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Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, IUPUI

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As the pandemic dominated Americans’ attention in 2020, another crisis—climate change—worsened with alarming speed. The year 2020 brought the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever, the West Coast’s worst fire season, and the hottest global temperatures (tied with 2016). All of this unfolded even as the Trump administration, in alliance with evangelical climate-change deniers, continued to thwart policies that would combat global warming. Now, with the election of Joe Biden, the U.S. has rejoined the Paris climate accord and environmentalism is regaining political momentum. What is religion’s role in this new environment, and how does it shape Americans’ understanding of climate change? What questions should scholars be pursuing on religion and climate? Join our expert panelists as they reflect on these and related questions.

Video clips:

Religious Laity and Environmentalism

How is environmentalism framed among scholars and religious communities?


Online Publications

Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 88, Issue 3, September 2020, Pages 832–858, 2020

Scholarship on religious environmentalism and green religion in the United States has privileged the actions of progressive white activists who view nature through an Enlightenment framework. In response to a call in the 2015 JAAR’s roundtable on climate destabilization and religion to engage in discourse about “the myriad causes and myriad possible solutions to our environmental crisis,” this article examines religious environmentalism from a nondominant perspective. Based on ethnographic research among Latinx churchgoing Catholics in Los Angeles, I have identified a widespread ethic of living lightly on the earth, which I call nepantla environmentalism. It is grounded in an immanent, relational worldview in which God is present in the material and the human-nature boundary is porous. A focus on nepantla environmentalism calls attention to the raced and classed biases embedded in dominant understandings of green religion in the United States. It demonstrates that there are different ways of being a religious environmentalist.

Teaching Theology and Religion. Vol. 22, Issue 4, Oct 2019)

Confronting Racism and White Privilege in Courses on Religion and the Environment: An Inclusive Pedagogical Approach

(Teaching Theology and Religion 22.4, 2019)

Courses on religion and the environment must confront racism and white privilege in order to remain relevant for the diverse students who increasingly fill higher education classrooms. Recognizing that traditional approaches for understanding environmentalism can isolate students of color by failing to recognize their own communities and experiences, I offer two assignments – Ecological Footprint Journals and a community‐based research project – that empower students to think of environmentalism in new, more relevant ways. This approach has benefitted my students by displacing the dominance of Eurocentric thinking in my curriculum and creating a class culture that values diverse perspectives. It has also profoundly shaped my research trajectory, by helping me identify raced and classed biases that are embedded in my field, and leading me to develop a research project that complements my teaching by challenging some of those hidden assumptions.

Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology. 23.2 (2019) (93-112).

Explicit and Embedded Environmentalism: Challenging Normativities in
the Greening of Religion
(Worldviews, 23.2, 2019)

The precise influence that religious outlooks have on environmental attitudes and behaviors is a matter of debate among scholars of religion and ecology. While some studies suggest that emergent ecofriendly interpretations of traditional religions offer a promising path for addressing the world’s ecological crisis, others advance more skeptical evaluations about institutional religions’ efficacy in advancing sustainability efforts. In this article I seek to shift the terms of this debate. Whether scholars suggest there is a correlation or insist there is not, these arguments envision environmentalism based on the model of the mainstream, white American environmental movement, assuming that religious environmentalism must entail explicit, concerted efforts to protect the earth. This assumption has led scholars to overlook embedded environmental expressions that are expressed theologically rather than politically, especially among communities that do not identify with mainstream American environmentalism. By interrogating the assumption that religious environmentalism must involve concerted, political efforts, scholars of religion and ecology can better account for the ways religion influences environmental attitudes and behaviors among religious communities who are not affluent and white.

Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture. Vol 9, No 3, 2015)

“Green is Where it’s At! Cultivating Environmental Concern at an African American Church"

(Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, 9.3, 2015)

Since the 1990s much 'religion and ecology' scholarship has sought to identify theological, ethical, and scriptural resources that suggest all religions teach their followers to protect the earth. Case studies have focused primarily on success stories that demonstrate how religions can contribute to a more sustainable future, but religion and ecology scholarship has paid inadequate attention to cultural complexities involved with cultivating environmental concern in religious communities. This article aims to address some of those neglected factors. A bible study on food, faith, and the environment held at an African American church in Chicago offers a glimpse into a window for exploring how assumptions about ethnicity and class influence the presumed ‘greening’ of American religion. I argue that efforts to ‘green’ American religion have relied not only on religious teachings, but also on latent assumptions about ethnicity and class.

"Interfaith Environmentalism and Uneven Opportunities to Flourish"

in That All May Flourish: Comparative Religious Environmental Ethics , Ed. Laura Hartman (Oxford University Press, 2018)

In this chapter I discuss two examples of religious environmental activism to consider how different groups might flourish through their involvement with "green" religion. A group of UU community gardeners and members of a "green" mosque both combined principles of environmental stewardship, social justice, and interfaith cooperation through their religious environmental projects. While these cases seem to represent interfaith environmentalism at its best, closer examination demonstrates that the outcomes of interfaith environmentalism do not always center on the environment, and the opportunity to flourish is not shared equally by all.