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Home Religion and Ecology Spiritual Ecology

Spiritual Ecology

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Spiritual ecology is a recent term that refers to the intersection between religion and spirituality and environment. Practitioners of spiritual ecology fall into three categories: the scientific and academic, spiritual or religious environmentalism, and religious or spiritual individuals who relate strongly to the environment.


The scientific and academic study of spiritual ecology is being developed by various university professors in their teaching and research. A growing number of special programs include the Religion and Nature track in the Department of Religion at the University of Florida, the Spiritual Ecology Concentration in the Ecological Anthropology Program at the University of Hawaii, the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt University, the interdisciplinary Project on Climate Change in the School for Forestry, Environmental Studies at Yale University, and the Religion and Public Life [Environmental track] Doctoral Program at Northwestern University. The Boston Theological Institute, California Institute of Integral Studies, and Schumacher College in England all offer programs related to spiritual ecology.

The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture formed in 2006 and is dedicated to multidisciplinary research on spiritual ecology. It describes itself as "a community of scholars engaged in critical inquiry into the relationships among human beings and their diverse cultures, environments, religious beliefs and practices." The society hosts international meetings and publishes the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. Other journals related to spiritual ecology include Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, Whole Terrain, a journal of "reflective environmental practice," Orion magazine, and Color Wheel, among others.

As the major terrestrial intervention in nature by humans, agriculture is often omitted from considerations of spirituality or relegated to a stewardship role. This embrionic area is addressed under such headings as agricultural spiritualism, and notable in a book on Religion and Agriculture by Lindsay Falvey.

Scientific and academic

Scientists and academics study the relationship of religion and ecology and environmentalism. These scholars do not necessarily consider themselves to be religious or spiritual, but the nature of their work collaborates the concepts of nature and spirituality. Among the foremost scholars in the study and theorizing of spritual ecology are Roger S. Gottlieb at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, John Grim at Yale University, Leslie Sponsel at the University of Hawai'i, Sarah McFarland Taylor at Northwestern University, Bron Taylor at University of Florida, Mary Evelyn Tucker at Yale University, and Mitchell Thomashow at Antioch University New England.

Pro-environmental teachings are present in four world religions – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam and there is a willingness by clergy and religious teachers to encourage the required behavioural changes through their teachings, hence, pointing the potentials for a spiritual appeal to environmental behaviour.[1]

Spiritually motivated environmentalism

Religion and the environmentIn this context, religion and spirituality provide guidance and motivation to work on environmental causes. Among the most outstanding persons in this domain are the Passionist Priest Thomas Berry, the Orthodox Christian leader the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Greece, Martin Palmer of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation in the United Kingdom, and Sulak Sivaraksa of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists in Thailand.

Environmentally motivated spirituality

People whose experiences in nature transcend the scientific, material environment fall into the third category of environmentally motivated spiritualists. This may include such historical figures as St. Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Albert Schweitzer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd F. Olson, Edward Abbey, Carl Sagan, and Paul Shepard. Contemporaries in this field include Wendell Berry, Jane Goodall, Matthew Fox, Stephanie Kaza, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Satish Kumar, Winona LaDuke, Barry Lopez, James Lovelock, Joanna Macy, Peter Matthiessen, Ralph Metzner, Arne Naess, Theodore Roszak, Gary Snyder, Michael Soule, Brian Swimme, Edward O. Wilson, and Paul Winter.

Although an individual may be involved in only one of these three realms of spiritual ecology, they are not mutually exclusive and have the ability to reinforce one another. Jane Goodall, for example is very well-known for her scientific studies, but equally active in the ambassadorship of environmental understanding and compassion (notably, as a UN Messenger of Peace).


See also


Further reading

  • Anderson, E.N., 1996, Ecologies of the Heart: Emotion, Belief, and the Environment, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Berry, Thomas, 2006, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.
  • Cooper, David E., and Joy A. Palmer, eds., 1998, Spirit of the Environment: Religion, Value and Environmental Concern, New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Davis, Wade, 1998, Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire, New York, NY: Broadway Books.
  • Foltz, Richard C., ed., 2003, Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology, Bemont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Gardner, Gary, 2002, Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a Sustainable World, Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute (Worldwatch Paper 164).
  • Gardner, Gary T., 2006, Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company (Worldwatch Book).
  • Gottlieb, Roger S., ed., 2004, This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, New York, NY: Routledge (Second Edition).
  • Gottlieb, Roger S., 2006, A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Gottlieb, Roger S., ed., 2006, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Graf, Josef, Coordinator of The Earth Vision Project, 2007, Earth Vision, A Travelogue of Spiritual Ecology, evbooks.net; A Calendar of Nature and Soul, evbooks.net; Gaia Sojourn - Spiritual Ecology Across a Series of Incarnations, evbooks.net; The Earth Vision Gallery, evbooks.net.
  • Grim, John, ed., 2001, Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Goodenough, Ursula, 1998, The Sacred Depths of Nature, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Harvey, Graham, 2006, Animism: Respecting the Living World, New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Hayden, Tom, 1996, The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit, and Politics, San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.
  • Hughes, J. Donald, 1983, American Indian Ecology, El Paso, TX: Texas Western Press.
  • Kinsley, David, 1995, Ecology and Religion: Ecological Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Martin, Calvin Luther, 1992, In the Spirit of the Earth: Rethinking History and Time, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Matthews, Clifford, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and Philip Hefner, eds., 2002, When Worlds Converge: What Science and Religion Tells Us about the Story of the Universe and Our Place in It, LaSalle, IL: Open Court.
  • McGaa, Ed, 1990, Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.
  • McGrath, Alister, 2003, The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis, New York, NY: Doubelday/Galilee.
  • Messer, Ellen, and Michael Lambek, eds., 2001, Ecology and the Sacred: Engaging the Anthropology of Roy A. Rappaport, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Posey, Darrell, et al., eds., 1999, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, London, UK: Intermediate Technology Publications/UN Environmental Program.
  • Rockefeller, Steven C., and John C. Elder, eds., 1992, Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • Skolimowski, Henryk, 1993, A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living With Reverence Upon the Earth, Rockport, MA: Element.
  • Spring, Cindy, and Anthony Manousos, eds., 2007, EarthLight: Spiritual Wisdom for an Ecological Age, Oakland, CA: EarthLight Corporation.
  • Suzuki, David, and Amanda McConnell, 1997, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Greystone Books.
  • Taylor, Bron, Editor-in-Chief, 2005, The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, New York, NY: Thoemmes Continnum, volumes 1-2. [1]
  • Taylor, Sarah McFarland, 2007, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Tobias, Michael, and Georgianne Cowan, eds., 1996, The Soul of Nature: Celebrating the Spirit of the Earth, New York, NY: Penguin/Plume.
  • Tucker, Mary Evelyn, with Judith A. Berling, 2003, Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase, La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.
  • Watling, Tony, 2009, Ecological Imaginations in the World Religions: An Ethnographic Analysis, London and New York: Continuum International Publishers.
  • Wilson, Edward O., 2006, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
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