Karl E. Johnson,Founder of Chesterton House, received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. As a student, Karl was active on the soccer team (goalkeeper), the Wind Ensemble (French Horn), and the Outdoor Education and Wilderness Reflections/ Outdoor Odyssey programs. His education included a 5000-mile cross-country bicycle trip, a 21-day NOLS course, mountaineering expeditions in Latin America, and ten weeks on SEA’s tall ships Westward and Corwith Cramer. While an undergraduate, he taught Physical Education classes in day hiking, backpacking, bicycle touring, basic mountaineering, and he started the first service-oriented Physical Education class at Cornell, Trail Maintenance.

After managing the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Outings Program for a few years, Karl served for ten years as the inaugural Dan Tillemans Director of the Cornell Team and Leadership Center, a division of Cornell Outdoor Education. He designed Cornell’s Hoffman Challenge Course, provided leadership development programs for corporations such as JP Morgan Chase, and served as a trainer, consultant, and expert witness in the outdoor education field. He also taught Cornell Adult University’s popular Outdoor Thrills and Skills course for many years beginning in 1993. He is the proud namesake of two local facilities—a yurt on Mt Pleasant, in recognition of 20 years of service to Cornell Outdoor Education, and the Karl Johnson Privy in Danby State Forest, in recognition of service to the Cayuga Trails Club.

Karl received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources where he focused on the history and philosophy of recreation and leisure. He has received grants from Atlantic Philanthropies and The Lilly Endowment, and has guest lectured at many universities around the country. Closer to home, he has lectured in Cornell’s departments of Education, Natural Resources, and Applied Economics & Management, as well as in Ithaca College’s Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies. Karl was recognized as a 1999 Academy of Leisure Sciences Future Scholar and has received several writing awards, including the 2014 Literary Award of the Christian Society of Kinesiology and Leisure Studies. His interests include human relations with the natural landscape, from wilderness to urban environs, and his publications on related topics have appeared in Christian Scholar’s Review, Journal of Experiential Education, Leisure/Loisir, and in popular publications such as Books & Culture, Taproot, re:generation quarterly, and New York State Conservationist.

Karl founded Chesterton House in 2000 and became the organization’s full-time director in 2005. In 2008 he became a founding board member of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, serving on the board for over ten years and as board chair for over five years.  In 2019 he stepped down from his role as Chesterton House Director, and became Chief Strategist for The Octet Collaborative, the Christian study center at MIT. In January 2021 Karl became the Director for the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, where he currently serves. He and his family have been featured in the Ithaca Journal (PDF).

 Invite Karl to speak. 

Select Publications

  • Johnson, K. (2017) From Sabbath to Weekend: Religious Advocacy for a Weekly Day of Recreation. In Heintzman, P., and Van Andel, G. (eds.), Christianity and Leisure: Volume 2, Sioux Center, Iowa: Dordt Press.
  • Johnson, K. (2016) Labor, Leisure, and Liberty. Christian Scholar’s Review. 46(1), 85-96.
  • Johnson, K. (2015). Non-sectarianism Reconsidered. Patheos.
  • Johnson, K. (2013). Second Wind Gives Men Second Chances. Herald Examiner. 27(12), 6. PDF.
  • Johnson, K. (2010). How Shall We Then Rest? Books & Culture, July/August 2010.
  • Johnson, K., and Yoder, K. (2009) Chemist as Complementarian: An Interview with Robert C. Fay, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 61(4), 1-6.
  • Johnson, K. (2009). Borlaug: The Man Who Fed the World. Herald Examiner, November, 2009.
  • Johnson, K. (2009). Problematizing Puritan Play. PDF. This is an electronic version of an article published in Leisure/Loisir, 33(1), 31-54. Leisure/Loisir is available online here.
  • Johnson, K. (2009). The Curious Case of Galileo Galilei (in which he does not go to jail). Sightings, June 4.
  • Johnson, K. (2007). Re:Creation (Review, E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth), Translations, 1(1), 10-11. Reprinted 2007, Taproot, 17(1), 21-22. PDF.
  • Johnson, K. (2006). A More Inclusive Pluralism, Herald Examiner, 20(12), 2.
  • Johnson, K. (2006). Review, John Sommerville’s The Decline of the Secular University, Critique.
  • Johnson, K. (2005). Murderer as Minister. Gilbert Magazine, 8(4). PDF.
  • Baer, R., Tantillo, J., Hitzhusen, G., Johnson, K., and Skillen, J. (2004). From Delight to Wisdom: 30 Years of Teaching Environmental Ethics at Cornell. Worldviews, 8(2-3), 298-322. Reprinted, 2006, in Clare Palmer, ed., Teaching Environmental Ethics, Brill Academic Publishers.
  • Johnson, K. (2003). Highs, Lows, and Everything in Between: The Story of Cornell’s Hoffman Challenge Course. In Wurdinger, S., and Steffen, J. (eds.), Developing Challenge Course Programs for Schools, Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Johnson, K. (2002). A Method to the Madness: Cornell Outdoor Education Celebrates First 30 Years. Spirit!, April. Reprinted 2002, The Tautline, Winter.
  • Johnson, K. (2001). Six Days Thou Shalt Labor, More or Less: Busyness and the Business of Heaven. re:generation quarterly, 7(3). PDF.
  • Johnson, K. (2000). Vouchers: Why they’re essential. Ithaca Journal. PDF.
  • Johnson, K. (1999). Toward Green Challenge Courses. Journal of Experiential Education, 22(3), 149-153.
  • Johnson, K. (1998). The Virtues of Fishing. In Genova, P., First Cast: Teaching Kids to Fly-Fish, pp. 6-8, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Reprinted 2002, Texas Fish & Game, 17(12). Reprinted as “Time Well Wasted” in 2004, New York State Conservationist, 58(5). PDF.
  • Johnson, K. (1997). The Status of Theology: Revisiting Andrew Dickson White’s “Warfare” Thesis at 100 Years. Cornell Political Forum, 11(3), 9-13.
  • Johnson, K. (1994). Giving Thanks. Herald Examiner, 9(12), 2. Reprinted in Herald Examiner, 10(7), 2. 1996. Reprinted in Psychology for Living, 39(6), 5-6.
Chesterton House Painting