Ecology and Religious Environmentalism in the United States
Summary and Keywords
Any discussion of ecology, environment, and religion in America rightly begins with the American landscape itself. It also properly begins with a reflection on the terms and metaphors that have been used to describe it. Although the term ecology was not coined until the mid-19th century, it is a preferred starting term in the sense that it denotes integrated natural systems within which humans are just one species among many. The word environment, however, is a particularly fitting term for any 21st-century discussion of religion and nature in America, for it frequently implies the conceptual separation of humans from the biophysical world, a separation often driven by economic interests and technological hubris whose consequences are strongly reverberating in the environmental injustices and climate change impacts we are facing today.
This inquiry into the relationship between religion, nature, ecology, and environment necessarily includes the use of all three of these terms, all of which are contested—as is religion—and require nuance and attention to context when they are deployed. Throughout this article, all three of these terms are used somewhat interchangeably, but with attention to the shades of meaning that differentiate them, as well as to the religious, cultural, and political contexts that shape who uses what kind of language and to what purpose.
We understand the history of “religion and ecology/environment” in America as having two dominant strands: (1) a broad, spiritual reverence for nature as inherently sacred, and (2) 20th-century forms of religiously based environmental action and concern. The first, the story of spiritual reverence for nature, has its roots in colonial worldviews, garnered broad enthusiasm in the mid-19th century and continues to flourish today in 21st-century nature writing and in environmental organizations and activism at all levels. The second dominant strand in the history of “religion and the environment” in America is that of environmental concern that is explicitly and unapologetically religiously based. It is this second strand that is the focus of this article. Nevertheless, the broader historical context of the varied, contested meanings of nature in America—including the notion of nature itself as the source of the sacred—is ever present in how religious environmentalism is articulated and negotiated. The many forms of religious environmentalism that have developed since the 1960s are as diverse, complex, varied, and nuanced as religious America itself. In its more liberal Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish forms, religious environmentalism is often grounded in the social justice concerns and activism of earlier periods, particularly in the civil rights movements of the late 1960s and 1970s and in various Social Gospel campaigns from the early 20th century through the 1940s. Much religious environmentalist activism whether at the congregational, denominational, or national level is clearly rooted in earlier, religiously grounded social reform movements, but extends the conceptual reach of these reforms to include both the health of nature itself and the many ways in which environmental degradation directly impacts human health and well-being, often disproportionally along race, class, and gender lines.
More conservative Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, however, have also become increasingly engaged with environmental threats, both in terms of their own history of attention to social justice and in terms of seeing the natural world as God’s creation and, as such, requiring the care and respect of humans who are created “in the image of God.” Using the language of stewardship and “creation care” and emphasizing the necessity of humility in relationship to God and God’s creations, many religious conservatives who may resist the term “environmentalist” have become actively involved in environmental advocacy with particular attention to the growing climate crisis. Their work has included collaborating with religiously liberal groups in direct lobbying for policy changes, a development that has surprised those who assume that environmental advocacy is only a concern of political and religious liberals.
As more recent immigrants have established themselves in the United States, new voices of religious environmentalism have emerged. These include the perspectives of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Sikh citizens who have brought their own perspectives on environmental concerns to the fore, often developing ideas of nature and forms of environmental activism that are both grounded in their landscapes and cultures of origin and reimagined in an American context. Meanwhile, environmental activism and organizing has continued to emerge from indigenous tribes for whom the sacredness of nature has always been central to their spiritual identities. In many cases, this activism has been directed toward protecting endangered species (who are understood to be kin), combating climate change and resisting petroleum industries that are ravaging sacred lands.
When viewed in historical perspective, religious environmentalism both reflects and sheds new light on the larger story of religion(s) in America of which it is a part. Religious environmentalism continues to wrestle with the legacies of the assumptions about nature that colonial settlers brought with them, even while trying to overcome those legacies. In addition, while religious environmentalism is most obviously a religious response to threats to the natural world, clearly concern for nature is always deeply intertwined with concern for human flourishing. The task of much religious environmentalism is often to clarify the extent to which human welfare and the welfare of nature are profoundly linked. Religious environmentalism, then, is necessarily shaped by larger questions about what kind of nature is being valued, in what ways, for what reasons, and by whom. Such questions are invariably tied to larger issues of identity and cultural power, especially—but certainly not exclusively—in terms of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion. Finally, to the extent that American religion has been challenged, revitalized, and transformed by the long history of immigration and the ever-shifting effects of religious pluralism, so too has American religious environmentalism been shaped by the worldviews of newly arrived Americans. The tensions and negotiations inherent in the ways that religious environmentalism is expressed, therefore, often echo the broader tensions and negotiations of American religious identity that are familiar to historians of American religion. Attention to these tensions and negotiations is central to the narrative developed here.
Nature’s Meanings in America
From precolonial times to the 21st century, religious language, concepts, and practices have both shaped and been shaped by an American landscape whose fecundity and fragility are ever-present motifs. In order to understand the more recent story of religious environmentalism, it is helpful first to understand this broad history of American interpretations of the natural world. This broader context allows us to see how religious environmentalism, in particular, is connected to a larger story of American reverence for nature, but is also distinct from it. Of particular significance, beginning in the colonial period, are the religiously inflected metaphors that were used to describe the American landscape even before the first colonial settlements were physically established: America as an endlessly abundant Garden of Eden, as a merely neutral platform upon which the Puritan “city on a hill” would be built, or as a “howling wilderness” to be dominated and tamed.1
Colonial visions of nature were also shaped by the practice of reading the “Book of Nature” for moral (Christian) messages, a practice that continued into the 18th century and is evocatively captured in the writings of theologian Jonathan Edwards. Reading the “Book of Nature” put early Americans in the habit of cultivating precise observation of the natural world and while gaining scientific knowledge of their natural surround was not the primary goal, it was often the result. Early American natural theology (the study of nature to understand the mind of God) thus had a fascinating double effect: setting the stage both for the development of Enlightenment science—where “God” ultimately drops out of much scientific pursuit—and for various forms of “creation care” that are promoted by religious environmentalists today.
Of course, the discourse about nature as both bountiful garden and howling wilderness was not present in the cosmologies and rituals of indigenous inhabitants of what colonials called the “New World”—although various forms of human impact on the natural world are certainly a part of this history.2 The concept of home might be the correspondingly appropriate cultural term for the wide range of bioregions inhabited by indigenous Americans whose dwelling places would later be yoked together under the political rubric of the “United States” of America.
Perhaps most significant in terms of its impact on modern environmentalism is the broad reverence for nature that developed in the mid-19th century, particularly in New England. Allowing for certain colonial precedents, 19th-century American reverence for nature as nature was grounded in English and German Romanticism and, by extension, the liberal, “post-Christian” perspectives of the American Transcendentalists who considered nature to be a source of wonder, awe, and transformational spiritual experience—often offering an escape from the social and political challenges of the day. Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many lesser-known mid-19th-century writers never fully discarded the earlier “Book of Nature” idea, but they radically revised it, seeing the natural world as rife with spiritual messages, sometimes lightly Christian, but more often of a personal, spiritual kind, sometimes informed by translations of Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian sacred texts that were just becoming available.
While the cultural impact of the Transcendentalists was regionally bounded and relatively minor in their own lifetimes, the legacies of their thinking and writing persist. Romantic/Transcendentalist interpretations of nature itself as the source of profound spiritual encounter came to have a lasting impact on American views of nature, setting the stage for ongoing articulations of nature’s inherent sacredness from John Muir’s ecstatic praise of King Sequoia (rather than King Jesus) to 20th-century “deep ecology” with its emphasis on nature’s intrinsic value distinct from its usefulness to humans.3
The history of human encounters with the U.S. landscape demonstrates that from the very first moments when indigenous cosmologies were confronted by colonial theologies up through the 21st century, nature was imagined spiritually and acted upon from a range of religious perspectives. From the 16th century forward these religiously informed constructions of nature adapt, change, and sometimes go underground, but they never entirely disappear. How we think about nature, ecology, and environment in America, then, depends on our ability to see how religious language, concepts, worldviews, and institutions set the terms for the ways we act on and in the world.
Today, we can see the implicit legacies of those who have followed Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson in partially or completely leaving institutional religion behind, but still expressing a deep sense of the sacredness of the natural world. Members of the “Big Ten” environmental organizations (such as The Wilderness Society, The Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy) often speak of the value of wilderness and pastoral spaces in terms of the inherent sacredness of nature, focusing particularly on undeveloped landscapes and unencumbered, biologically diverse habitats. Back-to-the-land practices, “new” agrarianism (including local and organic food movements), and the burgeoning establishment of urban green spaces also can be interpreted as spiritual-aesthetic grandchildren of 19th-century constructions of nature as beneficent, pure (and purifying), and worthy of protection.4 These “spiritual-but-not-religious” expressions of reverence for nature do not exist in isolation, however, but have influenced and shaped the explicitly religious forms of environmentalism discussed here. Religious environmentalism and environmentalism emerging from a sense of nature itself as a source of the sacred are best understood as two strands of the “religion and ecology/environment” story that mutually inform one another in dynamic ways.
Religious Environmentalism: An Overview
“Religious environmentalism” (religiously based environmental writing and action) has its primary expression in the founding of religious organizations (whether national, regional, state based, or denominational) that are actively engaged in confronting environmental threats including species loss; pollution; destruction of wildlife habitats; and, most urgently and prominently, the growing impacts of rapidly accelerating global climate change. Equally significant, however, are the numerous smaller efforts of individual congregations and local religious groups. With or without the support of larger organizations, these local efforts, when added together, have continued to shape the scope, reach, and character of religious environmentalism more broadly. Both at the national and regional organizational level and at the local level, the religious organizations highlighted here have worked on changing liturgy and institutional practices; education on why and how care of the environment (often termed “creation”) is a religious/spiritual issue; sponsoring community initiatives such as pollution abatement, energy efficiency, and renewable energy options; lobbying for pro-environmental policies at the state and national levels; and, in some cases, engaging in protest, including participating in the long-standing American tradition of religiously rooted, nonviolent civil disobedience.
In many ways, religious environmentalism mirrors the character and development of 20th- and 21st-century environmentalism more broadly. But religious environmentalism is also distinctive in its clear and persistent articulation of a moral basis for action. One unanticipated, but often welcome, “side effect” of religious engagement with environmental threats has been the reengagement of disaffiliated or disaffected Americans in religious life. While statistics tell us that “none” is now the fastest growing category of American religious identity, scholars, congregants, and activists alike have noted that when religious groups speak and act on behalf of the environment, religion itself seems more “relevant” and dynamic, particular for young people.5 Religious environmentalism has brought some people back to their religious heritage or former level of practice and has led others to seek out new religious identities.
A second distinctive contribution of many strands of religious environmentalism has been the extent to which attention to race, class, and social justice has marked both the thinking and actions of individuals, small groups, and large organizations. While some environmental organizations have only recently given attention to the phenomenon of environmental injustice, many religious organizations have quite organically connected their long-standing social justice concerns with relatively “newer” environmental engagement, often addressing questions of race-based environmental injustice long before these injustices were widely recognized. The history of religious and interreligious environmental organizations and initiatives that follows pays particular attention to these distinctive themes.
In many ways, the founding and growth of religious environmentalism over the last three decades is a story unto itself, but these innovations recognizably overlap with some older strands of nature spirituality and theological concern that were more obviously Christian (as opposed to post-Christian or Transcendentalist). A large percentage of 18th- and 19th-century conservationists, for instance, came from prominent, religiously active Presbyterian and Congregationalist families and their concerns about the fate of nature were often articulated in explicitly Christian language.6 Nevertheless, “religious environmentalism” properly begins in the context of the first waves of 20th-century environmentalism, sparked by the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and fueled by a series of environmental disasters such as the Santa Barbara oil spill (1969), fires on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, dangerous levels of air pollution, and the pollution and eutrophication of Lake Eerie. The growing level of environmental concern that culminated in the protests and celebration of the first Earth Day (1970) was shared by religious individuals and taken up by religious institutions.
Most would agree, however, that many religious organizations were late to the table of modern environmental discourse. The belated religious engagement with environmental threats stemmed from a number of complex influences beginning with the anthropocentrism, a focus on primarily human concerns, which has so frequently dominated both the theology and practices of many religious organizations. Other constraints have included, in more liberal contexts, religious institutions assessing environmental concerns as relatively “low” on their priority list relative to other pressing social concerns (such as various civil rights campaigns) and, in more religiously conservative—and usually Christian—contexts, fears about “paganism” and “nature worship,” both of which are seen as undesirable threats to theological concepts of monotheism and God’s sovereignty. Significant too, especially in Christianity and Islam, has been a traditional theological emphasis on personal salvation and the afterlife as opposed to this-worldly concerns about the condition of the creation. An ongoing theme running through many forms of religious environmentalism is that paying active ethical attention to the this-worldly challenges before us—the state of the natural world and the fate of humans and other creatures in relation to that world—is at the heart of what it means to be religious in the 21st century.
Environmental Concerns as Religious Concerns: Early Voices
While what we now call “eco-theology” did not begin to develop until the 1970s, both religious and “spiritual-but-not-religious” concern for the natural world continued to develop from the mid-19th century forward. The less religious, “post-Christian” voices range from the Transcendentalist writings of Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller to the preservationist campaigns of John Muir to the ethical (and anti-consumerist discourse) of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. At the same time, as Evan Berry argues in Devoted to Nature, the Progressive Era marked a key historical moment, one in which Christian understandings of salvation played a significant role in shaping the fledgling preservation and conservation movements.7
Early in the 20th century, for instance, several influential thinkers advocated for care for the natural world as a Christian responsibility, often as one aspect of the broader Christian call mentioned previously: attention to this-worldly, rather than solely other-worldly or “next worldly” concerns. In a 1914 prayer concerning the fate of the earth, the Social Gospel leader, Walter Rauschenbusch prayed: “Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all the living things, our little brothers, to whom thou hast given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail.”8 With a remarkably prescient voice, Rauschenbusch articulated concerns about anthropocentrism and human hubris that would become prominent themes in much eco-theological writing to come. Similarly, Liberty Hyde Bailey, a prominent horticulturalist, published The Holy Earth in 1915 calling on his readers to think in simultaneously ecological and theological terms.9 In 1939, forester-turned conservationist Walter Lowdermilk expressed similar views, suggesting the creation of an Eleventh Commandment to urge humans to be proper stewards of the earth. Both Bailey and Lowdermilk gave voice to the deep religiously hued American agrarianism that finds continued expression today in theological and ethical movements for food justice, animal protection, and agricultural reform.10 Theologian Howard Thurman, mentor to Martin Luther King, wove a deep sense of nature mysticism into his writings and his attention to the spiritual value of the natural world continues to be inspirational for eco-theologians today.
In the 1930s and 1940s several prominent theologians began to develop theological and ethical arguments directly addressing the fate of the natural world. Paul Tillich, a German theologian who fled to the United States and taught at Union Theological Seminary (from 1933 to 1955), pushed the boundaries of mid-century Christian theological reflection by emphasizing the religious value of the natural world as an expression of God’s goodness. His work was influential for later eco-theologians such as Paul Santmire, Dieter Hessel, Sallie McFague, and Larry Rasmussen whose theological writings (much of them popularized outside of the academy) in turn shaped the environmentally focused religious institutions and movements that we are describing here. Joseph Sittler, a Lutheran theologian who taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School (1957–1973) focused even more specifically on care for nature and many of his more explicitly “ecological” writings and sermons have been recently republished.11 In his most popular theological work, Christ and Culture (1951), H. Richard Niebuhr also insisted that devotion to Christ “in the world” included both the human and nonhuman dimensions of that world. Taken together, the mid-20th-century writing—and, perhaps more significantly, teaching—of Tillich, Sittler, and Niebuhr—all demonstrate a continuation of Christian concern for the natural world that emerged in 18th- and 19th-century America alongside more broadly spiritual expressions of reverence for nature, as seen in Thurman’s writing.
While it is crucial to recognize these earlier precedents, it is clear that religiously grounded responses to environmental degradation did not make a recognizably significant appearance until the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these environmental threats were fueled by postwar enthusiasm for the widespread use of pesticides, atomic energy, and technological fixes for “man’s war with nature,” the political and cultural enthusiasms that provoked Rachel Carson’s environmental writing and also fueled corporate attempts to discredit her work. Not surprisingly, then, concerns about the health of nature were often addressed with attention to these wider cultural forces: especially the growth of the military-industrial complex, the rise of consumerism, and the persistence of patriarchy in the late 20th century.
One of the strongest theological voices to emerge in this period was that of Rosemary Radford Ruether whose New Woman, New Earth (1975) is now widely viewed as the first American, theological, ecofeminist work.12 In it, Ruether demonstrated the extent to which Western culture is dominated by hierarchical and dualistic worldviews and structures of power wherein male cultural dominance is mirrored by (and often directly linked to) human dominance over the natural world. Ruether’s early and ongoing articulation of these ideas would later be echoed by a number of ecofeminist and eco-womanist scholars including Carolyn Merchant, Catherine Keller, Heather Eaton, Karen Baker-Fletcher, Delores Williams, and Melanie Harris. Of particular note is the extensive work of Sallie McFague, beginning with her 1987 Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age and continuing into the present—consistently reconstructing Christian theology to address what she sees as the sins of our time: ecological fragility, the climate crisis, and the forces of overconsumption that have fueled environmental degradation and echoing Ruether in naming patriarchy and dualistic thinking as part of the problem.
Ruether’s concerns about the legacy of Western structures of domination were not the first to target Western philosophy and religion, although it was the first to do so with explicit attention to patriarchy. Prior to Reuther, historians Charles Glacken and Lynn White Jr., philosopher Seyed Hussein Nasr, and biblical scholar Bernard Anderson also made similar observations about the religious underpinnings of anthropocentric worldviews.13 Best known is the medieval historian, Lynn White Jr. whose 1967 speech to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” constituted a blistering critique of the ecological impact of the marriage of science and technology in the modern West, explicitly pointing to the “Judeo-Christian” roots of the worldview that emerged. In a Weberian fashion, White ultimately linked a range of Christian concepts to technological and land use changes, the rise of anthropocentrism in the West, and the resulting significant ecological damage. While theologians and biblical scholars quickly questioned White’s theological analysis, many also praised his broad critique. From a 21st-century perspective, “the Lynn White thesis” has elicited much gratitude, even by those who most disagree with his analysis, for it launched a vigorous religious and scholarly response (and not only a Christian one) that was generative; theologically creative; and, in some cases, directly related to the rise of religiously based environmental activism.
In a follow-up article “Continuing the Conversation” and in subsequent writing over two decades, White clarified his own position as a Christian and further developed a theological rationale for a democracy of all creatures, hoping for the very kind of thoughtful reimagining and reinvigorating of the Christian tradition (and beyond) that his essay originally sparked.14 Evangelical Francis Schaeffer responded quickly, even reprinting the White essay in his Pollution and the Death of Man, while process theologian John Cobb raised the question, “Is it Too Late?” in a 1972 book by that title.15 Forty-five years later, Cobb has continued to argue passionately for a turn toward an “ecological civilization,” often linking up with emerging voices in China, his missionary childhood home, to promote the transformation of both Eastern and Western industrialized countries.
Religious responses to the burgeoning environmental threats of the 1960s and 1970s include more than strictly theological engagement. In this period, a variety of groups formed whose purpose was to engage in both religious reflection and active environmental organizing. In 1963, scientists and theologians came together to form the “Faith-Man-Nature” group that set the stage for innovative and increasingly powerful collaborations between scientists, religious leaders, and scholars of religion and theology. In 1977–78, a year-long seminar at Calvin College met to articulate a “Christian stewardship of natural resources” and published the fruits of these conversations as Earthkeeping.16 Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin biologist Calvin DeWitt, a key participant in the Calvin seminar, transformed a church camp into the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in 1979, an organization that remains lively today, continuing to provide biological field training and environmental education for students in Christian colleges.
Another early precursor to later institution building was the formation of the Eleventh Commandment Fellowship (1980). Founded by Vincent Rossi and Fred Krueger (Krueger would continue to play a significant role in founding a number of religious environmental initiatives), it promoted what Rossi termed the Eleventh Commandment: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: Thou shall not despoil the earth, nor destroy the life thereon” perhaps taking his cue from the earlier statement by Walter Lowdermilk. Particularly in the 1980s, the Eleventh Commandment Fellowship sought to educate a broad, ecumenical population of Christians on the urgency of environmental concerns.17 It also played an instrumental role in organizing the North American Conference of Christianity and Ecology (NACCE) whose first gathering, in August of 1987, brought over 500 people together who collectively represented a wide range of emerging Christian responses. These early gatherings were not without their tensions, however, particularly between conservative Christians and those more influenced by the “creation spirituality” of self-described Catholic “geologian” Thomas Berry and former Catholic Matthew Fox (both will be discussed). Ultimately these tensions became too great and the group quickly split, leading to the founding of the more theologically liberal, and ultimately interreligious organization, The North American Coalition on Religion and Ecology (NACRE).
Institution Building: Protestant Initiatives and Eco-Justice
The 1983 founding of the Eco-Justice Working Group (EJWG) of the National Council of Churches (NCC) marked a watershed year in the story of American religious environmentalism, particularly in its Protestant forms, for it made the connection between religious identity and environmental justice explicit for the thirty-eight, primarily Protestant, but also Eastern Orthodox “member communions” of the NCC.18 The EJWG drew on previous concerns expressed in many denominational statements of the 1970s. In 1974, Presbyterian minister Bill Gibson, active in the civil rights movement, helped found the Eco-Justice Project at Cornell University, which also contributed to the development of the NCC Eco-Justice Working Group. Many within the EJWG were already religious lobbyists in Washington, DC, and in that capacity were able to provide a recognized moral voice on environmental issues in an increasingly conservative, non-environmentally oriented political climate.
From the beginning, the EJWG’s goal was to prioritize issues of race and class as central parts of any environmental discourse. This stance was shaped in part by the broad social justice concerns already held by member denominations, and in part by the emerging environmental justice movement, which began with widely publicized protests against a proposed Warren County, North Carolina, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls, a known carcinogen) landfill in 1982. United Church of Christ (UCC) ministers Reverend Benjamin Chavis and Reverend Charles Lee helped to organize the campaign as part of their work with the UCC Commission for Racial Justice. As a result of this struggle, the NCC and UCC worked to draw attention to environmental justice struggles around the country, issuing the 1986 NCC study “Toxic Pollution in Minority and Low-Income Communities” followed by the landmark 1987 UCC study “Toxic Waste and Race.” This, and two subsequent studies, statistically demonstrated the correlation between the location of hazardous or toxic wastes and communities in low income communities, but especially in communities of color.19 While most environmental justice scholars and activists now point to this protest and report as significant starting points for the environmental justice movement, they often overlook the significant role played by the UCC and other religious groups.
In 1986, the NCC published a formal environmental statement in which it broadly articulated the “unique responsibility of humans to care for creation.”20 It also made the significant connection between eco-justice, the frequently used religious concept; and environmental justice, which would later come to be seen as mainly about human concerns. In a brochure, the EJWG used the language of both, stating that: “Environmental Justice is a holistic term that includes all ministries designed to heal and defend creation. Eco-Justice is an even broader term that includes efforts to assure justice for all of creation and the human beings who live in it.”
In subsequent years, the NCC published numerous statements and resources while also coordinating educational and lobbying efforts addressing a host of topics under the “care for creation” umbrella including biodiversity, endangered species, environmental justice, toxics, genetically modified food, clean water, and climate change. Over time, the NCC and the EJWG founded an office whose sole agenda was eco-justice research and programming, continually making the explicit connection between environmental degradation and those who were most affected by it—women, children, and people of low income or of color. These commitments were reflected in the EJWG’s intentional engagement with various groups in the emerging environmental justice movement, such as the South West Organizing Project (SWOP), the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN, discussed in “Indigenous Voices”), and the 1991 First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. As a result of the 1991 Summit and the principles articulated there, the EPA met with the organizers and on Earth Day 1993, newly elected President Clinton announced an executive order on Environmental Justice (signed in February 1994), which stated that “no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local and tribal programs and policies.”21
In the same period that the EJWG was establishing ties with other justice organizations—particularly those paying attention to the lives and voices of people of color—other leaders, inspired by their faith, established local groups organized by and for communities of color to combat the disproportionate toxicity of their communities as a result of industrial and commercial enterprise. Hazel Johnson of People for Community Recovery (Chicago) and Charlotte Keys of Jesus People Against Pollution (Mississippi) are among many people of color, frequently women, who launched creative religious responses to environmental threats in their communities.
More recently, the understanding of how race, class, and gender shape the environmental questions that do and do not get asked, and of who pays the price for environmental degradation, has expanded to include those who live near fossil fuel extraction sites (and must contend with the environmental and health implications of mountaintop removal, fracking, and pipelines) and those who live near concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOS). Groups such as Christians for the Mountains based in West Virginia, the Commission on Religion in Appalachia, and “fossil free” denominational groups have formed to address these growing concerns and reduce the extraction and use of fossil fuels.22 While some critics have sought to dismiss religious environmentalists as “tree-huggers” and “star-gazers,” or from the right, as “pagans,” or—because of population concerns—hostile to the sanctity of life, it is important to keep in mind that for many people involved in religious environmentalism, a deep concern for justice (especially in terms of race and class) has consistently determined how environmental issues are framed and addressed.
In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, larger forces helped to shape the blossoming of religious environmentalism in the United States. The 1983 World Council of Churches multiyear theme, “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation,” influenced many participating U.S. groups. Pope John Paul II called for environmental concern to be a priority for Catholics in his 1990 World Day of Peace message, and in 1991, the Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (now often referred to as “the Green Patriarch”) declared that the wanton destruction of nature was a sin.23 Meanwhile, astronomer Carl Sagan was instrumental in the 1990 statement “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion,” signed by hundreds of leaders, which stated that “problems of such magnitude and solutions demanding so broad a perspective must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension.”24
Taken together, the pope’s statement, Patriarch Bartholomew’s appeals and initiatives, and Sagan’s collaborative work all influenced the 1993 founding of the highly influential National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) whose other institutional members include the original EJWG (now expanded and reconceived as “Creation Justice Ministries”), the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the Environmental Justice Program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COJEL).25 It is impossible to underestimate the impact of these four constituent groups, for both individually and in collaboration, they have significantly shaped the story of religious environmentalism from the 1990s forward (further discussion of these groups to come). Also in the 1990s, the organizing around the United Nations Summit on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero (1992) coalesced with the emergence of many now stalwart religious environmental organizations, including the founding of the first two intentionally interreligious groups: Earth Ministry and GreenFaith. Many emerging religious environmentalist groups were clearly tied to denominational structures with UCC, Quaker, and Unitarian-Universalist organizations demonstrating particularly long-standing environmental commitments.26 At the same time, many groups operated independently of those structures, focusing instead on particular bioregions and communities or adopting explicitly interreligious goals.
The major Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and interfaith institutions that were founded and gained traction from the mid-1980s onward worked together in innovative and unprecedented ways, demonstrating ecumenical and interreligious cooperation that resembled and often surpassed, the unexpected religious collaborations and cross-pollination that emerged in the civil rights movements of earlier decades. Moreover, these dynamic collaborations also included religious organizations working in tandem with scientists in ways that challenged the false assumptions of a long-standing American culture war between religion and science.
The history of U.S. religious environmentalism has always echoed the complexity, ingenuity, and tensions within American religious history more broadly. For this reason, while we discuss ecumenical and interreligious efforts as being particularly effective, innovative, and inspiring, we also have chosen to tell this history with attention to the distinct voices of various religious groups including not only evangelical, Catholic, and Jewish voices, but also indigenous, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim voices. What follows, then, is a necessarily limited glimpse into the distinct and influential contributions of a wide range of religious groups with attention to the ways religious identity shapes, but also sometimes limits, the character and effectiveness of religious environmentalist responses.
Indigenous Environmental Action
The story of indigenous environmentalist thinking and action is perhaps the most complex and thorny to tell within the broad framework of religious environmentalism. In the context of Native American history, advocacy for the health and well-being of the natural world has always been deeply imbricated in the larger story of centuries of resistance to colonial subjugation of both the land and the indigenous tribes living there. It is highly problematic to characterize native peoples as the “original environmentalists”—although this language is pervasive—for such a stereotype contributes to a larger history of romanticizing native peoples while simultaneously oppressing them, encouraging the disappearance of their languages and forcing them off their original homelands. Not surprisingly, romanticizing the concept of wilderness while simultaneously degrading the natural world is a legacy of colonialism that goes hand in hand with romantic praise and concern for “the vanishing Indian.” Nevertheless, it is certainly true that unflagging attention to the health and thriving of the natural world is, and always has been, at the heart of the lifeways of the hundreds of American Indian tribes and nations that have lived in the distinct bioregions that are politically organized as “the United States” of America.
To the extent that many forms of religious environmentalism build on previous forms of religious activism in earlier movements, particularly Social Gospel and African American civil rights movements, so too can contemporary indigenous environmental activism be said to have its roots in earlier social movements. Much current indigenous organizing on environmental issues can be linked to the earlier American Indian Movement (AIM, founded in 1973) which worked to protect (and regain) native land rights; fight for fair housing; improve health care; preserve native languages; and, most significantly, to renew indigenous spiritual values and practices as the foundation upon which all other legal and civil rights campaigns would be built. Out of AIM came a wide range of tribal and pan-tribal initiatives, none named “environmental” as such, but all of which worked to revitalize the lives of indigenous communities across the country. Even if located in urban settings, these revitalization efforts always engaged tribal spiritual practices and lifeways that, in turn, were inherently connected to sacred lands and to the sacred, nonhuman inhabitants of those lands.
The first explicitly “environmental” pan-tribal organization, The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) was founded in 1990, three years prior to the founding of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and similarly broad in structure and scope in bringing together diverse indigenous voices. As with the Eco-Justice Working Group of National Council of Churches, the IEN articulated an explicit commitment to link environmental issues with quests for social and economic justice.
The Indigenous Environmental Network describes its central goal as one of building “the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.”27 The current work of the IEN includes programs to establish food sovereignty on tribal lands, campaigns against those carbon offset programs that fail to address the problem of emissions; promotion of renewable energy and resistance to oil; and fracked gas pipelines, especially those that threaten sacred lands.
An equally long-standing and vibrant indigenous organization, Honor the Earth, was founded in 1993 by Winona LaDuke—an economics scholar and activist of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and Eastern European Jewish heritage—in cooperation with social activist singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. The stated goals of Honor the Earth are to address “the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.”28 As with the IEN, Honor the Earth has led American indigenous efforts to combat climate change, protect sacred lands and sacred foods, and build cross-cultural ties among indigenous tribes both within and beyond the United States. Honor the Earth has also partnered with other religious environmentalist organizations including the Minnesota state chapter of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), the leading, national interreligious organization working to combat climate change and promote climate justice.
While long recognized in environmental circles, especially those focused on justice and spirituality, the Indigenous Environmental Network gained national prominence in 2016 for the significant role it played in mounting the unprecedented, pan-tribal and multireligious resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. As part of the work of the Indigenous Environmental Network and others, indigenous peoples have joined forces around the globe to protect homelands and offer alternative visions of human-animal-earth relations. Indigenous voices and perspectives also played a key role at the People of Color Environmental Justice Summits, helping to shape the language of the first principle of environmental justice: “the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.”29 In the last decade especially, indigenous peoples have both literally and symbolically embodied their role as “keepers” of the earth and “water protectors” by leading the largest climate marches in the United States. What is perhaps most striking in light of this activism, and which therefore continues to drive that activism, is the extent to which the religious significance of sacred lands has been consistently disregarded by the courts. Despite decades of litigation, both Supreme Court and lower court rulings consistently have failed to interpret the First Establishment clause and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978) in ways that protect sacred lands for religious practices. The environmental consequences of that failure has been the ecological degradation of lands that could have been protected in perpetuity on indisputably religious grounds.
Just as Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish theology has supported the activist work of the religious organizations already described, so too have writers such as Vine Deloria, Jace Weaver, George Tinker, and Andrea Smith—as well as LaDuke—guided the indigenous activism in America. In addition, the work of scholars such as Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Karen Baker-Fletcher, Melanie Harris, and groups such as the Center for Earth Ethics, GreenFaith’s Neddy Astudillo, and Faith in Place’s Veronica Kyle have helped black and brown religionists reconnect with African, Latin American, and North American indigenous roots to undergird a reverence for the interconnected web of life and the sacred value of earth.30
Sacramental Environmentalism: Catholic Responses
The May 2015 publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter Laudato Si (“Praise Be To You”): On Care for Our Common Home, struck many Americans as a new and quite unexpectedly Catholic response to climate change and related ecological threats, while others hailed it for its synthesis of a breadth of Catholic concerns in relation to the environment.31 The encyclical articulates an “integral ecology,” influenced by science, liberation theology, environmental justice, and a critique of the consumerism and inequality of current economic structures. In the encyclical, Pope Francis articulates a significantly more interconnected and sacramental vision of the universe compared to the anthropocentric focus of his predecessors arguing that “each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love.” Echoing St. Francis, whose name the Pope chose, the encyclical observes, “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” The encyclical does not shy from the urgency of responding to environmental degradation and the threat of climate change, while also offering gratitude for the fullness of creation.
When placed in historical context, however, the publication of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter is best understood as a recent, particularly powerful moment in a long, steady push to develop a distinctly Catholic response to environmental threats, particularly climate change. This response can be mapped onto the larger history and structure of Catholicism in America, both in terms of tensions within the Catholic hierarchy and in terms of the strong social justice tradition in American Catholicism as exemplified by the peace and justice activism of Daniel and Phillip Berrigan and the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day; and more recently, Catholic ecofeminists such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elizabeth Johnson.
In the context of “top down” Catholic structures of authority, the publication of Laudato Si was a truly landmark event in Catholic environmental thinking and action. As such, it generated controversy in the United States where more conservative Catholics tend to be aligned with Republican interests that often include the intertwined stances of support of the fossil fuel industry and skepticism about anthropogenic global warming. What is less widely known, both within and beyond the Catholic community, is the extent to which concern for the fate of nature in general, and climate change in particular, was articulated not only by Pope Francis, but also by the two prior Popes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II respectively. As early as 1990, in his World Day of Peace Message (“The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility”) John Paul II referred to global warming as reaching “crisis proportions” and placed the blame on a society focused on “instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage of the which these cause” while simultaneously addressing “the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world.”32 By addressing environmental threats in this way, John Paul (as well as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis after him), put forth a recognizably Catholic form of environmental thinking that sidestepped the question of population control, emphasized human interests, and articulated a critique of capitalism that harks back to the significant precedent set by Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), the first modern encyclical to emphasize the moral limits of capitalism. Pope Benedict’s 2010 World Day of Peace Message “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation” echoed and explicitly marked the anniversary of Pope John Paul’s message of twenty years prior.33
Nevertheless, while the two popes prior to Pope Francis clearly put concern for creation high on their agendas for cultural and spiritual reform, neither of them elevated environmental concerns as much as Pope Francis did when he chose to issue a papal encyclical, the highest level of papal pronouncements. Moreover, in the North American context, a series of formal pastoral letters from regional bishops helped first to generate and then to maintain a powerful Catholic voice of environmental concern. Most notable was the 2001 International Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Washington State and British Columbia, “The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good,” which stood out in two ways: first, by defining its geographic range according to bioregional and watershed terms, not political boundaries; and second, by paying close attention to the indigenous history of the region, as well as the current economic needs and spiritual priorities expressed by indigenous peoples and other stakeholders.34
What is particularly striking about U.S. Catholic environmental efforts, however, is the extent to which the strong and clear ecological messages of the last three popes have not notably transformed life on the parish level, despite the long efforts of the UCCSB-Environmental Justice Program; climate-related reporting in Catholic publications such as America and the National Catholic Reporter; and more recently, the education and activism of the Catholic Climate Covenant (founded in 2006). Research demonstrates that explicit environmental discourse and action on the part of priests or other leaders in the Church has been weak compared to the work of Mainline Protestants at the congregational and denominational level, although recent surveys have shown that Hispanic Catholics have the highest level of Christian concern over climate change, and are the most likely of Christian groups to have heard an environmental message from the pulpit (with white Catholics the least likely).35
Much Catholic activity, however, has flourished outside the parish. Many religious orders, such as the Franciscans, the Benedictines, and the Dominicans, inspired by the worldviews and practices of their founders, have worked on a variety of environmental issues, including greening their own buildings and lands. Many within the big umbrella of U.S. Catholicism, and beyond, have been inspired by the eco-theological writing and activism of former Dominican friar Matthew Fox and the Institute for Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality, drawing on early and medieval Christian roots, focuses on the presence of God in the universe (termed panentheism, but also sacramentalism) and the tradition of the Cosmic Christ, rooted in the New Testament book of Colossians. The central tenets of creation spirituality include fostering a contemplative stance toward the natural world, opening oneself up to the wonder, awe, and blessings given through the universe and cultivating the joy and creativity that stems from spiritual practice. The themes articulated in and through creation spirituality have more recently been picked up by the popular American speaker on spirituality, Franciscan Richard Rohr.
Even more influential has been the work of Father Thomas Berry, a Passionist Priest whose books such as, The Dream of the Earth and The Universe Story inspired tens of thousands (Catholics, ex-Catholics, people from many faith traditions, and nonreligious alike) to rethink their place in the world with reference to the cosmological story of the birth of the universe.36 Berry—a self-described “geologian”—combined his training in world religions and his deep respect for science to retell the scientific story of the Big Bang and the evolutionary process in a way that emphasized the arrival of humans at the tail end of a grand story that is both scientific and sacred. In so doing, he argued that the Bible should be “put on the shelf for twenty years” so that Christians could develop a sense of wonder in response to the physical world that the Bible and theology could not fully evoke. Berry’s awakening came not only from his attention to “the numinous” in nature that he described as being significant in his childhood, but also to his recognition of the earth as a beautiful and vulnerable “blue marble” in space—the classic image of earth, influential for millions, that was generated by the Apollo 8 space mission in 1968. For Berry, “the new story” of the universe is one that evokes both human humility and the human potential to recognize once again our place in the world as just one part of an expression of God, but a part that bears responsibility for the welfare of all. While the actual cultural universality of this “universal genesis story,” has been questioned by some, Berry’s work has remained enormously influential in advocating that studying the universe and all within it, allows one to go back to sacred texts and traditions with new eyes.
Thomas Berry’s thought has inspired a wide range of achievements in religious environmentalism including the 1985 Assisi Declarations on religion and ecology; the Earth Charter; and the Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE), founded by two of Thomas Berry’s students, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim.
FORE was founded after a series of ten conferences sponsored by Harvard University in 1996–1998, later published as a book series, World Religions and Ecology, which investigated ecological perspectives and actions grounded in the religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as in indigenous traditions around the world. Tucker and Grim went on to become significant catalysts for religion and ecology globally, including making the documentary (with mathematician/philosopher Brian Swimme), Journey of the Universe—based on their ongoing extensions and interpretations of Thomas Berry’s work. Tucker and Grim have had a strong influence on public education as well, offering free online courses—with over 16,000 enrolled—based on various aspects of their extensive religion and ecology work.37 The cumulative work of FORE, often in conjunction with members of the Religion and Ecology Group of the American Academy of Religion, has played an unprecedented role not only in stimulating the rise and growth of scholarly engagement with religious worldviews, but also in encouraging religiously grounded ecological activism around the globe.
Taken together the work of Fox and Berry has had a significant impact on Catholic religious orders, particularly on Catholic women religious who have been a major greening force, a phenomenon documented in Sarah McFarland Taylor’s Green Sisters.38 Most notable is the work of Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis, of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey, who founded Genesis Farm in 1980 on land bequeathed to the order. Not only did the sisters develop this land as an early demonstration of community supported agriculture, they also saw it as a demonstration plot for teaching eco-literacy and embodying creation spirituality as articulated by Fox and Berry. Sister Miriam, and others, have taught thousands around world, many of whom came to study at Genesis Farm. Many women religious such as the Sisters of Loretta and the Sisters of Mercy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—both members of the larger Sisters of Earth network—have taken strong stances on climate change, protested fracking and pipelines, practiced sustainability in all aspects of their daily lives, and incorporated eco-theologies into their rituals and prayers.39 Of particular note is the founding of Green Mountain Monastery in Vermont—where Thomas Berry is buried—an entirely new religious order grounded in Catholic eco-theology.
Evangelical Environmentalism: Tensions and Innovations
As the early writings of Calvin Dewitt and Francis Schaeffer make clear, Christian evangelical voices spoke to the challenge of anthropocentrism and the virtue of stewardship early on in religious environmentalist conversations. Nevertheless, there was little general awareness of an evangelical presence in environmentalist discourse until the Evangelical Environmental Network was formed in 1993 as a constituent group of NRPE. At the time of NRPE’s founding, EEN garnered the most headlines of the four constituent groups because it was the most “unexpected” one to emerge, unexpected because of the assumptions that many non-evangelicals held about evangelical politics and priorities. Nevertheless, the work of the EEN has prepared the ground for a range of evangelical groups who focus on creation care, including the U.S. branch of A Rocha, Blessed Earth, and its associated organization that seeks to transform evangelical theological education, the Seminary Stewardship Alliance.
With the growth of evangelical environmental organizations has also come the challenge of maintaining a distinctly evangelical voice, one that is at once familiar and reassuring to a broader evangelical audience and, at the same time, demonstrates the evangelical commitment to witnessing to the broader religiously pluralistic and secular world. The EEN’s 1994 Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation articulates many of the hallmarks of an evangelical approach: It affirms the “full authority of Scriptures,” calls for an ethic of stewardship that is grounded in the Genesis commandment to “till and keep the garden,” and echoes the language of a 1970 National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) resolution: “Today those who thoughtlessly destroy a God-ordained balance of nature are guilty of sin against God’s creation.”40 Addressing the anthropocentrism that many see in Christianity, or the notion that nature is inherently “fallen” and therefore not of concern, the EEN statement declares that “The Creator’s concern is for all creatures. God declares all creation “good” (Gen. 1:31); promises care in a covenant with all creatures (Gen. 9:9–17); delights in creatures which have no human apparent usefulness (Job 39–41); and wills, in Christ, 'to reconcile all things to himself' (Col. 1:20).”41
Whether directly or indirectly, most evangelical statements of environmental concern, or "creation care," seek to counter the claim put forth by “wise-use stewards” that environmental concern is “pagan,” and that working on climate change, or concern for environmental degradation shows doubt in the omnipotence of God. Thus, green evangelicals ground their work with detailed biblical foundations that provides a clear moral authority to address what others view as purely scientific matters. While many conservative, creationist Christians distrust science, EEN cofounder Dr. Cal DeWitt calls conservative Christians who do not care about the creation “creationless creationists” and speaks of the story of Noah as the first Endangered Species Act (ESA). Indeed, the work of evangelicals played a central role in the successful 1996 religious campaign to prevent the rollback of the ESA.42
The EEN also maintained its distinctive evangelical voice by grounding its approach in the familiar exhortation of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself,” asking followers to connect environmental degradation with the ill health of others, such as in their campaign on the effects of mercury poisoning on the unborn. This focus informed their work with the National Association of Evangelicals on a broad-ranging position paper entitled “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility” and their work with the Evangelical Climate Initiative. This important work was led by Richard Cizik, then vice president for Governmental Affairs of the NAE, who credited his “conversion” on climate to a long walk with Sir John Houghton, the Welsh evangelical climate scientist who cochaired the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Evangelical Climate Initiative’s 2006 “Call to Action on Climate Change” was signed by over 300 Evangelical leaders, including well-known pastors Joel Hunter and Rick Warren, the heads of key evangelical seminaries (Fuller, North Park, Gordon Conwell) and several writers from Christianity Today, which has supported the inclusion of environmental issues since at least 1980. That campaign soon met vociferous opposition from the fledgling Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), joined by leaders of the Christian Right who, although not members of the NAE, demanded (ultimately successfully in 2008) Cizik’s resignation.
The tensions inherent in evangelical environmental efforts, particularly around climate change, are not apt to disappear in the near future. Despite a drop in evangelical support in the wake of the attacks on the Evangelical Climate Initiative—and in part due to the rise of climate denialism on the political and Christian right—the EEN, in 2016, had grown to be able to claim an outreach to over 800,000 evangelicals. With each step forward, however, push-back from within the evangelical world has continued apace. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical and respected climate scientist, has become one of the leading Christian speakers urging action on climate change, but for this work she has routinely received death threats. Of particular note in terms of resistance to the evangelical environmentalism just described is the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, previously known as the ISA or the Interfaith Council on Environmental Stewardship, which is closely aligned with the goals of the “Wise Use Movement.”
Christian wise-use stewards emphasize that humans have dominion, and that creation was put here for human betterment. As such, it should be freely managed, improved and used by humans. Wise-use stewards promote understanding environmental issues from a free-market, property rights perspective, one that is primarily positioned against legislation for environmental protection. Such a stance includes opposing restrictions on the use of public lands (including paying grazing fees, or restricting mining and drilling) under the rationale that land owners know best how to care for their land. In a similar spirit, advocates of an anthropocentric, wise-use perspective are committed to undoing Environmental Protection Agency regulations and de-listing endangered species.43
What became the Cornwall Alliance was founded in 2005 as a result of the 2000 Cornwall (CT) Declaration on Environmental Stewardship written at a gathering hosted by the Acton Institute of Religion and Liberty (which has received financial support from Exxon Mobile Corporation), to counter the 1994 Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation. Led by Dr. Calvin Beisner, whose PhD is in Scottish History, the Cornwall Alliance has issued many statements proffering an alternative evangelical environmental perspective, but particularly promoting climate science uncertainty, sowing seeds of doubt to prevent action, a move drawn from the playbook of the tobacco industry. The Cornwall Alliance also consistently attempts to discredit the environmental movement and particularly religious environmentalists, as dangerous to capitalism, democracy and freedom. Cornwall put together a twelve-part video series and subsequent book called “Resisting the Green Dragon,” both of which argue that the environmental movement is one of the “greatest threats to society and the church” in its desire for “a global government” as seen in United Nations Climate Accord. In the preview trailer, Dr. James Tonkowich of the Cornwall Alliance warns that “whoever controls the environmental regulations, controls the economy, controls the population,” thereby implying that abortion is a means that environmentalists will use to greatly reduce the population. A more recent one-hour documentary declares “Where the Grass is Greener: Biblical Stewardship vs. Climate Alarmism.”
In addition to their skepticism about anthropogenic climate change and antagonism toward the United Nations, environmental groups, the National Council of Churches, and the accomplishments of the Obama administration, groups such as Cornwall, and the Acton Institute promote a version of “trickle down,” laissez-faire capitalism in Christian evangelical terms. They argue that wealth is God’s blessing, and that natural resources, such as oil and coal, are gifts from God, buried treasures so to speak, that God desires people to use. Arguing that environmental regulations always restrict growth and hurt the poor, wise-use advocates emphasize deregulated free-market approaches as the best way to help the poor. In contrast, the EEN and other evangelical environmental organizations such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) all express Christian concern for the poor—“the least of these”—by raising awareness of the impact of global climate change on the most vulnerable. In the United States, religiously based anti-environmental discourse is most prominent among in the context of the Christian right and, as such, is discussed here under evangelicalism. There are, however, many active Catholics and Jews who are affiliated with Cornwall and other wise-use and free enterprise groups, all of which speak under the banner of promoting religious liberty.
In the context of American evangelical culture, traditional evangelical language and framing clearly continue to be deployed by all sides of the environmental divide. While internal tensions are apparent in many religious environmentalist contexts, in the evangelical world they are often particularly prominent, reflecting both the extent to which evangelicalism is a big tent with room for a range of theologically countervailing forces, but also the potential for intrareligious and political polarization. In this sense, evangelical environmentalism reflects the complex, long-standing impact evangelicalism has had on U.S. culture.
Religious Environmental Work in Black and Hispanic Communities
Despite the earlier evangelical work on climate change, by 2014 climate denial had become the clear stance of the Christian Right, but when attention is paid to theologically conservative voices other than those of conservative white Protestants and Catholics, previously neglected stories of religious environmentalism emerge. In terms of climate change, for instance, a 2014 survey conducted by the Public Religious Research Institute (PRRI) found that Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants—who resemble white evangelicals on measures of religiosity, biblical literalism, belief in end times, and human dominion—were the two religious groups most concerned about climate change, reflecting their understanding of how climate change could most affect not only themselves, but others living in similar communities. By contrast, the PRRI study revealed that white evangelicals were the least concerned about climate change at only 35 percent, although white Catholics (41 percent) and white Protestants (43 percent) scored only slightly higher, compared to 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 58 percent of black Protestants. Correspondingly, Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants were the most likely to have heard an environmental message from the pulpit.44
Many who were made aware of this study expressed surprise over these numbers, reflecting the common impression that Christian environmentalism is predominantly a “white issue.” But this impression leaves out the long history of black and Hispanic environmental concern, often with religious contours. As has been noted previously, environmental concern among people of color often has been more focused on issues of economic and environmental justice than on wilderness preservation or endangered species protection, reflecting the language of the environmental justice movement’s definition of the environment as “where we live, work and play.” A broad discussion of environmental justice must also include the extent to which African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color historically have had limited access to both wilderness setting and membership on the boards of leading environmental organizations. At the same time, one finds exclusion of a different kind when considering the extent to which the secular orientation of the environmental justice movement has often overlooked the role of religious motivations in groups such as Coalition Against Nuclear Trash in Louisiana, or the Newtown Florist Club of Georgia. In this sense, black and brown religious environmentalism corrects both the absence of black and brown voices and the absence of attention to religion in environmentalist discourse.
Not surprisingly, the work of religious environmentalism in black and Latinx communities often includes fighting pollution, and more recently, climate change activism. In addition, religious environmental work in these Christian contexts occurs in both conservative and liberal communities. For instance, many large progressive UCC Black Churches in Chicago are models of how to include a range of environmental concerns into the life of the church including renewable energy, recycling, community gardens, farmers’ markets, species habitat restoration, as well as more familiar forms of environmental justice work. The work of these Black UCC Churches reflects the long history of UCC engagement in environmental activism and it is fitting that the first “Green the (Black) Church” summit was held at the largely African American Trinity UCC megachurch in Chicago.
Attention to race and ethnicity is also explicit in the successful “Migration and Me” program of the multifaceted Chicago interfaith environmental group Faith in Place.45 This program connects the migration story of congregants and their desire for familiar foods, with the need for certain plant species for migrating monarch butterflies and birds. Although not the only organization, Faith in Place provides a model for efforts to overcome the alienation often felt by people of color when predominantly white environmental groups fail to understand the historical and social contexts that shape some racial/ethnic attitudes toward nature.
As with the evangelical story, the story of black and Latinx religious environmentalism, although not always Christian, is rife with inherent tensions and negotiations. For instance, there are many antecedents for a deep connection to pastoral and wilderness forms of nature among African Americans, from the African cosmologies and rituals that remained crucial to the spiritual identities of enslaved Africans, to Harriet Tubman’s intimate knowledge of the natural environment that enabled her to successfully lead escaped slaves to freedom, to theologian Howard Thurman’s rich nature spirituality. Much African American literature also emphasizes the rural roots of many blacks who migrated north, often expressing profound nostalgia for the landscapes and food ways of the rural South. At the same time, the inextricable links between agrarian settings and plantation-based slavery, as well as the fact that woods and swamps were where “bad things” happened to blacks has led to an understandable ambivalence toward rural and wild nature in some African American communities.46 That ambivalence is often furthered by experiences of limited access to larger, wilder spaces and an inability to escape the constraints of urban living, including environmental threats. As Carolyn Finney argues in Black Faces, White Spaces, the lack of faces of color in depictions of outdoor recreation, or in the advertising and programming of the national park system, has created a self-perpetuating cycle where “white outdoor spaces” stay white despite a growing desire for the situation to be otherwise. In addition, Finney warns against the language of victimization that emerges when well-intentioned environmentalists think only of toxic urban locals in discussions of environmentalism and race.47
Both within and beyond many black and Latinx communities, then, environmental activism and concern for nature often has been fraught and subject to stereotyping, but is slowly starting to change. One of Martin Luther King’s “lieutenants,” Rev. Gerald Durley, sums up the tensions: “I could not make the connections initially between my community and polar bears, so I began to read about it . . . I saw the land as being all of us, as one. If God can create a climate where animals and plants and human beings work together, we have a responsibility to try to maintain that balance. That’s when the ‘conversion’ really hit me.”48 Other black religious leaders are also increasingly becoming more environmentally engaged. In 2009, Rev. Durley challenged Atlanta Black Church leaders to preach fifty Earth Day sermons and in 2007, in an Apostolic Missive, Bishop Charles Blake of the Church of God in Christ (Pentecostal, and one of the largest black denominations) called for increasing church leadership concerning environmental threats.49 More recently, in 2016, ten thousand black clergy and religious leaders signed a statement that described “climate change as a moral issue and one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, particularly for black and other marginalized communities. Breathing dirty, carbon-polluted air, that causes climate change contributes to thousands of asthma attacks, hospital visits, and premature deaths every year.”50 This shift is aided by the increasing number of black liberation theologians who draw on the work of eco-womanists Delores Williams and Melanie Harris or who build on the work of theologian James Cone, who asked black and white readers alike to ponder the question, “Whose Earth is it Anyway?”51
Latinx involvement is also growing, especially with respect to the impacts of climate change, as polls show a high level of support for the environment and a positive response to Laudato Si, which was heavily influence by the work of Latin American liberation theologians Leonardo Boff and Ivone Gebara. Many religious environmental organizations, such as Faith in Place, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Blessed Earth, and GreenFaith have launched environmental outreach efforts particularly geared to Hispanic audiences. In various regions of the western United States, for example, Hispanic pastors, many of whom are Pentecostal, formed the Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance stemming from their work to reduce water consumption and preserve the Colorado River. The group has since organized support for protecting the Grand Canyon, the California Desert, and preserving other western landscapes.
As in other religious sectors discussed here, the work of religiously identified Latinx environmental activists is often influenced or complemented by the groundbreaking work of liberation theologians, or by ecofeminists such as Elaine Noguera-Godsey, or one of the founders of mujerista theology, Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz.
In the Latinx context, as with other religious environmentalist groups, the territory is complex, especially when traditionally liberal and conservative theological views sometimes compete for political and cultural influence. When Reverend Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition stated “We think that poverty, economic inequality, and the environment are just as important moral issues as abortion, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage,” he attested to the complexity of bringing together both historically liberal and conservative theological stances under the same cultural tent.52
Tikkun Olam: The Jewish Work of World Repair
Over the past three decades, American Jewish responses to environmental degradation and climate change have been articulated most often in language of Tikkun Olam, “the repair of the world.” The idea of Tikkun Olam has its origins in the both Rabbinic and kabbalistic texts and its contemporary use partially echoes the kabbalistic cosmology of Isaac Luria (16th century), who calls upon humans to retrieve and reconnect the holy sparks of divine light that are scattered on and in the earth. In American Jewish discourse, the work of Tikkun Olam is no longer primarily characterized by its mystical origins but has long referred to a wide range of social justice initiatives. In environmental contexts, this notion of “world repair” is not simply metaphoric, but quite literal. Just as American Jews were notably active in the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, so too have Jews (especially self-defined “cultural, but not religious” ones) been involved in the first waves of environmentalism in the 1970s. It was not until the late 1980s, however, that specifically Jewish environmental organizations came into existence.
Shomrei Adamah, founded by Ellen Bernstein in 1988, was the first American Jewish organization created specifically to address environmentalism and to give voice to the many Jews who cared passionately about ecological issues, but never saw them conceptualized as being also “Jewish” concerns. Having not found what she was looking for—an organization that brought Judaism and ecology together—Bernstein stepped forward to create it. While the organization closed its doors in 1996, at its high point, Shomrei Adamah had ten local chapters, three thousand members, and had produced several significant books including Let the Earth Teach You Torah (1992) and Ecology and the Jewish Spirit (1996).
Founded in 1993, The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was the fourth constituent organization of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the only non-Christian one. While COEJL stepped into the religious environmentalism conversation later than many of the Protestant groups previously mentioned, its founding was distinctive in two ways. First, by being a Jewish organization it offered a perspective that was theologically linked to Christian environmental conversations while clearly being the voice of a minority—and historically oppressed—population in the United States. Secondly, in a country and cultural where Jewish identity is fluid, pluralistic, and often a source of contention, COEJL, from its very founding, distinguished itself as a Jewish organization that brought together a wide range of Jews, both those associated with particular movements within American Judaism (Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox, and beyond) and those who identified as “culturally Jewish” but not religious. In its founding document, COEJL spoke to its broad reach across the American Jewish landscape: “We, American Jews of every denomination, from diverse organizations and differing political perspectives, are united in deep concern that the quality of human life and the earth we inhabit are in danger . . . As heirs to a tradition of stewardship that goes back to Genesis and that teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of Creation, we cannot accept the escalating destruction of our environment and its effect on human health and livelihood.”53
COEJL’s work continues to organized around two primary goals: to educate Jews about how and why “the environment is a Jewish issue” and to build capacity to influence policy at national and regional levels. The educational component, while present in every religiously based environmental organization, is here tied specifically to the Jewish tradition of study itself as a religious practice, going back to the ancient “go and study” exhortation of Rabbi Hillel.
In the decades since its founding, COEJL has organized several national campaigns: Operation Noah (focusing on endangered species), the Clean Car Campaign (focusing on carbon emission standards), and a broad-reaching Climate Change Campaign with both educational and activist dimensions. Of particular note, is COEJL’s Greening Synagogues Campaign, which parallels those of many religious groups, by encouraging attention to environmental issues on a synagogue-by-synagogue basis. In Jewish contexts, this has led to clergy weaving earth-care themes into d’varim Torah (sermons) and liturgy, as well as congregation-based practices such as replacing the ner tamid (the eternal light that sits above the ark contain the Torah Scrolls) with a solar powered ner tamid and sourcing foods from local, organic farms, or growing food directly on the synagogue premises.
While COEJL has been particularly successful with lobbying and congregation-level outreach, Hazon (“vision”), founded by Nigel Savage in 2000, has emerged as a leading environmental organization whose focus is more on providing transformational, multigenerational experiences for Jews of all backgrounds with the intention of changing social norms one person at a time. Core to the mission of Hazon is the conviction “that Jewish tradition comes alive when we engage with some of the most important issues of our time such as environmental sustainability, the challenge of living healthily [and] the question of where our food comes from.”54 Over the years, Hazon has expanded to become an umbrella organization for a wide range of Jewish ecological initiatives that range from retreats and food conferences to long-distance bicycle rides that simultaneously interweave fundraising for environmental organizations with ecologically themed Shabbat weekends and Jewish teaching on ethical environmental practices.
A third Jewish nonprofit, The Shalom Center, is devoted to peace work in its broadest sense (from the root meaning of shalom as both “peace” and “wholeness”). Early on, the Shalom Center’s founder, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, coined the term “Global Scorching” to emphasize the harsh realities of the climate change future and the work of the Shalom Center has made climate activism central to its mission. The Shalom Center describes its work as being both that of a “tug boat” helping to pull existing Jewish organizations into more active engagement in environmental and social justice work and as a “seed bed” planting new initiatives, in each case committing to an approach that is “deep and systemic” examining the structures of power that have led to the wars, injustices, and environmental crises of the 20th and 21st centuries.55 In addition to founding the Shalom Center, Waskow served as editor for the two-volume anthology, The Torah of the Earth, pulling together the work of scholars, clergy, writers, and activists to examine the long history of Jewish commentary and ritual practices that articulate what ethical human-God-nature relationships might look like, both in texts and on the ground.56
A student of Waskow’s, Evonne Marzouk, was deeply influenced by the American Jewish Renewal movement (founded by Waskow’s teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi), particularly the emphasis on ecological issues within the context of Jewish ethics.
Marzouk ultimately embarked on an Orthodox spiritual path, but she took with her the ecological ethics that Rabbi Waskow and others had taught her. Together with Orna Sheinson and other colleagues, she cofounded and served as the first executive director of what might be the most “unexpected” Jewish ecology organization, Canfei Nesharim (“On Eagles Wings”), the only organization dedicating to developing an ecological voice that speaks to and for Orthodox Jews. Canfei Nesharim has encountered both surprise and resistance in ways that resonate with the reception of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Like the EEN, Canfei Nesharim has had to articulate carefully the ways in which it is distinct from more liberal eco-religious organizations (whether Jewish or otherwise). The organization uses the phrase “sustainable living, inspired by Torah” to characterize its mission, pays careful attention to framing its activities in ways that work for Orthodox Jews who live according to strict interpretations of halakha (Jewish law), and serves primarily Orthodox synagogues and communities. As with the EEN, Canfei Nesharim seeks to educate its followers about the importance of science, especially in terms of climate change and tries to mediate what it sees as false assumptions about the “religion versus science” divide.
As with the wide range of Christian ecological groups discussed above, eco-Jewish organizations have given new life to ancient texts, ethical practices, and ritual traditions, both by expanding the conceptual reach of these ideas and practices to include the fate of the natural world and by uncovering the ecological and agricultural dimensions of sacred texts and rituals. Because Judaism, like Christianity, has often distinguished itself as a religious tradition where “God acts through history,” Jewish holidays, such as Passover, have generally emphasized the historical story of God’s covenant with the Israelites. This emphasis on history, however, has often correspondingly diminished the agricultural roots of these holidays: the barley festival at Passover time, the wheat and “first fruit” harvests in early summer on Shavuot—which marks the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. By contrast, the observance of Sukkot (the full harvest festival) has largely preserved its ancient identity as an agricultural festival. Nevertheless, in eco-Jewish circles, Sukkot has become an occasion not only to celebrate the divine gift of a bountiful harvest, but also to pay attention to the fragility of the earth, especially in the face of the climate crisis.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Seasons of Our Joy (1981) marked an early step in retrieving the nature-oriented dimensions of the Jewish tradition. Similarly, Ellen Bernstein’s more recent The Splendor of Creation (2005) reinterprets the first two chapters of Genesis with a focus on the ecological complexity at work in these ancient creation stories. Weaving together both scholarship and personal reflection, Bernstein focuses on healing “the great divide” between mind and body, head and heart, and humans and nature.57
In the realm of rethinking traditional concepts and re-practicing Jewish ritual, several examples stand out. One is the vast conceptual expansion of the Jewish ethical principle Bal Taschit (do not destroy), which has its roots in the biblical injunction not to destroy fruit bearing trees in times of war. Many ecologically minded Jews and eco-Jewish organizations have focused on Bal Taschit as a primary ethical foundation for asserting that eliminating toxics, protecting endangered species, and combating climate change are fundamentally Jewish issues. Similarly, the late winter/early spring holiday of Tu B’shevat—originally marking a “tax day” having to do with the age of trees—has enjoyed a rich ecological renaissance and is now often referred to as “the Jewish Earth Day,” featuring ritual meals that echo the structure of the Passover seder, with an emphasis not only on the value of trees, but on the entire wider web of life.
Similarly, the ethical principle Tzaar Baalei Chayyim, the injunction against cruelty to animals, has significantly impacted Jewish conversations about vegetarianism and the moral and ecological harm created by factory farms. More broadly, the concept of “eco-kosher” (first coined by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in the 1970s) has been developed as a way of re-framing traditional understanding of Jewish dietary laws to raise questions about ethical food practices, or even choices about transportation choices and uses of technology. In each case, the term “eco-Kosher” asks Jews to consider the ecological and social justice consequences of what they regularly consume.
Lastly, and particularly important in eco-Jewish initiatives pertaining to food and agriculture, has been renewed attention to observing the Sabbath—the hallmark of Jewish identity and ritual—as an ecological practice. While “observing the Sabbath” is interpreted widely and variously in the pluralistic world of American Judaism, it is commonly understood as a time of being, not doing, when human impact on the world is brought to a minimum. Attention to the Sabbath as a ritual observance with profound ecological potential has also included a renewed emphasis on the observance of shmita (release) on the Sabbatical (seventh) year. While the extent of both ancient and contemporary observance of shmita is up for debate, the traditional commandment is for land to lie fallow and debts to be released, the emphasis being on the principle that land belongs to no human person, but only to God. In the shmita year of 5774 (2014), Hazon spearheaded an extensive social action campaign calling Jews to consider seriously what shmita might mean in a time of both climate crisis and a growing economic disparity between rich and poor.
In addition to the work of Arthur Waskow and Ellen Bernstein, the theological, scholarly, and leadership work of Rabbi Arthur Green, Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Hava Tirosh Samuelson, and Rabbi David Seidenberg all have influenced the thinking and on-the-ground actions of eco-Jewish organizations and initiatives. In most cases, the creative contributions of these scholars, activists, and eco-theologians can be traced back to the significant impact Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has had on contemporary American Judaism.
Whether in innovative theology, the founding of new organizations, or the reimagining of ancient texts and tradition, what has distinguished Jewish ecological initiatives is their ability to speak to a wide range of Jews and to speak across the long-standing divisions within American Judaism. In so doing, eco-Judaism illuminates a common and hopeful theme in religious environmentalism at both national and regional levels: concern for the health of the natural world and for the social justice issues linked to environmental threat—particularly global climate change—are concerns that unify those who might otherwise stay separated both among and within particular faith traditions.
Emerging Engagement: Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist Voices
Although philosopher and historian of science Sayeed Hussein Nasr came to similar conclusions as Lynn White in his 1968 The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man, U.S. Muslim environmental activism began much later than Jewish and Christian environmentalism. The DC Green Muslims were founded in 2007 followed shortly by the Green Muslims of New Jersey and on the heels of the formation of the Wisconsin Green Muslims. Despite their comparatively later arrival at the religious environmentalist table, by 2015, Muslims had established themselves as significant voices in interfaith environmental activity in the United States with interfaith groups such as GreenFaith, Faith in Place, and state IPL organizations all making it their priority to work with Muslim communities.
An underlying theme of Muslim environmentalism is that of welcome and innovation. In the aftermath of 9/11, the interfaith nature of religious environmental activism provided a welcoming space for Muslims that they often did not feel elsewhere. In turn, Muslim environmentalism itself has often provided a space for women’s leadership, as leadership of a Muslim organization is not seen as religious activity as such and is therefore permissible for women. The leadership team of the Washington, DC-based Green Muslims, for instance, is primarily staffed by women including the Interim Executive Director Asma Mahdi and her predecessor Sarah Jawaid.
Muslim environmental groups resemble their Jewish and Christian counterparts both in terms of the necessity of responding to critiques of theological anthropocentrism and in their consistent focus on justice. As with the eco-religious groups described earlier, a primary focus of the environmentally active Muslims is educating co-religionists on the theological bases for environmental concern and action. In that vein, the DC Green Muslims host a “Green Scripture Project” on their web page where they invite readers to contribute verses from the Qu’ran or portions of Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) that might pertain to contemporary understandings of environmental ethics. Significantly, this is not a “top down” project headed by clergy, but an outreach effort designed to encourage Muslims of all ages and backgrounds to learn about the environmental ethics that are implicit in their tradition, while simultaneously developing a sense of connection to Islam and to their identities as Muslims. Especially for younger second- and third-generation Muslims, some of whom have stepped away from the faith and practices of their parents, the emergence of “Muslim environmentalism” has often brought them back into a more positive relationship with Islam, a trend that also has been documented in the context of eco-Jewish responses to environmental threats.
Islamic environmental thinking and action is based in part on the concept of humans as Khalifah, or vice regents. Not unlike Christian environmentalists’ emphasis on the concept of stewardship (beginning with God's call for humans to be stewards of the Garden of Eden), Islamic focus on the notion of Khalifah, stresses the extent to which humans are tasked with a responsibility to work with and for Allah in caring for the earth. The significance of humans’ role as Khalifah is strengthened by the Qu’ranic understanding that the earth itself is a mosque—a mosque more fundamental then any human-built structure—filled with Allah’s presence (tawhid) and inviting prayer and care. Environmentally oriented Muslims also often emphasize the extent to which the natural world is filled with ayat, or signs of God, just as verses of the Qu’ran are referred to as ayat.
In ways that parallel the reimagining and rethinking of other religious traditions, the greening and reimagining of central Islamic concepts such as Khalifah, tawhid, and ayat have provided the motivation for Muslims—often living in urban environments—to experience and appreciate nature directly, and with that, to develop a desire to protect the creation. The multilayered understanding of ayat, in particular, has a long history in the development of Islamic science, dating back to the work of medieval scholars. This historical precedent has tended to shield Muslim environmentalism from the distrust of science that has characterized much conservative Christian resistance to the environmentalism of their Christian peers.
Just as other religious environmental thinkers and organizations have reimagined ancient rituals and practices in a new ecological light, so too have leaders of green Muslim initiatives. For instance, the Prophet was adamant on not wasting water in performing wadu (the ritual ablutions required of Muslims) and the Prophet’s stance in this regard has provided the basis for much current work by Muslims on water pollution and water conservation, widely promoted by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, a Black Muslim, in his influential book, Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet.58 Adul-Matin’s vision of Islam’s ecological potential has been particularly inspiring for emerging green Muslim organizations, as well as for members of Muslim organizations on college campuses. In turn, Adul-Matin has praised the thinking and activism of Faraz Kahn and Saffet Catovic, cofounders of the Green Muslims of New Jersey who actively partner with GreenFaith. The Green Muslims of New Jersey work with Muslim farmers to support ecologically sound farming practices and the ethical raising of halal meat. Their work on a Green Ramadan Initiative coupled with a larger eco-pledge by leaders of masjids led to the national environmental outreach programs of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest American Muslim organization serving a wide range of Muslim communities across the spectrum of movements within Islam. These programs encourage greening Muslim schools, masjids and Islamic centers through promoting energy efficiency, the use of solar power, waste reduction, and recycling programs. By its third year, mosques in all 50 states participated in ISNA’s Green Ramadan initiative. The ISNA magazine, Islamic Horizons, also increasingly features articles on greening the practice of Islam.
In addition to focusing on environmental reform of Muslim individuals and institutions, key activists, such as Nana Firman (GreenFaith) and Saffet Catovic have helped to develop a significant Muslim presence in climate change-related activity, including providing leadership for the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, helping to organize for the climate marches in New York City and Washington, DC, and adding an important Muslim voice to international work on global climate accords.
The U.S. Muslim community still largely consists of recent immigrants and, therefore, some environmental concerns and actions tend to be oriented more toward issues in predominantly Muslim countries than in the United States. With over one hundred nationalities represented among U.S. Muslims, however, environmental foci have helped to bridge differences between and among those coming from African American, Middle Eastern, Indonesian, South Asian, African, and Eastern European Islamic traditions.
As in the Christian and Jewish worlds, cooperation on environmental projects has also helped to ease tensions between different denominations and movements within Islam. Nevertheless, as political crises in predominantly Muslim countries continue to develop, many U.S. Muslims see environmental concerns as less of a priority, except when the significant links between climate crisis and global tensions are explicitly made apparent. Moreover, with the continued presence of widespread Islamaphobia in the United States, environmental engagement is often understandably seen as a secondary issue when compared to physical safety and fundamental civil rights. At the same time, the growth of actively “green” Muslims, particularly among young, U.S.-born and second-generation Muslims, has helped to mitigate some of the Islamaphobia and stereotypes that American Muslims must consistently confront.
South Asian Voices
Those who are articulating explicitly Hindu, Jain, and Sikh responses to environmental degradation face challenges that are similar to those faced by environmentally concerned Muslims (many of whom are also South Asian). For instance, what it means to be Hindu involves a wide range of theological orientations and ritual practices often linked to specific regions of India and to the sacred geographies that define those regions. These sacred mountains and rivers are not simply pilgrimage sites marking where significant spiritual events occurred, but are often understood to be the physical manifestation of particular gods and goddesses, Mother Ganga (the Ganges) being the most well-known. Devotion to sacred landscapes in India, which in itself does not always lead to environmental protection, does not readily translate to American sacred landscapes. Nevertheless, second- and third-generation Hindus have begun to make these kinds of connections, including creating rituals where Ganges water brought from India is mixed with water from American rivers nearby. Moreover, as with many Muslim families, these three relatively recent immigrant communities are often primarily focused on other priorities that may include succeeding economically in their new country, ensuring that children and grandchildren maintain their religious identities, and staying connected to social and political issues affecting their families in South Asian countries.
Nevertheless, environmental concern is also on the rise in U.S. South Asian communities and is often articulated in religious, ethical terms. Hindu concepts of dharma (duty, law, virtue), Sikh understandings of seva (service), and Jain commitment to ahimsa (non-harm) inform all aspects of daily life. For different South Asian religious communities—and in different, but often overlapping, ways, dharma, seva, and ahimsa inform the rituals one performs, how one treats local gods and goddesses, and how one behaves toward family and community members.
In the Hindu world, an extension of these behavioral expectations includes how one treats the natural world, particularly the Pancha Mahabhutas (five great elements of life), which are all manifest in the human body and are micro-cosmically related to particular sense organs (the earth to the nose, water to the tongue, and so on). The Pancha Mahabhutas are understood to all be derived from prakriti, the primal energy that is sometimes translated as “nature” and is often seen as the female manifestation of Brahman (“God” or “Ultimate Reality”). In this sense, Hindu notions of the capacity of the Divine to infuse all aspects of the natural world echo the implicitly ecological concepts of panentheism discussed in Jewish and Christian eco-theology and of tawid in the Muslim context. Ecofeminist and ecological activist Vandana Shiva, founder of the seed saving and “earth democracy project” Navdanya (nine seeds) has been particularly innovative in linking ancient notions of prakriti in Hindu sacred texts with contemporary ecological threats, particularly in the realms of climate change and industrial agriculture.
Of equal conceptual significance, as noted above, is the notion of ahimsa (non-harm), important to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Baha’is (whose origins are Middle Eastern, but who have a significant population in India), and central to the life and thought of Mohandas Gandhi. The principle of ahimsa—often articulated as a central aspect of dharma—has become the foundation for a range of ecological activism including combating pollution, protecting the welfare of nonhuman beings, maintaining vegetarian (many Hindus, Baha’is and Sikhs) or vegan (Jains) diets, and actively pursuing climate justice.
In terms of green Hindu campaigns in the United States, two recent initiatives stand out. In partnership with the Gateway National Recreation Area, Sadhana—a progressive Hindu group in the New York City area—organizes various temples to do beach cleanup as part of their Project Prithvi (earth). Participants remove the washed-up remnants of offerings from Hindu pujas (ceremonies), in which objects are often ritually released into the water. The hope of Project Prithvi is that the cleanups will not only be experienced as acts of honoring sacred waters, but also will lead to attention to waste reduction and to eco-friendly reforms of a wide range of ritual practices. In 2014, Sadhana gathered many of the ritual objects they had retrieved and created an exhibit, “Sacred Waters” at the Queens Museum, hoping to educate both Hindus and the broader public about the relationship between Hindu ritual life and environmental concerns.
The Bhumi (Earth) Project, facilitated by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and in partnership with GreenFaith, works with Hindus globally, often in the diaspora in the United States, to connect Hindu values with environmental concerns, particularly during a Hindu Earth Week in February. As we have seen with other organizations, Bhumi works particularly to get youth involved, as well as to cultivate eco-friendly food ethics—for which there is a strong preexisting theological and ritual foundation—and to help both religious leaders and lay people to green their household and temple practices. Also, as with other eco-religious organizations, the Bhumi Project encourages Hindus to reimagine how holidays can be observed in ecological ways. Some Hindu and Jain temples in the western United States have begun to implement waste reduction, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources for community temples and gathering spaces. In addition, many non-Hindus, inspired by the ethics underlying the physical practice of yoga—particularly that of ahimsa—also make the connection between Hindu worldviews and nonconsumptive, greener lifestyles.
ISKCON, commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, is unique in that it is a long-standing American organization with Hindu roots. ISKON established itself in the United States in the 1960s and early on embraced the environmental ethos of the counterculture. Members of ISKCON have rearticulated these ecological commitments in the 21st century, often providing models for other South Asian communities in the United States. The Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary, and the Gita Nagari Yoga Farm, which claims to be the first cruelty-free, no-slaughter dairy farm in the United States, reflect the reverence for cows in many Hindu traditions. Of course, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains belong to three distinct, internally diverse, religious traditions. At the same time, these three traditions from the South Asian subcontinent share overlapping ethical orientations and ritual practices that have brought new energy and innovation to religious environmentalism in America, especially in terms of articulating an ethic of simplicity and anticonsumption and promoting vegetarian and vegan diets.
In considering Muslim and Hindu environmental initiatives we have noted the particular challenges of largely immigrant communities seeking to thrive in the U.S. context, a context that includes opportunity and open doors on the one hand and the challenges of religious and racial discrimination on the other. When other priorities arise for these religious communities—be they economic, political, or cultural/religious—ecological threats may seem less urgent or, at least, less visible in the short term. In this context, Buddhist religious environmentalism looks somewhat different from Muslim and South Asian environmentalism because of the history of Euro-American converts to Buddhism, many of whom came of age in the 1960s and ‘70s when Earth Day-inspired environmentalism was first gaining traction. While Buddhist immigrant communities from Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, and South Asia include those who are active on environmental issues (particularly those affecting the environments in which they live), Buddhists environmentalism has often been significantly influenced by Euro-American converts, many of whom were environmentally oriented before they self-identified as Buddhists and also did not have to negotiate the competing priorities that Buddhist immigrants were facing.
Two Euro-American Buddhists stand out in particular for providing practical and philosophical contributions to the environmental conversation from a distinctly Buddhist perspective: the poet and essayist Gary Snyder and the philosopher and activist Joanna Macy. While Snyder’s work is informed by a wide range of influences (Beat poetry; Native American myth; and ritual, American nature writing) he credits his many years of Zen study and practice in Japan as being central to the development of his ecological thinking and activism. Snyder’s poetry and prose reflects his own “ecological biography,” which includes knowledge of indigenous cultures; intensive study of East Asian languages; decades of Zen practice; and stints as a lumberjack, wilderness fire warden, mountain climber, and alpine trail worker.
Similarly, while Joanna Macy has drawn on a range of philosophical and psychological perspectives to develop her Work That Reconnects activist network (now largely focused on climate change and other ecological threats), she grounds her work in Buddhist understandings of the origin of human suffering particular in its present manifestations where, in her analysis, resistance to suffering and impermanence is directly related to greed, consumerism, technological “quick fixes,” and their attendant ecological effects. Macy also describes the intertwined Buddhist concepts of anatman (no-Self; the nonexistence of separate selves) and pattica samutpada (interdependence; the dependent co-origination of all things) as inherently “ecological” (even if not originally so) in contrast to Western, Christian notions of humans as being ontologically separate from Nature.
In the case of both Snyder and Macy, their stories are quintessential stories of the relationship between religion and social change in America, stories of “seekers” dissatisfied with the religious and cultural status quo in which they were raised and who not only redefine themselves religiously, but also directly draw on their chosen religious identities to address the social challenges of their time. For Macy and Synder, these include wilderness destruction, species extinction, climate change, and the social justice crises associated with it.
In general terms, over the last three decades, Green Buddhism in the United States has flourished in three main contexts: in publications advocating for the relevance of a Buddhist response to environmental crises; in monastic communities that emphasize ecological concerns (as well as the value of rural or wilderness settings for Buddhist practice); and in the formation of lay organizations that emphasize the relationship between ecological understanding of the self, care for the earth, and the necessity of putting ecological thinking into practical action. In terms of “eco-Buddhist” thought, significant writers and scholars have included John Daido Loori (discussed later), Kenneth Kraft, and Stephanie Kaza. Moreover, the passionate ecological voices of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Naht Hanh and His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama have had a profound effect on American Buddhist ecological thinking and activism.
In terms of monastic communities, the Zen Mountain Monastery—founded by Roshi John Daido Loori in the 1980s—has distinguished itself in developing an Earth Initiative as a central component of its work. The Earth Initiative of the Mountains and Rivers Order operates on multiple levels: encouraging individuals to do the inner work necessary to understand their own relationship to the natural world, offering educational programs on sustainable living and working directly to influence local, national, and global environmental policy making.
Lay organizations (often called sangas, mutually supportive communities of fellow Buddhist practitioners) in both online and on-the-ground form constitute the third main area of “Green Buddhist” expression. Of particular note is the Green Sanga of San Francisco, the Eco-Sanga of Washington State (which partners with Washington State Interfaith Power and Light), and various “on-line Sangas.” One Earth Sanga, the Eco-Buddhism website and The Buddhist Climate Action Network have all been particularly dedicated to developing a Buddhist response to climate change. These environmentally oriented sangas are not only notable in ecological terms, but have received both popular and scholarly attention as examples of a broader movement of “Engaged Buddhism” that is particularly strong in the United States and is one of the latest chapters in the long story of American religious volunteerism and engagement with social reform. Other, more ethnic specific Buddhist groups in the U.S. are encouraging environmental awareness, such as the Japanese Buddhist movement Sokka Gakkai and the recent Japanese religious movement Sukyo Mahikari (not Buddhist, but shaped by Japanese Buddhism) both of which are active in the United States.
The Sky Above and the Earth Beneath: Climate Change and Food
The rich history of religious environmentalism in America reveals ongoing tensions and negotiations in the relationship between religious identity, practices, and environmental concerns. What does it mean to stay firmly rooted in a Hindu, evangelical Christian, or Orthodox Jewish identity while engaging in environmental action that historically has been the purview of those who describe themselves as liberal, or “spiritual, but not religious nature-lovers,” some of whom are quite ambivalent about institutional religion of any kind? The evolution of religious environmentalism, however, has also demonstrated the significant extent to which religious and nonreligious groups can find (and have found) common ground on the most pressing environmental issues of the 21st century. There are two areas in particular where religious environmentalism has shown considerable strength and innovation: the campaign against global climate change; and the pursuit of ethical, sustainable food production and consumption. While some of this work has been mentioned earlier, it is important to conclude this history by reflecting on these two areas of notable innovation and interreligious cooperation.
The biggest “wicked problem” facing all religious environmentalists is the stark reality of climate change. As extreme weather events become no longer “one hundred year events,” but annual occurrences and religious groups are increasingly called on to be first responders, climate change is becoming harder and harder for religious organizations to ignore. Disaster response, however, is more routine for religious groups than the more difficult task of confronting climate denialism, and encouraging a range of actions to slow it down, or to adapt. As the National Religious Partnership for the Environment took its first steps toward developing a distinctly religious response to environmental threat, climate change emerged as the most urgent and potent environmental challenge by far and one that religious groups felt called to address. In addition, it was the issue that environmentally concerned American Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Indigenous groups (and later, American Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists) could all agree was an absolute priority. Particular religious identity, of course, played a large role in how the topic of climate change has been framed and addressed, but what is striking is the extent to which a wide range of religious responses to climate change have overlapped and worked synergistically in ways that both reflect earlier forms of American religious activism and go past historical precedents in terms of both scope and diversity.
The Eco-Justice Working Group, for instance, built on its prior successes through over a decade of ecumenical work on a national and international stage. They played a substantial role in collecting thousands of signatures in favor of the United States signing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (ultimately, the United States did not sign) and, in 1997, they published a resource guide entitled “It’s God’s World: Christians, the Environment, and Climate Change.” The EJWG also provided training for activists on how to lobby and talk with media. In 2006, the NCC General Assembly passed a formal resolution calling on businesses, the public, and the federal government to address directly the role of the United States as a disproportionate contributor to climate change and in 2009, the Eco-Justice Program played a significant role in providing signatories for the “Faith Principles on Global Warming” followed by the volume, God’s Earth is Sacred: Essays on Eco-Justice in 2011. Both documents emphasized the concepts of justice, stewardship, sustainability, and sufficiency as moral and practical imperatives in the context of climate crisis.
Not surprisingly, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and the many local communities it serves, have had to tread more carefully in the climate change minefield. The task of the EEN has been to negotiate between a deeply held sense of responsibility to those who are most vulnerable to climate change threats (often expressed in ways that echo the language and theology of earlier missionary campaigns) and the significant constraints coming from the Christian Right whose constituents frequently dismiss climate change science and advocacy as a threat to both their religious worldviews and their business and political alliances.
Nevertheless, some of the most inspiring and innovative work emerged from religious groups which have articulated a distinct, creative response to the growing climate crisis and simultaneously set aside theological and cultural differences in order to work toward a livable future for all. For instance, the EEN, under the leadership of Jim Ball, organized a campaign entitled “WWJD–What Would Jesus Drive?” that particularly spoke to their audience, while joining other members of NRPE in a fuel-efficiency campaign in Detroit. In an inspiring example of interreligious cooperation, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Jews were joined by Catholic nuns who drove them to meetings with automakers in a fleet of hybrid cars. This kind of generous, and sometimes ingenious, interfaith cooperation has been a hallmark of religious environmentalism since the early 1990s.
The Detroit campaign and similar efforts by groups across the religious spectrum set the stage for a wide range of interfaith organizing and initiatives, culminating in an unprecedented interreligious presence at the New York City People’s Climate March in 2015 (over thirty faiths were represented among the over ten thousand marchers in Interfaith section), as well as joining the pan-tribal Water Protectors resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This strong multifaith presence was also in full force in the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, and many other locations, one of many forms of grassroots resistance to the environmentally hostile stance of the Trump administration with its deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.
What started out, in many cases, as regional interreligious environmental efforts soon developed into established organizations that have played a key role in climate change resistance in combatting climate change from moral and religious perspectives. Three organizations stand out, in particular, all of them founded by Episcopalian leaders. The Seattle-based Earth Ministry was launched in1993 and now hosts the Washington State chapter of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). Earth Ministry began with a very successful focus on helping congregations to become greener in terms of energy production and consumption, as well as in their worship services, but has expanded its efforts to fight climate change. The organization played a key role in stopping the approval of coal export facilities in the northwestern United States, reflecting the larger environmental perspective of keeping fossil fuels in the ground by making them more expensive to extract and transfer.
GreenFaith, located in New Jersey, was also formed in 1993 and is featured, along with Faith in Place, in the documentary Renewal that tells stories of various religious environmental groups. In addition to working with greening houses of worship such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, GreenFaith staff have trained 183 GreenFaith fellows who have gone on to make significant impacts both at home and internationally. GreenFaith’s founder, Reverend Fletcher Harper, was a key organizer of the interfaith contingent of both the New York City and Washington, DC, climate marches, as well as coordinating, through an international interfaith effort called Our Voices, activism linked to all of the United Nations climate talks around the globe. Additionally, it has joined with the interfaith Green Seminary Initiative to help shape the training of future religious leaders and clergy in theology schools, both through greening their consumption and institutional practices, and through bringing ecological and justice concerns into the curriculum and religious services. These efforts to green theological education have now produced several generations of leaders who hold religious services outdoors, in forests, fields and gardens, or on sites of brownfields reclamation and habitat restoration. Once shy to mix religion and politics, these young leaders make the connections between race, class, and global systems, and are increasingly willing to visit state capitols and Congress to lobby for more environmental protections.
The activities of the various state Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) organizations that grew out of Episcopal Power and Light, under the guidance of founder Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, are too numerous to list. Born out of a focus on climate change and promoting renewable energy/energy efficiency, the national-level organization has developed significant initiatives to combat global warming including “cool congregations” that urge congregations to green their buildings, liturgies, and everyday practices, as well as “cool harvests,” a campaign focused on food issues, and a carbon covenant program to support tree planting. State IPLs have also played key roles in screening climate change-related films in congregations throughout their states, including An Inconvenient Truth or The Great Warming, which specifically addresses religious efforts. The work of all of these groups is made much harder by the organized, and often well-funded, movement of climate skepticism and denial which has consistently sought to discredit religious environmentalism, particularly in its progressive Christian forms (see the discussion of “wise-use” anti-environmental efforts under “Evangelical Environmentalism: Tensions and Innovations” above).
Food and Agriculture
For most religious groups, gathering around the table and sharing a feast to mark a special holiday, or to follow a weekly service/ritual is a traditional religious practice, filled with ritual and symbolic meaning, and seemingly far removed from concerns about the environment. Foods have always played a central role in religious traditions, including blessings and prayers of gratitude for the gifts of creation/nature, but in the contemporary context of environmental concerns about the way food is produced, many religious groups are looking at food in new and innovative ways. Adding to the broad array of existing environmental concerns, they have initiated conversations and activism on pesticides and herbicides; threats to pollinator species; water use and pollution; topsoil depletion; genetically modified plants and organisms; worker safety; factory farming; “food deserts” in low-income, urban neighborhoods; and the environmental justice implications of living next to industrial-scale meat production and processing into the array of environmental concerns.
For some religious traditions, this array of concerns about the health and purity of food, and the treatment of animals and agricultural workers comes easily, as their traditions already have a food ethic and a social justice ethic that can be expanded to address emerging problems. For Jews, Rabbi Arthur Waskow has promoted the notion of eco-kashrut for decades. More recently, some Jewish farmers are also observing the practice of shmita, giving the land and workers a rest every seven years. For black Muslims, whether in the Nation of Islam, or more mainstream, a food ethic is also central. For all Muslims, the religious practice of halal includes the proper treatment of animals to be slaughtered and the concept of tayyib, concerning goodness and purity, is increasingly being interpreted in ways that challenge contemporary agribusiness models of agriculture. Farms grounded in religious traditions tend to focus on organic and sustainable practices. The Jewish Farm School in Philadelphia, Muslim Good Tree Farm of New Egypt, NJ, and SoulFire Farm in New York, in addition to those previously mentioned, are all actively engaged in linking traditional religious ethics with contemporary agricultural reform. On the West Coast, Green Gulch Farm in northern California (a program of the San Francisco Zen Center) is similarly well-known for its Buddhist approach to food and farming.
Another area of persistent food-related concern is reducing the energy, food waste, and trash that accompanies feeding large groups (such as in soup kitchens) or addressing the waste that accompanies church suppers or holiday feasts such as Passover and Ramadan where the mere size of the gatherings invite the use of such “conveniences” as throwaway plastic bottles and Styrofoam dishes. EcoSikh (based in both Maryland and India) is one of many religious organizations that dedicates both its practical and spiritual energy to reducing waste, even when feeding thousands. EcoSikh strives to green their gudwaras in terms of using renewable energy, conserving water, recycling, reducing waste, and supporting organic and healthy food systems. Such concerns similarly inform efforts to make the month-long observance of Ramadan both spiritually and environmentally transformative, especially in terms of the meals that break the daily fast (iftars). Following the Prophet’s admonition to “eat and drink but waste not by extravagance,” the DC Green Muslims host iftars (consisting primarily of leftovers from preceding evenings) in city parks, making Ramadan observance accessible to a wider population. The DC Green Muslims also promote their reusable tableware rental program as part of their goal of “zero waste” iftar dinners. Greening Ramadan observances has grown in popularity throughout the United States and is increasingly being promoted by The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
For contemporary Christians, the concern over wasted food and feeding people is a clear extension of the notion of “table fellowship,” as well as the long-standing Christian concerns for feeding the poor. Other aspects of what might be called an “implicit Christian food ethic” are those that are indirectly derived from Jesus’s agricultural parables and Old and New Testament references to God’s care for birds, beasts, and plants. While in contemporary, religiously pluralistic America, Sunday Sabbath observance no longer dominates American culture as it once did, the virtues of “Sabbath practice” have been revived by authors such as Wendell Berry and Norman Wirzba. Along with Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, and in keeping with earlier advocates Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Berry and Wirzba have both made the case for Sabbath-keeping as a radical, ecologically responsible act of resistance to American consumer culture. Notable “new agrarian” Christian environmental writers such as Berry (from Kentucky), Wirzba (originally from Alberta), and The Land Institute’s founder Wes Jackson (from Kansas) all successfully intertwine affections for America’s agrarian past and concern over current agricultural practices.
In ecological and agricultural terms, a central theological place that many Christians start is with the communion table. Protestants and Catholics alike have asked: What does it mean to have wheat and wine grown so that butterflies die, water is polluted, and workers exposed? For the sacramental theology of many Christian traditions, this poisoning of “the body and blood of Christ” be it Catholic transubstantiation or the more symbolic Protestant understanding, is a potent place to ask larger questions about our food systems and agricultural practices, as Wirzba does in Food and Faith.59 In response, there are now Christian efforts in California and Michigan to grow ancient wheat varieties for communion bread.
Indeed, many Catholic religious orders, religious communities, and houses of worship have returned to growing their own food, forming CSA’s to provide more religiously ethical food for others, or trying to make the food offered at pantries healthier and more environmentally friendly. The website the Christian Food Movement lists a wealth of farms, church gardens, organizations, and literature that promote ethical, ecological food, and eating. The Catholic Rural Life organization, which dates back to the 1920s, has worked on transforming agriculture and food systems in its Faith, Food and Environment project, particularly concerned to promote sustainable agriculture and support family farms, as well as promote the stewardship of creation. Other Catholic and Protestant groups and denominations recognize the justice implications of the labor conditions and pesticide exposure of farm workers, often migrants, and have taken strong stances and actions, stemming from the days of Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott, to their more recent crucial involvement with the successful Coalition of Immokalee Workers campaign asking for a penny/pound increase in the pay for picking tomatoes and greater environmental safeguards.
Houses of worship and denominational groups of many traditions also host and promote community gardens so that members may make the connection between sustainable production of food and the environmental degradation wreaked by agribusiness practices. The Chicago-based Faith in Place, in addition to promoting gardens and farmers markets particularly in neighborhoods of color, also successfully raises awareness of the problems pollinators face through their Migration and Me program.60
In a similar vein, Jewish farming initiatives have enjoyed a veritable boom in the last fifteen years including the 2003 founding of Adamah (arable soil from which “Adam” was made) promoting the intersection of organic farming and Jewish learning at the Isabella Freeman Center in rural Connecticut and a second organization Urban Adamah in Berkeley, California, established in 2010 by Adamah founder, Adam Berman. In an attempt to draw together a wide variety of Jewish farming initiatives under one umbrella, Hazon has established the Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education project (JOFEE), which puts Jewish agricultural leaders in conversation with each other and with the wider Jewish public. Among JOFEE’s many programs is the development and support of alternative, or additional, hekshers (seals) indicating food produced in ways that consider animal welfare, fair labor rights, and the environment in alignment with Jewish values and ethics. Drawing on the advocacy for “eco-kosher” practices, promoted by Rabbi Waskow and others, JOFEE hopes to take eco-kosher into the realm of certification in ways that mirror the hekshers that are currently found on traditional kosher foods.
Religious environmental groups have also increasingly made the connection between what we eat and the climate impact of food production and transportation, whether in terms of the greenhouse emissions of fossil fuel intensive agribusiness, the methane emissions of grazing animals, or the “food miles” and emissions connected with long distance transport of crops, such as eating California strawberries in New York. Most of the groups mentioned here recognize that who gets to eat organic or sustainably grown food is a matter of justice and access, and that food waste—in itself shameful when so many are hungry—is also a significant contributor of greenhouse gases, as well as a waste of the gifts of the earth or the divine.
Finally, for many vegetarians and vegans, their avoidance of all animal flesh and products often stems from religious beliefs and practices, but is also connected to environmental concerns related to fossil fuel and water consumption, antibiotic overuse, and the pollution associated with animal food production. This is an area where religious environmental, animal welfare, and food concerns intertwine. JewishVeg and the Jewish Initiative for Animals, for example, both describe their work as bringing together health, environment, compassion and Jewish values. The Humane Society of the United States, founded on religious principles of care for all creatures, has had a successful Faith Outreach program, including a focus on evangelical Christians, but also with a broad interfaith audience. Contrary to their general reputation, the concerns of the Humane Society go well beyond the treatment of companion animals and extend to opposing factory farming and working for the preservation of wild species. Similarly, PETA, sponsors a Christian outreach organization known as Jesus People For Animals, and is working with Jain youth enthused about veganism as religious practice.
Taken together, religiously based zero-waste practices, agricultural reform, and vegetarian and vegan campaigns can look both strange and familiar in the context of American environmentalism. What is striking about many of these religious efforts is that they mirror (and participate in) the broader American environmental focus on sustainable, ethical food ways. Nevertheless, nonreligious participants in these movements are often unaware of many similar efforts that are religiously specific and religiously grounded. In many cases, these populations who sometimes oppose each other spiritually and culturally are literally standing on—and cultivating—shared ground.
Religious Environmentalism as an American Religious Story
The reverence for nature and the anxiety about nature that has long shaped the American story clearly has also defined the more recent history of religious environmentalism. Twentieth-century responses to environmental degradation have inherited a legacy—particularly from Christianity—of both love for the natural world and a distanced, utilitarian anthropocentric stance toward that world. In its most extreme forms, that anthropocentric stance has given fuel to forms of technological dominance and hubris whose effects we are feeling evermore acutely today. With the exponential acceleration of global climate change, the future looks as grave as it did in the times of global warfare that defined earlier decades of the 20th century, perhaps more so. At the same time, the history of religious environmentalism is part of a larger American story, an American religious story that is full of innovation and resilience, a story of theological creativity and of on-the-ground initiatives that have both shaped and been shaped by that creativity.
Recent forms of religious environmentalism are also intertwined with other defining narratives of American religious history: interfaith cooperation and exchange, the contributions of new immigrants and the legacies of indigenous peoples, competition for resources when religious groups grow or fade in membership or cultural significance, the quintessentially American habit of religious seeking and reinvention, the pervasive influence of individualism and consumerism, and the range of religious responses to these influences. While at first blush these other narratives are not always explicit in religious environmentalism, a closer inquiry reveals them to be ever present. Much more than “nature” is at stake when religion, ecology, and environment are in conversation with each other. In its broadest sense, religious environmentalism represents the most recent iteration of the varied and powerful ways that religion has both advanced and resisted social change in an increasingly pluralistic America. In this case, however, these profound streams of change have helped us to see how the social and cultural worlds of humans are deeply connected to the fragile, yet resilient, ecological world.
Review of the Literature
There are now a wide range of anthologies, edited volumes, encyclopedias, and handbooks that provide an easy way for those interested in learning more to gain a sense of the complex, and increasingly global scholarship on religion and ecology, or religion and nature. Much of this literature contains relevant content about the United States and includes many of the U.S.-based authors whom we have mentioned. The introductory chapters of each of these volumes collectively constitute a wonderful entrée into the topics. Although earlier edited volumes exist, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim’s Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy and the Environment, Carol Adams’s Ecofeminism and the Sacred, and Roger Gottlieb’s This Sacred Earth reflect the more sustained interest that emerged in the early 1990s, as described in this article.61 The Tucker and Grim volume contains scholarly voices that then shaped the field, such as Thomas Berry, Tu Wei-Ming, and Larry Rasmussen. Carol Adams’s Ecofeminism and the Sacred captured the important range of ecofeminists, a significant aspect of the emerging conversation. This Sacred Earth provided a valuable compendium of reprints and original contributions of more historical scholarly voices with emerging scholars, with key statements by activist organizations and practitioners. For example, it included Lynn White Jr.’s essay and the Principles of Environmental Justice.
Two other anthologies, Richard Foltz’s Worldviews, Religion and the Environment: An Anthology and Richard Bohannon’s Religions and Environments: A Reader in Religion, Nature and Ecology provided even more sustained coverage of key scholarly writings.62 Worldviews covers environmental issues and global perspectives on major religious and spiritual traditions, while also addressing broad themes such as feminism, consumption, and capitalism. Bohannon’s anthology brings together influential writings from the 19th century into the blossoming of the two interrelated fields: religion and ecology and religion and nature.
The ten-volume Harvard Religions of the World and Ecology series published under the guidance and often editorship of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, along with volume specific editors, started with the publication of the volume on Buddhism in 1997 and Confucianism in 1998, and concluded with one on Shinto traditions in 2004. Drawing from the presentations of over eight hundred scholars and religious and environmental leaders at the related conferences, these volumes contain a wealth of voices whose aim was to map an emerging field and to demonstrate the possibilities in each tradition of constructing an environmental ethic, or a more ecological worldview. An eleventh related volume, A Communion of Subjects: Animals, Religion and Science, edited by Paul Waldau and Kimberly C. Patton, particularly looks at religious traditions with regard to the depiction and concerns related to animals.63 In addition to the influential ten-volume series, Tucker and Grim have put out other useful volumes covering the range of religion and ecology and the writings of Thomas Berry, such as The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth.64
The trio of Whitney Bauman, Richard Bohannon II, and Kevin O’Brien have edited three important and accessible volumes, Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology in two distinctly different editions and Inherited Land: Changing Grounds of Religion and Ecology, the latter focused on perspectives emerging from the rising younger generation of U.S. scholars.65 Several volumes from the Fordham Press Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium, guided by Catherine Keller, contain relevant material, especially Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth and Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology.66 These volumes provide windows into the philosophical and theological conversations not always aimed specifically at ecology or nature, but contributing key theoretical and sociopolitical insights. Finally, “To Love the Wind and the Rain”: African Americans and Environmental History, edited by religion scholars Diane Glave and Mark Stoll, provides essential background for understanding the expanding field of religion and environment in the African Diaspora of the United States.
Two encyclopedias provide a wealth of topics that no edited anthology can ever capture. The two-volume Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, edited by Bron Taylor, reflects the emerging field of study that addresses “human beings, their environments and the religious dimensions of life” from literary, historical, scientific, theological, and social-scientific perspectives.67 Taylor’s encyclopedia distinguishes itself in shifting the focus from “religion and ecology” as such, to a broader consideration of the many facets of the human-nature-religion nexus. Methodologically, it emphasizes historical and social-scientific approaches, without specifically seeking to reform religious worldviews or to encourage traditions and practices to be more ecologically oriented.
The first volume of the ten-volume Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, The Spirit of Sustainability, edited by Willis Jenkins, reflects more of the field of religion and ecology, recognizing the importance of this work for ecology and sustainability.68 Jenkins’s chapter, “Whose Religion, Which Ecology?” provides a concise introduction into the emerging tensions, differentiations, and growth of the fields of religion and ecology and religion and nature.
There are now four outstanding handbooks that include the majority of people and traditions mentioned in this article, and far beyond. Reading any one of them provides an excellent introduction. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology, edited by Roger Gottlieb, covers major religious traditions and also particular areas of conflict and tension, such as population, genetic engineering, animals, or the relationship between religion and science.69 Reflecting Gottlieb’s own commitments, this handbook also highlights activist voices. More recently, Jenkins, Tucker, and Grim teamed up to edit the Routledge Handbook on Religion and Ecology (2016) with a focus on global religious traditions—including lesser-known ones such as Baha′i and Mormonism, global regions, and intersections with various scholarly.70 Wiley Blackwell’s Companion to Religion and Ecology (2017), edited by John Hart, an ethicist who has written on relevant topics since the early 1980s, includes freshly commissioned articles from perhaps the widest range of scholars and religious leaders, including some not often found in other collections, such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Winona LaDuke, Arthur Waskow, and Patriarch Bartholomew.71
The intersecting fields of religion and ecology and religion and nature have now grown to the point that recent handbooks such as Hart’s are going beyond the major religious traditions approach, to include chapters investigating particular aspects of a given tradition, such as Jewish Kabbalah, or Catholicism in Laudato Si. Reflecting his background as a Catholic social ethicist, Hart’s volume incudes “Tradition’s Teachings in Socioecological Contexts,” as well as “ecological commitments” and visions for the future. Finally, the Bloomsbury Handbook on Religion and Nature: The Elements, edited by Laura Hobgood and Whitney Bauman, takes a fresh approach in asking key scholars to write about aspects of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.72
Two U.S.-based scholarly journals, Worldviews: Global Religions, Cultures and Ecology; and the later Journal of Religion, Nature and Culture (JRNC), which replaced Ecotheology, publish a wide range of current scholarship. The Worldviews special edition on “Ecowomanism” was very successful in bringing new voices to the attention of the field. The 2016 JRNC “The Greening of Religion Hypothesis” articles by Bron Taylor and others, discuss the wide range of sociological research on the connection between religious worldviews and environmental attitudes and behavior.
Finally, several texts in the last fifteen years specifically focus on the American context from sociological/ethnographic and historical approaches, providing key insights: Rebecca Kneale Gould’s At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America, Sarah McFarland Taylor’s Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, Katherine Wilkinson’s Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change, Gretel Van Wieren’s Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics and Ecological Restoration, Mark Stoll’s Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism, Evan Berry’s Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism, Stephen Ellingsen’s To Care for Creation: The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement, Sarah Pike’s For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, and Amanda Baugh’s God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White.73
Bron Taylor’s Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, and James Martin-Schram, Daniel Spencer, and Laura Stivers’s Earth Ethics: A Case Method Approach, while not solely focused on examples in the United States, cover a range of movements, actors, and issues that are key to understanding the story.74
While there are many single-author volumes, including those mentioned in this article, perusing these multiauthor anthologies or consulting those books specifically looking at religion and environment in America provides an extensive exposure to the range of key academic and religious leaders who have nurtured the field.
Abdul-Matin, Ibrahim. Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Environment. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010.Find this resource:
Bauman, Whitney, Richard Bohannon, and Kevin O’Brien, eds. Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology, 2010. Rev. ed. New York: Routledge, 2017.Find this resource:
Berry, Evan. Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015.Find this resource:
Bohannon, Richard, ed. Religions and Environments: A Reader in Religion, Nature and Ecology. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.Find this resource:
Callicott, J. Baird, ed. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought. SUNY Series in Philosophy and Biology. New York: State University of New York Press, 1989.Find this resource:
Ellingson, Stephen. To Care for Creation: The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.Find this resource:
Glave, Diane, and Mark Stoll, eds. To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.Find this resource:
Gottlieb, Roger, ed. The Oxford Handbook on Religion and Ecology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.Find this resource:
Gould, Rebecca Kneale. “Binding Life to Values.” In Ignition: How a Grassroots Movement Can Stop Global Warming. Edited by Jon Isham and Sissel Waage. Washington, DC: Island, 2007.Find this resource:
Hart, John, ed. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Religion and Ecology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2017.Find this resource:
Jenkins, Willis. Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability: Vol.1 The Spirit of Sustainability. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire, 2009.Find this resource:
Jenkins, Willis, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, eds. Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology. New York: Routledge, 2016.Find this resource:
Kaza, Stephanie, and Kenneth Kraft. Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism. Boston: Shambala, 2000.Find this resource:
Kearns, Laurel, and Catherine Keller, eds. Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.Find this resource:
McFague, Sallie. Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.Find this resource:
Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D. Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological and Economic Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013.Find this resource:
Rasmussen, Larry. Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:
Stoll, Mark. Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:
Taylor, Bron, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. 2 vols. New York: Continuum, 2005.Find this resource:
Taylor, Bron. Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Tucker, Mary Evelyn, and John Grim. Religions of the World and Ecology (Series). Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998–2003.Find this resource:
Van Wieren, Gretel. Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics, and Ecological Restoration. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013.Find this resource:
Weaver, Jace, ed. Defending Mother Earth: Native American Perspectives on Environmental Justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996.Find this resource:
(1.) Reprints of John Winthrop and William Bradford primary documents, Carolyn Merchant, ed., Major Problems in Environmental History (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1993), 68–72.
(2.) William Cronon, Changes in the Land (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983).
(3.) Rebecca Kneale Gould, “Transcendentalism,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, vol. 2, ed. Bron Taylor (New York: Continuum, 2005), 1652–1654.
(4.) Rebecca Kneale Gould, At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
(5.) “Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, October 2012; and Rebecca Kneale Gould, “Binding Life to Values,” in Ignition: How a Grassroots Movement Can Stop Global Warming, eds. Jon Isham and Sissel Waage (Washington, DC: Island, 2007).
(6.) Mark Stoll, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
(7.) Evan Berry, Devoted to Nature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).
(8.) Walter Rauschenbusch, “Prayer of Thanksgiving for This World,” in Prayers of Social Awakening (Boston: Pilgrim, 1910), 47–48.
(9.) Liberty Hyde Bailey, This Holy Earth (1915), Reprint (Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008).
(10.) Panu Pikhala, Early Ecotheology and Joseph Sittler (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2016).
(11.) Joseph Sittler, The Care of the Earth and Other University Sermons (1964). Reissued by Fortress as The Care of the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004); and Steven Bouma-Prediger, ed., Evocations of Grace: The Writings of Joseph Sittler on Ecology, Theology, and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
(12.) Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (New York: Seabury, 1975).
(13.) Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967); Seyed Hussein Nasr, The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1968); and Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155, no. 376 (1967): 1203–1220.
(14.) Matthew Riley, “A Spiritual Democracy of All God’s Creatures: Ecotheology and the Animals of Lynn White Jr.,” in Divinanimality: Animal Theology, Creaturely Theology, ed. Stephen Moore (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 241–260.
(15.) Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House, 1970). Reprint (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1992); and John Cobb, Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology (Beverly Hills, CA: Bruce, 1972), Rev. ed. (Denton, TX: Environmental Ethics, 1995).
(16.) Loren Wilkinson, ed., Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans, 1980).
(17.) Vincent Rossi, “The Eleventh Commandment: Toward an Ethic of Ecology,” Epiphany 1 (1981): 2–18. See Pikhala above for the Lowdermilk text.
(18.) The National Council of Churches is a consortium of churches and denominations that includes Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, certain Baptist denominations, the Historic Black Churches (AME, AMEZ), Quakers, and a range of Eastern Orthodox Churches.
(19.) The story of the UCC involvement, and links to their studies and to the Principles of Environmental Justice can be found at “Environmental Justice Issues and Resources,” United Church of Christ.
(21.) President Clinton’s executive order.
(23.) John Chryssavgis, “Changing Perspective and Practice: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Environmental Awareness” (paper, Climate Summit at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, D.C., April 23, 2012).
(24.) “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion” (statement, National Religious Partnership for the Environmen, Global Forum, Moscow, January 1990).
(25.) Creation Justice Ministries; CreationCare.org, Evangelical Environmental Network; “Environment,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
(29.) “Principles of Environmental Justice” (17 principles of Environmental Justice drafted by delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, Washington, D.C., October 1991).
(30.) Melanie Harris, ed. “Ecowomanism: Earth Honoring Faiths,” Special Issue 20(1): 2016 of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology.
(32.) “Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990,” Libreria Editrice Vaticana, December 8, 1989. Links to various papal statements and Bishops’ pastoral letters from around the globe can be found at The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.
(33.) “Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2010,” Libreria Editrice Vaticana, December 8, 2009.
(35.) Robert Jones, David Cox, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera, “Believers, Sympathizers, & Skeptics: Findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey” (Washington, DC, Public Religion Research Institute 54, 2014).
(36.) Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988); Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1994).
(38.) Sarah McFarland Taylor, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
(40.) Laurel Kearns, “Green Evangelicals,” in The New Evangelical Social Engagement, eds. Brian Steensland and Philip Goff (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 157–173.
(42.) Laurel Kearns, “Noah’s Ark Goes to Washington: A Profile of Evangelical Environmentalism,” Social Compass 44, no. 3 (1997): 349–366.
(43.) The Cornwall Alliance particularly aims to counter and discredit the work of the religious groups named in this article especially on climate change and the campaigns of the EEN, YECA, and other green evangelical groups. See Kearns, Green Evangelicals, for more on this group and the wise use movement.
(44.) Jones, Cox, and Navarro-Rivera, “Believers, Sympathizers, & Skeptics.”
(45.) Faith in Place; see also Veronica Kyle and Laurel Kearns, “The Bitter and the Sweet of Nature: Weaving a Tapestry of Migration Stories,” in Civic Ecology: Broader Impacts, ed. Marianne Krasny (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).
(46.) Melanie L. Harris, Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth Honoring Faiths (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2017).
(47.) Finney, Carol, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
(48.) Anne Marie Roderick, “Reverend Gerald Durley,” Sojourners, June 2012 (online, n.p.).
(51.) James H. Cone, “Who’s Earth Is It Anyway?” Cross Currents 50, no. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2000).
(53.) See the COEJL founding document.
(56.) Arthur Waskow, ed. Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Jewish Ecology, 2 vols. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2000).
(57.) Ellen Bernstein, The Splendor of Creation (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2005).
(58.) Abdul Matin, Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010).
(59.) Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
(60.) Amanda Baugh, God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).
(61.) Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. Religions of the World and Ecology (Series). Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998–2003); Carol J. Adams, Ecofeminism and the Sacred, Reprint ed. (New York: Continuum, 1993); and Roger Gottlieb, This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1995).
(62.) Richard C. Foltz, Worldviews, Religion and the Environment: An Anthology (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2002); Richard Bohannon, ed. Religions and Environments: A Reader in Religion, Nature and Ecology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014).
(63.) Paul Waldau and Kimberly C. Patton, eds., A Communion of Subjects: Animals, Religion and Science (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
(64.) Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011).
(65.) Whitney Bauman, Richard Bohannon II, and Kevin O’Brien, Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology (New York: Routledge, 2010; 2nd ed., 2017); Whitney A. Bauman, Richard Bohannon II, and Kevin O’Brien, Inherited Land: Changing Grounds of Religion and Ecology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).
(66.) Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller, eds. Eco-Spirt: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007); Stephen D. Moore and Laurel Kearns, Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology (New York: Fordham, University Press, 2014).
(67.) Bron Taylor, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).
(68.) Willis Jenkins, Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability: Vol.1 The Spirit of Sustainability (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire, 2009).
(69.) Roger Gottlieb, ed. The Oxford Handbook on Religion and Ecology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
(70.) Willis Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, eds., Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology (New York: Routledge, 2016).
(71.) John Hart, ed., The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Religion and Ecology (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2017).
(72.) Laura Hobgood and Whitney Bauman, eds., Bloomsbury Handbook on Religion and Nature: The Elements (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).
(73.) Rebecca Kneale Gould, “Binding Life to Values,” in Ignition: How a Grassroots Movement Can Stop Global Warming, eds. Jon Isham and Sissel Waage (Washington, DC: Island, 2007); Sarah McFarland Taylor, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Katherine Wilkinson, Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Gretel Van Wieren, Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics and Ecological Restoration (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013); Mark Stoll, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Evan Berry, Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015); Ellingson, Stephen, To Care for Creation: The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016); Sarah Pike, For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017); Amanda J. Baugh, God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017).
(74.) Bron Taylor’s, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Roger Gottlieb, A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); James B. Martin-Schram, Daniel Spencer, and Laura Stivers, Earth Ethics: A Case Method Approach (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2015).