Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Religious Environmentalism and Environmental Religion in America

Berry, Evan
Religion Compass 13

This essay aims to offer a rudimentary map of the subfield of religion and ecology by describing three distinct scholarly responses to the challenge leveled by Lynn White’s influential 1967 article. It articulates an organizational view of the field by accounting for the three most prevalent perspectives on the antagonism between religion and environmentalism. The first, ecotheological apologism, looks to resuscitate “Judeo-Christian” theology from the critique that it is inherently anti-ecological. The second, sociological operationalization, forgoes normative engagement in favor of descriptive measurement, seeking to describe in empirical terms the environmental beliefs and behaviors of religious individuals in contemporary society. The third, theoretical functionalism, works to soften the very distinction between religious tradition and ecological morality. Examining the sources and outcomes of these scholarly divergences provides a reasonable account of the development of religion and ecology as an area of study and brings to the fore the challenges presently facing the subfield. In conclusion, the essay describes the exchanges among these scholarly threads and suggests how they might be woven together more closely.