Q&A: The historic link between religion and environmentalism

Deseret News - As the world waits for Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on the environment — which is expected to guide discussion of climate change in Catholic parishes and offer moral arguments for people of faith to live sustainably — a new book is adding perspective to debates over religion's role in the environmental movement.

Author Mark Stoll, associate professor of history and director of environmental studies at Texas Tech University, traces the development of environmentalism across religious denominations, exploring how New England Congregationalists, then Presbyterians, then Southern Baptists, Catholics and Jews each led the charge at different points in history to protect America's forests and mountains.

Profiling prominent environmentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir and John Denver, Stoll highlights how leaders' faith backgrounds influence what they work toward and the strategies they deploy to make a difference. Although most of the profiled leaders left formal religious practice behind in adulthood, their early exposure to faith deeply informed their work in the environmental movement, equipping them with the moral language required to inspire activism on a national scale, Stoll concludes.

"A religious perspective gives the history and development of environmentalism a trajectory, unity and power," he writes, reflecting on what the decline of religious institutions in contemporary America could mean for the environmental movement.

Read the story here.