Devoted to Nature explores the religious underpinnings of American environmentalism, tracing the theological character of American environmental thought from its Romantic foundations to contemporary nature spirituality. During the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, religious sources were central to the formation of the American environmental imagination, shaping ideas about the natural world, establishing practices of engagement with environments and landscapes, and generating new modes of social and political interaction. Building on the work of seminal environmental historians who acknowledge the environmental movement’s religious roots, Evan Berry offers a potent theoretical corrective to the narrative that explained the presence of religious elements in the movement well into the twentieth century. In particular, Berry argues that an explicitly Christian understanding of salvation underlies the movement’s orientation toward the natural world. Theologically derived concepts of salvation, redemption, and spiritual progress have not only provided the basic context for Americans’ passion for nature but have also established the horizons of possibility within the national environmental imagination.
Introduction: Whither Religion?
1. Recreation and Soteriology
2. Congregating around Nature
3. Sacred Space and the American Environmental Imagination
4. Recreation and Spiritual Experience
Conclusion: The Mechanics of Religious Change
For Further Reading and Research
Evan Berry is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at American University and Codirector of its Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs master's program.
"A significant scholarly contribution to understanding environmentalism . . . Recommended."—CHOICE connect
“This pathbreaking work changes the way we think about American environmentalism and its religious history. In particular, it challenges us to think about why we are ‘devoted to nature’ and how we are entangled with its processes. Berry has made a valuable contribution—clarifying our history so as to see a path forward.” —Mary Evelyn Tucker, Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University and coauthor of Journey of the Universe
“In this fascinating study that fuses environmental history and religious studies, Evan Berry has profitably illuminated the religious roots of environmentalism in the early twentieth century. His provocative interpretations and claims deserve a robust pondering and will engender debate, no doubt.”—Bron Taylor, Professor of Religion and Nature at the University of Florida and author of Dark Green Religion