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Spiritual Ecology: Is It the Ultimate Solution for the Environmental Crisis?: Abrahamic Religions

By Leslie E. Sponsel

Abrahamic Religions

The literature on Christian, Islamic, and Judaic spiritual ecology is substantial, but by far most of it is on Christianity.  At least in part, this may reflect the influence of Lynn White’s indictment of Christianity.  Because of the wealth of books on Protestant and Catholic spiritual ecology, it has been difficult to decide which to include here, but the following stand out to this author.

Celia Deane-Drummond in Eco-Theology provides a wide-ranging, thorough survey of Christian religious environmentalism, with separate chapters about influences from the North (the creation spirituality of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Matthew Fox, and Thomas Berry), South (liberation theology), East (Eastern Orthodox tradition), and West (Michael Northcott and others).  Other chapters cover Christology, theodicy, eschatology (apocalypse), feminist theology, and justice in relation to ecology.  John Hart in his more limited What Are They Saying about Environmental Theology? explores official environmental statements from Rome and from Catholic bishops in the Americas.  Among the few treatments of the Eastern Orthodox tradition is the book edited by John Chryssavgis, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch Bartholomew I, about the penetrating thoughts and initiatives of an outstanding world leader in religious environmentalism.

Leonardo Boff in Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor skillfully addresses the connections between environment and social justice within the framework of Catholic liberation theology with specific reference to his native Brazil.  More broadly, in the World Council of Churches’ original publication, Ecotheology: Voices from South and North, editor David G. Hallman assembles essays by authors from fifteen countries.  They consider the theological and ethical dimensions of the environmental crisis for the church and its implications for the lifestyles of Christians and others.

The Green Bible, edited by Michael G. Maudlin and several others, highlights in light green over a thousand verses of environmental relevance.  The Sierra Club published Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation, edited by Lyndsay Moseley, a rich collection of personal accounts by prominent authors, including religious leaders.  As a response to global climate change, the founder of Interfaith Power and Light, Sally G. Bingham, edited Love God, Heal Earth, in which “21 leading religious voices speak out on our sacred duty to protect the environment.”  Mallory McDuff in Natural Saints: How People of Faith Are Working to Save God’s Earth describes eight exemplary environmental ministries in the United States and how they are simultaneously transforming the associated individuals and congregations.  In Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, Sarah McFarland Taylor documents the lifestyles of environmentally active Catholic nuns in North America as they develop new forms of religious culture to help heal the planet.  In Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues, biologist and founder of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies Calvin B. DeWitt provides an evangelical perspective.

Only in recent years has the literature on Islam and ecology started accumulating.  Mawil Izzi Dien in The Environmental Dimension of Islam scrutinizes the relevance of this religion for environmentalism from historical, theological, philosophical, ethical, and legal viewpoints.  Environmentalism in the Muslim World, edited by Richard C. Foltz, considers the successes and failures of Islamic environmental activism, with essays by leaders in the movement from Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey.  Basing his book on interviews with American Muslims, reading the Quran, and other research, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin in Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet describes Islamic environmentalism, especially regarding water, food, energy, and waste.  He includes an extensive list of websites.

Turning to Judaism, two works are of historic interest.  Prominent soil scientist Daniel Hillel in The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Explanation of the Hebrew Scriptures examines how the diverse environments of the Near East from deserts to forests influenced the culture and, in turn, religion of early Israelites.  In the two volumes of Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought, editor Rabbi Arthur Waskow compiles studies by thirty-two experts reflecting on the four major approaches of Judaism in relation to the environment and environmentalism.  Martin D. Yaffe’s edited book, Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader, is an interdisciplinary compilation of essays surveying aspects as diverse as biblical hermeneutics, political philosophy, and deep ecology.

Ellen Bernstein in Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: When Nature and Spirit Meet analyzes the place of Jewish people in nature and the role of nature in their spirituality through sacred space, time, and texts as well as traditional law, holidays, prayer, and good deeds.  In Trees, Earth and Torah, editors Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow offer the definitive work on the history of Tu B’Shvat, the annual ritual of tree planting.  Matt Biers-Ariel, Deborah Newbrun, and Michael Fox Smart in Spirit in Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail provide a unique guide for naturalists, teachers, parents, and others, with twenty-seven practical activities based on Jewish values to enhance the sensual and spiritual experience and adventure of hiking.

Works Cited