Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Formed in the early 1970s as a fusion of a scientific model for understanding plant and animal communities with the alternative consciousness of the 1960s, it is now closely identified with "deep ecology"—a holistic ecophilosophy that stresses the organic interrelatedness, value, and equal rights of all living things. The ecology movement has strong religious underpinnings in Asian religions, in the nature religion of North American indigenous peoples, in the creation-centered spirituality of the medieval Catholic mystics, and in the transcendentalist musings of the turn-of-the-century American conservationist and environmental crusader John Muir.

Along with theologian Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry is the foremost proponent of a "creation-centered spirituality" in which the creation story is reinterpreted according to the tenets of deep ecology. Weaving together strands from the "new physics" and medieval mysticism, Berry rejects the stewardship role conferred on humans in the Genesis account of creation in favor of a more holistic ethic that accords other inhabitants of the Earth (plants, animals) an equal place with humans. Berry's biocentric vision has been a touchstone for the ecospiritual movement for whom he is a prominent spokesperson.

European "new social movement" (NSM) theorist Klaus Eder (1993) has argued that environmentalism has the capacity to replace socialism as the first genuinely modern form of religion. Eder believes that the "environmental crisis" elevates ecological counterculture movements to a unique historical position from which they are tasked with the responsibility of establishing a new current of moral progress in our social relation with nature. In so doing, class action will be fundamentally reorganized, because the "new middle class" constitutes the primary carrier of this revised, spiritually charged vision of modernity.

John Hannigan


C. Albanese, Nature Religion in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)

T. Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988)

T. Berry and B. Swimme, The Universe Story (San Francisco: Harper, 1992)

B. Devall and G. Sessions, Deep Ecology (Salt Lake City: Smith, 1985)

K. Eder, The New Politics of Class (London: Sage, 1993)

D. Hervieu-Léger (ed.), Religion et écologie (Paris: Cerf, 1993)

J. Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916)

A. Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

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