Credit points


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Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit provides participants with an introduction to the central precepts, principles, and purposes of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. Structured around a critical assessment of both frameworks, participants are invited to assess how the social, cultural, political, and legal aspects of the SDGs are addressed, advanced, or challenged by the moral charter of Laudato Si’ in shaping contemporary concepts of global development. It also invites students to consider how the Laudato Si' goals and SDG's challenge the Church to reflect on its own commitments and practices.

Stimulated by the historical, cultural, and religious landscape of Rome, and through dialogue with policy makers and practitioners, participants will navigate the relationship between ecological and social change, through the lens of concepts such as equity, power, and economic justice. The unit provides participants with critical perspectives into contemporary environmental and socio-economic issues along with an intellectual and ethical platform for restorative action at local, national, and international level.  

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Acquire knowledge both of the sustainable development approach of the SDGs and of the integral ecology approach of Laudato Si’ (GA1, GA2).

LO2 - Analyse key theoretical aims and practical approaches of the SDGs and Laudato Si’ goals (GA4, GA6, GA8, GA9).

LO3 - Apply knowledge and praxis of the SDGs and Laudato Si’ goals to modern local and global crises (GA4, GA8, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • Catholic social, economic and ecological thought: background and history
  • Philosophical and theological frameworks: post-colonialism, feminism, socio-economic justice, ecological sustainability and 
  • distinguishing among eco-centric, anthropocentric, and theocentric perspectives;
  • Understanding the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Laudato Si’ Goals:
  • Spiritual conversion (LSG 6)
  • Food and water security (SDGs 2, 6; LSG 1)
  • Public Health (SDGs 3)
  • Economic development and distributive wealth justice; Responding to the cry of the poor, challenging detrimental impacts of globalisation and unjust economic structures and building community resilience and empowerment (SDGs 1, 7-12; LSG 2, 7)
  • Gender equality and education (SDGs 4-5; LSG 5)
  • Peace and security (SDGs 16)
  • Ecological sustainability (SDGs 13-15; LSG 1,3-6)
  • Taking action:
  • Laudato Si’ Action Platform
  • Taking action on the UN’s SDGs
  • Acting at local, national, and global levels
  • Case studies relating to project initiatives focused on areas such as water, climate, biodiversity, economic justice and education.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

During the course of this unit, students will read, analyse and discuss key documents relating to the United Nations and Vatican initiatives, and will explore action plans to address identified needs. Within the distinctive historical and spatial setting of Rome, they will meet with experts engaged directly in the work of responding to key areas of need.

The unit takes a developmental approach, starting with some key distinctions, background concepts and historical contexts for Catholic thought in this area, before moving into the detail of the UN and Vatican priorities (noting areas of substantial overlap and distinctness), before then focusing on practical action plans. The relationship between the Church and the UN's SDGs are explored including potential contributions it might make and where the Church can be helpfully challenged to change.

Given the intensive format of learning, spaces will be left for students to read and reflect individually, in order that classroom interactions and discussions are based on informed consideration of key documents.

During the practical action phase of the unit, there will be substantial emphasis on case studies from past and ongoing projects relating to a range of priority areas, as well as on current planning.

The contribution of local experts working in the field of economic development, environment and health services will also play a prominent role in the unit, lending a practical and experientially enriching element, while also providing students with powerful examples of leadership in action. 

The setting of the unit in Rome will also be a unique feature of the students’ learning experience. Students will receive a presentation on integral ecology at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and will also visit to the Vatican Museum. They will visit the Aqueduct Park to complement the case study on water. They will visit the Arch of Titus (a classic representation of imperial triumph) in connection with the discussions concerning the impacts of colonialism. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

Just as the learning outcomes progress from acquiring knowledge, through assimilating knowledge, and finally to applying knowledge, the assessment tasks reflect the same order of knowledge development: (1) acquisition (for tasks assessing recall), (2) assimilation (for tasks assessing understanding), and (3) application (for tasks assessing higher order cognitive skills).

Assessment Task 1 is an in-class quiz that is held early in the unit. It examines the acquisition of knowledge about Laudato Si’ and its goals, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in the context of the history of Catholic Social thought. What crises do they portray? What responses do they recommend? Are Laudato Si’ and the SDGs different? Why might this be the case?

Assessment Task 2 is an oral presentation that can take the form of a short in-class presentation and discussion (e.g., in pairs) or a structured debate featuring pairs of students. It will require students to match an ecological case or theme (e.g., water, climate) to theoretical (e.g., post-colonial, feminist) critiques and imperatives. In doing so, students are required to build on the knowledge examined in the preceding task, and to do so in a dialogical mode, in conversation with peers.

Assessment Task 3 is a written analytic piece which requires students to synthesise their learnings in the context of a practical proposal that looks to address a specific theme addressed by both the UN SDGs and the Laudato Si’ goals.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

1. In-Class Quiz

Requires students to identify salient similarities and differences between Laudato Si’ and the SDGs



GA1, GA2

2. Oral

Requires students to classify a particular ecological case or theme according to select theoretical and practical approaches


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA9

3. Written piece

Requires students to analyse an existing UN SDG or Laudato Si’ Action Plan project in terms of the ways in which it addresses specific UN SDGs and the Laudato Si’ goals. 


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA8, GA8, GA9 

Representative texts and references

United Nations, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2015, available at

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, 2015, available at

Christie, Ian, et al. 2019. “Sustainability and the common good: Catholic Social Teaching and ‘Integral Ecology’ as contributions to a framework of social values for sustainability transitions.” Sustainability Science 14: 1343–1354

Cichos, Katarzyna, et al. (eds.). 2021. Sustainable Development Goals and the Catholic Church: Catholic Social Teaching and the UN’s Agenda 2030. London: Routledge

Dalby, Simon, et al. (eds.). 2019. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Global Governance Challenges. London: Routledge

McKim, Robert (ed.). 2020. Laudato Si’ and the Environment: Pope Francis’ Green Encyclical. Abingdon: Routledge

Ostheimer, Jochen, and Julia Blanc. 2021. “Challenging the Levels: The Catholic Church as a Multi-Level Actor in the Transition to a Climate-Compatible Society.” Sustainability 13: 3770 (19 pages)

Pasquale, Frank (ed.). 2019. Care for the World: Laudato Si’ and Catholic Social Thought in an Era of Climate Crisis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Sachs, Wolfgang. 2017. “The Sustainable Development Goals and Laudato si’: varieties of Post-Development?” Third World Quarterly 38: 2573–2587

Tomalin, Emma, et al. 2019. “Religion and the Sustainable Development Goals.” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 17: 102–118

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