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Greening of American Religions (McFarland Taylor)

Course Title

The Greening of American Religion
Religious Studies 152


Sarah McFarland Taylor
Department of Religion
Northwestern University




Religion; Environmental Studies

Pedagogical Level



Summer 1998


University of California, Santa Barbara


In the last 30 years, America has seen the rise of environmental consciousness to the extent that nearly 80% of Americans polled now describe themselves as “environmentalists.” What has the mainstreaming of environmental values meant for the spiritual lives and religious institutions of Americans? How has the give-and-take between ecological awareness and spiritual experience become a powerful force in shaping a variety of theologies and religious practices in this country? Indeed, how has environmental activism itself become a spiritual movement? How have more ecological sustainable living, environmentally conscious practice, and green politics collectively come to constitute a spiritual path for a growing number of Americans?


Religious Studies 152 is a course that explores recent movements in American religion and the interrelationships between religion, society, and culture. This quarter, our focus on contemporary currents in religion and ecology will provide an ideal window into understanding the forces at work in today’s vital and changing American religious landscape. We will identify and consider the significance of the religious themes and imagery utilized within the environmental movement. We will also analyze “greening” trends within religious institutions in light of tensions between philosophies of anthropocentrism and biocentrism, stewardship and deep ecology, bioregionalism and globalism. In doing so, we examine the spiritual dimensions of ecofeminism, food ethics, back-to-the-land movements, voluntary simplicity, and ecopsychology. Finally, we will analyze contemporary “ecotopian” and “eco-apocalyptic” visions of the future for what they might tell us about the religious climate in America at the turn of a new century.


No special format listed


None listed.


Course requirements will be explained in-class. See also, “Grades.”


Writing requirements and approximate grade percentages:

Class Participation
Note Cards and Weekly Written Assignments
July 16th Examination
Final Term Paper

Required Texts

Gottlieb, Roger S. This Sacred Earth. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Macy, Joanna, John Seed, et al. Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings. Philadelphia, Pa.: New Society Publishers, c1988.

Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Course Reader

Jun 22 Course Introduction/Orientation
Make sure to purchase all course materials, including the reader.
Jun 23

How Has the Environment Become a Spiritual Issue?
Assigned Reading

  • Gottlieb, “Introduction: Religion in an Age of Environmental Crisis,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Jung, “Why the Health of the Environment Is a Spiritual Issue,” in Course Reader.
  • Ferris, “Clergy Begins Thinking Green,” in Course Reader.
Jun 24 Growing Green: Current Trends in American Religion
Assigned Reading
  • Nash, “The Greening of Religion,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Parks, “Green Patriarch Declares Pollution of Earth Is a Sin,” in Course Reader.
Jun 25 The Spiritual Dimensions of Deep Ecology
Assigned Reading
  • Moore, “Ecology: Sacred Homemaking,” in Course Reader.
  • U.S. Environmental Sabbath Program, “We Have Forgotten Who We Are,” in Course Reader.
  • Sessions and Devall, “Arne Naess and Deep Ecology,” in Course Reader.
  • Seed, “Beyond Anthropocentrism,” in Thinking Like a Mountain.
Jun 29

Eco-Activism and Spiritual Crusade
Assigned Reading

  • Forman, “Becoming the Forest in Defense of Itself,” in Course Reader.
  • Taylor, “Earth First!: From Primal Spirituality to Ecological Resistance,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Innes, “The Testimony of Graham Innes,” in Thinking Like a Mountain.
Jun 30

Green Martyrs and Forest Vigils
Assigned Reading

  • Brazil, “Determined Woman Guards Forest Giant,” in Course Reader.
  • Carpenter, “Fighting For Freedom,” in Course Reader.
  • Julia “Butterfly” hill, “Butterfly’s Story,” in Course Reader.
  • Seed and Macy, “Gaia Meditations,” in Thinking Like a Mountain.

Video: Luna: The Story of the Stafford Giant.

Jul 1

“Rabbis in the Redwoods”: Jewish Environmentalism, Green Ritual, and Shomrei Adamah
Assigned Reading

  • “The Trees Are Davening: A Tu B’Shvat Haggadah Celebrating Our Kinship With the Trees and the Earth,” in Course Reader.
  • Headwaters Documents/Letters From the Redwood Rabbis/Jewish Earth Activism Documents, in Course Reader.
Jul 2 “Eco-Kosher” movements and Food Ethics
Assigned Reading
  • Waskow, “What Is Eco-Kosher?,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Green, “Vegetarianism: A Kashrut for Our Age,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Robbins, “Diet For a New America,” in Course Reader.
Jul 6

Sacred Agriculture, Divine Diversity, and “Foodspirit”
Assigned Reading

  • MacGillis, “Food As Sacrament,” in Course Reader.
  • Moore, “Biodynamic Food For Thought,” in Course Reader.
  • Fox, “The Ten Commandments of Human Organic Sustainable Agriculture,” in Course Reader.
  • Fox, “Four Bioethical Principles,” in Course Reader.
  • Fox, “Agrichemicals and Pesticides,” in Course Reader.

Suggested Reading

  • Barton, “Thinking Like a Seed,” in Course Reader.
Jul 7 Consuming the Earth: Voluntary Simplicity Movements
Assigned Reading
  • New Road Map Foundation, “Waking From the American Dream.”
  • Plain Magazine, “The Simple Life,” in Course Reader.
  • Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity Chart, in Course Reader.
  • “Christian Homesteading,” in Course Reader.
  • Gould, “Getting (Not Too) Close to Nature: Modern Homesteading As Lived Religion in America,” in Course Reader.

Video: Culture Jammers Five 30–second Uncommercials.

Jul 8 Catholics, Creation-Centered Spirituality, and Green Sisters
Assigned Reading
  • Fox, “Creation Spirituality,” in Course Reader.
  • Berry and Swimme, “The Universe Story,” in Course Reader.
  • MacGillis, “Fate of the Earth,” in Course Reader.
  • NCRLC, “Religion Congregations on the Land,” in Course Reader.
  • McCarthy, “Nuns’ Farm Yields Love For the Land,” in Course Reader.

Slides: Green Sisters and Catholic Ecospiritual Learning Centers.

Jul 9

“The Earth Is the Lord’s” : Catholic Stewardship and Eco-Justice
Assigned Reading

  • Pope John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • U. S. Catholic Conference (USCC) documents, in Course Reader.

Video: “The Earth Is the Lord’s.”

Jul 13

Liberal Protestantism, Labyrinths, Earth Shrines, and the “Green Cathedral”
Assigned Reading

  • Naar, “The Green Cathedral,” in Course Reader.
  • “Soul to Sole,” in Course Reader.
  • Artress, “The Labyrinth,” in Course Reader.

Video: Paul Winter performing Gaian Mass (from “A Sense of Place”).

Jul 14

Green Evangelicals and the Society of the Green Cross
Assigned Reading

  • Documents from the Evangelical Environmental Network, in Course Reader.
  • Campolo, “How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshipping Nature,” in Course Reader.

Video: How To Rescue the Earth Without Worshipping Nature.

Jul 15

Native Spirituality, Land Ethics, and the Earth
Assigned Reading

  • LaDuke, “Like Tributaries to a River,” in Course Reader.
  • Daley, “We Are the Buffalo People,” in Course Reader.
  • Blackburn, “December’s Child,” in Course Reader.

Video: Audrey Shenandoah (“The Unfolding Story”).

Jul 16

In-Class Exam

Jul 20

American Buddhist Perspectives on the Environment
Assigned Reading

  • Kraft, “The Greening of Buddhist Practice,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Snyder, “Buddhism and the Possibility of a Planetary Culture,” in Course Reader.
  • Snyder, “I Pledge Allegiance to the Soil,” in Course Reader.
Jul 21

Women, Nature Mysticism, and Ecofeminist Spirituality
Assigned Reading

  • Griffin, “Woman and Nature the Roaring Inside Her,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Williams, “The Clan of the One-Breasted Women,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Starhawk, “Feminist, Earth-Based Spirituality and Ecofeminism,” in Course Reader.
  • King, “Feminism and the Revolt of Nature,” in Course Reader.
Jul 22

Where Psyche Meets “Gaia”: Contemporary Movements in Ecopsychology
Assigned Reading

  • Roszak, “The Voice of the Earth,” in Course Reader.
  • Windle, “The Ecology of Grief,” in Course Reader.
  • O’Connor, “Therapy For a Dying Planet” in Course Reader.
  • Macy, “The Power of Our Grief,” in Course Reader.
  • O’Connor, “The Power of Our Grief,” in Course Reader.

Video: Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Self.

Jul 23

Ritual, Grief, and the “Council of All Beings”
Assigned Reading

  • Thinking Like a Mountain, 1–17, 79–90, 97–114.
  • “Ritual Is Essential,” in Course Reader.

Field Trip Hiking up “Seven Falls” in Mission Creek Canyon—Friday Morning, July 24 (Bring something to swim in, water, lunch, sunscreen, good hiking shoes, a small notebook, and both the Snyder and Seed readings).

Jul 27

Bioregionalism and the Spirituality of Place
Assigned Reading

  • Snyder, “Reinhabitation,” in Course Reader.
  • Mills, “Standing In the Places We Live,” in Course Reader.
  • Jackson, “Becoming Native To This Place,” in Course Reader.
  • Berg, “Bioregional Cultural Awareness,” in Course Reader.

Video: A Sense of Place.

Jul 28

Ecotopian Visions and Environmental Apocalypticism
Assigned Reading

  • Sessions and Devall, “Ecotopia: The Vision Defined,” in Course Reader.
  • Berry, “Into the Future: The Ecozoic Era,” in This Sacred Earth.
  • Callenbach, “Ecotopia,” in Course Reader.
Jul 29

Ecotopian Visions (continued).
Assigned Reading

  • Forster, “The Machine Stops,” in Course Reader.

In-Class Assignment
Discussion: Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing.

Videos: Handmaid’s Tale and Gattica.

Jul 30

Final Day of Class
In-Class Assignments
Continued discussion of The Fifth Sacred Thing.
Course summary and evaluation.

Assignment Due
Final Term Papers are Due


Copyright © 1999 Sarah McFarland Taylor.
Reprinted with permission.
The author retains all copyrights for all syllabi materials.
Please contact each author individually for reprint rights.