old Testament and Judaism,” in Property and Riches in the Early Church, pp. 12-22
  • Malina, “Wealth and Poverty in the New Testament World,” Interpretation, 41:4, pp.354-67
  • Wallis, “What the Waters Revealed,” Sojourners
  • Gutierrez, On Job:  God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, Chs. 5-6.

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Park, Eung Chun, “Questions of Calamity and Justice in Luke 13: 1-5,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • R González-Andrieu, “Mañana Is Too Late toe Learn How to Love,”  in The Sky Is Crying

 Week 4—Theology of Diaspora and Place


October 11—Religion, Diaspora, and Place


  • Falk, William W., Matthew O. Hunt, and Larry L. Hunt. “Hurricane Katrina and New Orleanians’ Sense of Place: Return and Reconstitution or ‘Gone with the Wind’?”
  • Vertovec, Steven. “Religion and Diaspora,” in New Approaches to the Study of Religion, Vol. 2, pp. 275-303
  • Haaer, Gerrie ter, “Chosen People: The Concept of Diaspora in the Modern World,” in Religion
  • Baumann, Martin.  “Diaspora: Genealogies of Semantics and Cross-Cultural Comparison”
  • Blasi, Anthony.  “Visitation to Disaster Sites,” in From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism
  • Burton-Christie, Douglas. “Living Between Two Worlds: Home, Journey, and the Quest for Sacred Space”
  • Smith, Ralph F. “People, Places, and Things”

Optional and Additional Readings:

  • Crowley, “Where Is Home? Housing for Low-Income People After the 2005 Hurricanes,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Marcuse, “Rebuilding a Tortured Past or Creating a Model Future: The Limits and Potential of Rebuilding”

 Week 5—African AmericanTheologies of Liberation

October 16—Black Theology


  • DuBois, “Of Spiritual Strivings” and “Sorrow Songs,” in The Souls of Black Folk
  • Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, Chs. 1, 2, 5
  • Cone, God of the Oppressed, Chs. 8-10

Optional and Additional Readings:

  • Cone, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” (lecture videostream)

October 18—Liberation Theology


  • Franklin, Liberating Visions, Chs.1-2
  • West, Prophesy Deliverance, Introduction (“The Sources and Tasks of Afro-American Critical Thought”) and Ch.3 (“The Four Traditions of Response”)
  • West, “Nihilism in Black America,” in Race Matters
  • West, “Black Strivings in a Twilight Civilization,” in The Cornel West Reader, pp. 87-118
  • West, “The Prophetic Tradition in Afro-America,” in Prophetic Fragments, pp. 38-49

 Week 6—Womanist Theology, Womanist Ethics

October 23— Womanist Theology

Guest Lecturer:

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Department of Theology, Boston College                       


  • Williams, Delores, Sisters in the Wilderness, Chs. 6-7.
  • Baker-Fletcher, “Dancing with God in a Time of Crucifixion” (lecture videotape)
  • A Troubling in My Soul (essays by Martin, Copeland, Williams, Baker-Fletcher, Cannon)

October 25— Womanist Ethics


  • Townes, A Troubling in My Soul (Wood, Phelps, Riggs, Townes, Matthews, Hunter, Grant, Gilkes)

 Week 7—Health & Environment:  The Bioecological Crisis of Katrina

October 30—The Biomedical Crisis (readings TBA)


  • Townes, Breaking the Fine Rain of Death, Chs. 3, 7, and 8
  • Brideau, “Lydia’s Story,” Health Affairs
  • Klinenberg, Eric.  Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Prologue, Chs. 1-2, and Conclusion

Optional and Additional Readings:

  • Franklin, “A New Kind of Medical Disaster in the United States,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Julian, “Came the Hard Rain,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • Christensen et al. “From Despair to Hope: Rebuilding the Health Care Infrastructure of New Orleans After the Storm,” in Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy
  • Treadwell, “Reimagining and Recreating Health Care Systems Along the Gulf Coast,” in Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

November 1—The Environmental Crisis


  • Ruether, “After Katrina: Poverty, Racism, and Environmental Degradation”
  • Baker-Fletcher, “Dust and Spirit,” Pt. I in Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit (esp. the essay “Why the Hurricane?”)
  • Riley, Shamara Shantu. “Ecology is a Sistah’s Issue Too: The Politics of Emergent Afrocentric Womanism,” in This Sacred Earth, pp. 346-60.
  • Theodore Walker, Jr. “African-American Resources for a More Inclusive Liberation Theology,” in This Sacred Earth, 309-16.
  • Cunningham, “Agency, Equity, and Environmental Justice: An Interview with James Hyde,” in Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

 Week 8—Women, Children, and Families:  The Feminization of Disaster

November 6—Women, Children, and the Feminization of Disaster


  • Marshall, “Were Women Raped in New Orleans?: Addressing the Human Rights of Women in Times of Crisis”
  • Butterbaugh, “Why Did Katrina Hit Women So Hard?”  
  • Enarson and Morrow, The Gendered Terrain of Disaster, Pt I, pp. 9-51

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Jones-DeWeever and Hartmann, “Abandoned Before the Storms: The Glaring Disaster of Gender, Race, and Class Disparities in the Gulf,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Hayes, “We, Too Are America: Black Women’s Burdens of Race and Class,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • Dyson, “My Sister’s Keeper: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina and Black Female Activism,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • Davis and Land, “Southern Women’s Voices from the Gulf Coast States on Hurricane Katrina,” in Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

November 8—Fractured Families and Effects on the Elderly

Guest Lecturer:

Dr. Margaret Morgenroth Gullette, Resident Scholar, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University


  • Ransby, “The Deadly Discourse on Black Poverty and its Impact on Black Women in New Orleans in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina” DuBois Review
  • Boo, “Shelter and the Storm,” New Yorker
  • Poats, “The Invisibility of the Black Family During Hurricane Katrina”
  • Enarson and Morrow, The Gendered Terrain of Disaster, Chs. 5-6, pp. 63-107.
  • Gullette, “Katrina and the Politics of Later Life,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster

 Week 9—Katrina and the Tsunami:  Comparative Religious Perspectives on Disaster

November 13—Voices and Lessons of the Asian TsunamiReadings:

  • Hart, The Doors of the Sea (entire)
  • Hart, “Tsunami and Theodicy,” First Things, 151 (March 2005): 6-9
  • Yewangoe, Andrea.  “A Post-Tsunami, Indonesian Theological Perspective”
  • Brunkow and Freeman, “Faith in the Face of Tragedy,” Omaha World-Herald, January 8, 2005 (handout)
  • Waldman et al. “Asia’s Deadly Waves: Faith Divides the Survivors and It Unites Them, Too,” New York Times, January 12, 2005 (handout)
  • Muck, “Karmic Event: Buddhists and the Tsunami,” Christian Century, 122:4 (February 22, 2005): 8-9

Optional Additional Readings:

  • “Tsunamis and Birth Pangs,” Christianity Today (February 2005): 29-29
  • “Religions Battle for Souls on Sumatra,” Associated Press/Beliefnet, January 13, 2005

 November 15—Katrina, Race, and Economics

Guest Lecturer: 

George Gonzalez, Doctor of Theology Program in Religion and Society, Harvard Divinity School


Week 10—Media & Culture: Representing and Responding to Disaster

November 27—Role of the Media & Artists as Truth-Tellers


  • Dyson, Come Hell or High Water, Ch. 9
  • Sontag, “In Plato’s Cave” and “Melancholy Objects,” in On Photography , pp. 1-24 and 51-82.
  • Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, esp. 6-9
  • Moeller, “Compassion Fatigue,” in Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, War, Famine, and Death, pp. 7-53
  • Moeller, “‘Regarding the Pain of Others’: Media, Bias, and the Coverage of International Disasters”
  • Morris, “A Moment of Clarity?: The American Media and Hurricane Katrina” in Southern Quarterly 43:3 (Spring 2006):
  • Dyson, Come Hell or High Water, Ch. 9
  • West, “The Spirituals as Lyrical Poetry,” in The Cornel West Reader, pp. 463
  • Kirk-Duggan, “African-American Spirituals: Confronting and Exorcising Evil Through Song,” in Townes, ed. A Troubling in My Soul

Optional Additional Readings:

  • Stein and Preuss, “Oral History, Folklore, and Katrina,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Kennedy, “Myths and Media: A Socioethical Reflection on Hurricane Katrina,” in The Sky Is Crying
  • Fries, Davis, and Kirk-Duggan, “Everything Is Wet and Gone,” in The Sky Is Crying

November 29— Faith Sector and Government Sector in Katrina Response


  • Horne, Breach of Faith, Chs. 11,12, 25
  • Dionne and Diulio, eds. What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment?  (selections)
  • Dionne and Chen, eds. Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity?, Introduction, pp. 1-16 and Pt. VI, pp. 273-335 (“Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity?”)
  • Cnaan, The Invisible Caring Hand:  American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare, Pt. IV, pp. 211-98 (“Volunteerism and Organized Religion,” “Why and How Congregations Get Involved in Service Delivery,” “The Congregational Norm of Community Involvement,” and “The Broader Perspective: Congregations for Society and Beyond”) 

Week 11—Politics of Poverty and Faith-Based Response (contd.)

December 4—What Katrina Revealed About Poverty, Education, and Discrimination

Guest Lecturer: 

Professor Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Director of the Civil Rights Project, Harvard University


  • Dyson, Come Hell or High Water, Chs. 3-8 (somewhat optional)
  • Casserly, “Double Jeopardy: Public Education in New Orleans Before and After the Storm,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Perry, “The Plight of Education Systems—Post Hurricane Katrina: An Interview with Dr. Brenda Mitchell and Dr. Linda Stelly,” in Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy
  • Hopkins, “New Orleans Is America,” in The Sky Is Crying

December 6—African and Afro-Caribbean Religious Perspectives on Katrina

Guest Lecturer: 

Professor Carol Duncan, Visiting Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Religion & Society, Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Harvard Divinity School

 Week 12—The Ethics of Community Redevelopment

December 11— Politics for the People:  Resources for Community Organization


  • Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, Introduction, Chs. 1, 3, 4 6, 9, 11, Afterword
  • Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, “Prologue,” “The Purpose,” “The Education of an Organizer,” “In the Beginning,” “The Way Ahead”

Optional Additional Reading:

  • Rathke and Laboistrie, “The Role of Local Organizing: House-to-House and Boots on the Ground,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Nembhard, “Principles and Strategies for Reconstruction: Models of African American Community-Based Cooperative Economic Development”

December 13— Beyond Best Intentions:  The Ethics of Care in Disasters


  • McKnight, John.  The Careless Society, “Introduction,” “Human Service Systems,”  “On Community,” “Christian Service”
  • Cohn, “The Golden Ticket,” New Republic, 13-17
  • Additional readings on problems of care and compassion fatigue to be announced.

 Week 13Conclusion:  Theology of the Margins, Theodicy in the Gap

December 18—Concluding Themes


  • Blom, God in the Raging Waters: Stories of Love and Service Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (entire)
  • Powell et al. “Towards a Transformative View of Race: The Crisis and Opportunity of Katrina,” in There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster
  • Kirk-Duggan, “Pimping Jesus for Political Gain: Casting Stones at Our Neighbors (Luke 10:25-28),” in The Sky Is Crying


Books Available at the Bookstore for Purchase (“REQUIRED”)

Dyson, Michael Eric. Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (New York: Basic Civitas/Perseus Books Group, 2006)

Harrington, Michael. The Other America:  Poverty in the United States [orig. pub. 1962] (New York: Scribner, 1997)

Townes, Emilie M. ed. A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Suffering and Evil (New York: Orbis Books, 1993)

Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl A. The Sky Is Crying:  Race, Class, and Natural Disaster (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006)

Childs, John Brown.  Hurricane Katrina: Response and Responsibilities (Santa Cruz, CA: New Pacific Press, 2006)

Blom, Paul.  God in the Raging Waters:  Stories of Love and Service Following Hurricane Katrina (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006)

 Books Available at the Bookstore for Purchase (“RECOMMENDED”)

Townes, Emilie M.  Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care (2001)

Troutt, Dante David. After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina (New York: New Press, 2006)

Hart, David Bentley. The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005)

Alinsky Saul D. Reveille for Radicals [orig. pub. ] (New York: Vintage, 1989)

Alinsky, Saul D. Rules for Radicals [orig. pub. ] (New York: Vintage, 1989)

Books and Recommended for Independent Purchase

Hartman, Chester, and Gregory D. Squires, eds. There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Reed, Betsy, ed. Unnatural Disaster: The Nation on Hurricane Katrina (New York: Nation Books, 2006).