Faculty Feature: Jim Martin-Schramm on his 28 years at Luther

Director of CSC and Professor of Religion Jim Martin-Schramm.
Photo courtesy of luther.edu

Director of CSC and Professor of Religion Jim Martin-Schramm. Photo courtesy of luther.edu

According to his students and colleagues, Professor of Religion Jim Martin-Schramm is generous with his time and incredibly passionate about his work; he cares deeply for students and has worked relentlessly for environmental justice at the local and global level. Now, after 28 years at Luther, Martin-Schramm will be retiring.

Martin-Schramm has been a member of Luther’s religion department since 1993. He finished his Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, NY, his Master of Divinity degree at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN and his bachelor’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. 

Much of his scholarship has been focused on ethics and public policy, particularly in regards to energy and climate policy. According to his Luther profile, Martin-Schramm’s scholarly work has been heavily influenced by his youth.

“I spent most of my youth growing up in Germany and South Africa, because my father worked for John Deere,” Martin-Schramm said. “I think those years gave me a global perspective that has influenced my career in various ways. I have been involved in various campus 

sustainability initiatives at Luther, and 

[I] am active in various organizations in Iowa working on climate change and energy issues. According to Professor of Religion Kristin Swanson, Martin-Schramm makes use of the case-study approach in his classes, in which he comes up with real-world applications of what he is teaching in combination with theoretical components. 

Martin-Schramm has written three books: “Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril,” “Earth Ethics: A Case Method Approach,” and “Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Climate Policy,” some of which provide case studies that can facilitate the learning process.

Along with on-campus classes, Martin-Schramm has led off-campus study away courses including, but not limited to, Environmental Ethics in Holden Village and Paideia 450: Green Europe. Religion major Lucas Byl (‘21) shared his thoughts on Martin-Schramm’s teaching style.

“Martin-Schramm tried to be very approachable and unpredictable,” Byl said. “He wasn’t super wild or anything, but he did enough different things throughout the course of the class that makes you walk in class each day and wonder: ‘what’s gonna happen today?’ He was very good at making things seem interesting and getting our attention.” 

 Not only has Martin-Schramm contributed to Luther’s religion department, but he is also an expert in a very different area: policy, renewable energy, and climate justice. In addition to his responsibility as a professor, Martin-Schramm was announced as the new director of the Center for Sustainable Communities in the spring of 2019. Martin-Schramm shared his hopes in terms of sustainability goals at Luther.

“One [hope] is to shape them, the character of our students, to cultivate the certain habits that you take with you,” Martin-Schramm said. “Because now it’s part of you when you graduate from Luther College. That’d be one thing — making an impact on students. Another thing comes back to climate justice. Luther College is not going to save the planet, right? The world is not going to be carbon neutral because Luther is carbon neutral. But we will show that it is possible to do it.”

International studies major and student worker at the CSC Kim Chham (‘21) worked closely with Martin-Schramm since her first year at Luther. Chham enjoyed her experience with Martin-Schramm as the director of the CSC.

“I think he’s very approachable as a director, and he likes to encourage everyone to do our best at the Center and really believes in the students’ power,” Chham said. “[He has let] the students lead, but also he’s worked a lot with the past president and administration. He’s kind of played that role of connecting what students want [to the] administrators.” 

Swanson, who also serves as the department head for religion at Luther, shared that Martin-Schramm challenges and supports students in their educational endeavors. As a colleague, she stated that he is a gracious and active listener who works tirelessly for his students, the department, the college, and environmental justice. 

“[The] religion department faculty are deeply grateful for Dr. Martin-Schramm as a colleague and the contributions he has made to the department,” Swanson said. “He served as department head at the time that the current general education curriculum was implemented, providing steady leadership through that transitional time. Always willing to engage in conversation, Dr. Martin-Schramm has been a resource and mentor for junior faculty.”

 Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies Jon Jensen (‘89) shares similar interests in sustainability initiatives at Luther, and has been colleagues with Martin-Schramm for 19 years. Jensen considers him a champion of sustainability and the promotion of renewable energy at Luther. 

“When I think about the Luther wind turbine, or the various solar projects, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that none of those projects would have happened without Jim’s work,  leadership, and expertise,” Jensen said. “I think all of us at Luther owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for all the work he has done to help us address climate change, and become a leader on renewable energy.”

For those who followed his work, Martin-Schramm’s legacy will be immortalized in his commitment to sustainability at Luther, and his drive for connection with his students.