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What is ecotheology?

Ecotheology is a form of constructive theology that focuses on the interrelationships of religion and nature, particularly in the light of environmental concerns. Ecotheology generally starts from the premise that a relationship exists between human religious/spiritual worldviews and the degradation of nature. It explores the interaction between ecological values, such as sustainability, and the human domination of nature. The movement has produced numerous religious-environmental projects around the world.

The burgeoning awareness of environmental crisis has led to widespread religious reflection on the human relationship with the earth. Such reflection has strong precedents in most religious traditions in the realms of ethics and cosmology, and can be seen as a subset or corollary to the theology of nature. Christian ecotheology draws on the writings of such authors as Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, process theologian Alfred North Whitehead, and is well-represented in Protestantism by John Cobb, Jr. and Jurgen Moltmann and ecofeminist theologians Rosemary Radford Ruether, Catherine Keller and Sallie McFague. Creation theology is another important expression of ecotheology that has been developed and popularized by Matthew Fox, the former Catholic priest. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Buber, both Jewish theologians, have also left their mark on Christian ecotheology, and provide significant inspiration for Jewish ecotheology. 

Hindu ecotheology includes writers such as Vandana Shiva. Seyyid Hossein Nasr, a liberal Muslim theologian, was one of the earlier voices calling for a re-evaluation of the Western relationship to nature.

Precedents in religious thought

Christianity has often been viewed as the source of negative values towards the environment (see below), but there are many voices within the Christian tradition whose vision embraces the well-being of the earth and all creatures. While St. Francis of Assisi is one of the more obvious influences on Christian ecotheology, there are many theologians and teachers whose work has profound implications for Christian thinkers. Many of these are less well-known in the West because their primary influence has been on the Orthodox Church rather than the Roman Catholic Church.

The significance of indigenous traditions for the development of ecotheology can also not be understated.

Background

The relationship of theology to the modern ecological crisis became an intense issue of debate in Western academia in 1967, following the publication of the article, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, " by Lynn White, Jr., Professor of History at the University of California at Los Angeles. In this work, White puts forward a theory that the Christian model of human dominion over nature has led to environmental devastation.

In 1973, theologian Jack Rogers published an article in which he surveyed the published studies of approximately twelve theologians which had appeared since White's article. They reflect the search for "an appropriate theological model" which adequately assesses the biblical data regarding any relationship of God, humans, and nature.

References:

  • Rogers, J. (1973). "Ecological Theology: The Search for an Appropriate Theological Model." Reprinted from Septuagesino Anno: Theologiche Opstellen Aangebsden Aan Prof. Dr. G. C. Berkower. The Netherlands: J.H. Kok.
  • White, L. Jr. (1971). "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis." Reprinted in A.E. Lugo & S.C. Snedaker (Eds.) Readings on Ecological Systems: Their Function and Relation to Man. New York: MSS Educational Publishing.
  • "Why Care for Earth's Environment?" (in the series "The Bible's Viewpoint") is a two-page article in the December 2007 issue of Awake! magazine. This represents the Bible's viewpoint according to the viewpoint of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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