Between heaven and Earth: Eco-spirituality comes of age

The unsettling rate of climate change as well as the scope of environmental destruction and species extinction have led many to voice a deep pessimism about the fate of the Earth in the “Anthropocene” era — an unofficial geologic term describing mankind’s impact on creation.

But others are reacting against paralyzing fears of ecological apocalypse by fostering new ways of spiritual thinking about the globe and new practices designed to protect the environment and to promote a heightened awareness of the earthiness of the divine.

This “eco-spirituality” is the topic of this edition of ReligionLink, which provides background, resources and experts for writers preparing stories on this topic.


Contrary to some media accounts, most U.S. religious groups have embraced the scientific consensus regarding climate change. They are also acting on those convictions, as communities or as individuals. For example, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and others are installing solar panels, planting gardens and conducting services under the canopy of trees. They’re also exploring less conventional expressions of eco-spirituality, from gratefulness ceremonies and Cosmic Masses to Earth Sabbaths and other rituals that  inspire, renew and express oneness with the planet.

Reporters can find many ways to delve into this growing interest. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Native wisdom: Nature-based traditions have cultural practices that offer guidance on living in balance with the Earth. Christian and Jewish groups have never been more open to their stories as they strive to consume less and conserve more. In many congregations, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers project has been hugely popular.
  • Sustainability projects: Many congregations have started Lenten “carbon fasts” and family sustainability challenges. Others are partnering with groups such as the Transition Network, which encourages people to undertake practical projects such as community supported agriculture, shared transportation services, seed swaps, tool libraries, energy saving clubs, urban orchards, etc.
  • Slow money: A movement is afoot to invest in local food economies and transition from consumption economies to a system based on preservation and restoration. Many religious congregations are taking part in in these programs.
  • Simple Christmas: Many say they want to experience the authentic joy and meaning of the holiday season. To foster that, some congregations are doing away with material trappings and encouraging congregants to make, swap or donate gifts at alternative gift fairs.
  • The Bible and eco-justice: Divinity schools have added a new concentration in recent years: the theology of creation. It preaches that God is a relational being who has created a world in which interrelatedness is integral to the nature of reality. This theology finds the roots of ecological consciousness and eco-justice abundantly present in Jewish and Christian Scriptures.
  • The eco-philosophers: Many progressive religious congregations are embracing a new crop of creation-friendly thinkers. It includes people such as Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Matthew Fox and Wendell Berry. What do these thinkers have in common?

Articles and blog posts

National sources

  • E. Calvin Beisner

    E. Calvin Beisner is founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which describes itself as “committed to bringing a balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” He is more supportive of President Donald Trump’s approach to environmental issues than other faith leaders and has been critical of the value of the Paris climate agreement. The media coordinator for the Cornwall Alliance is Megan Kinard.

  • Sally Bingham

    The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham is an Episcopal priest who founded the San Francisco-based Regeneration Project, which sponsors the environmental organization Interfaith Power & Light. She has been active in the environmental community for decades and is the lead author of Love God Heal Earth, a collection of essays by religious leaders on environmental stewardship. She is now the president emeritus of the Interfaith Power & Light board of directors. Contact Susan Stephenson with interview requests.

  • Ellen F. Davis

    Ellen F. Davis is Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. Davis has been in the vanguard among theologians studying the biblical understanding of care for the land, and she is a sought-after speaker on topics such as the ethics of land use. She is the author of Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.

  • Joel C. Hunter

    Joel C. Hunter is pastor of the megachurch Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, Fla., and author of Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Conservative Christians. He says Christians should be politically involved without sacrificing the Christian mission of service to the poor and weak. Hunter has also been involved in conservative Christian environmental action, and his church released a documentary in 2013 urging Christians to care for creation. Contact via Marie Price, executive assistant.

  • Stacey Kennealy

    Stacey Kennealy directs GreenFaith’s two-year environmental leadership program for houses of worship. She has worked with numerous and diverse congregations to foster sustainable consumption practices and environmental initiatives. GreenFaith is based in Highland Park, N.J.

  • Jamie Korngold

    Jamie Korngold is the Adventure Rabbi and author of God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors With the Adventure Rabbi. She is based in Boulder, Colo.

    Contact: 303-417-6200 ext. 1.
  • Miriam Therese MacGillis

    Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis is a Roman Catholic sister in the Dominican order who has been deeply involved in environmental work for decades. In 1980, she helped create Genesis Farm, an Earth literacy center in Blairstown, N.J., and she serves as its director. In 2007, the environmental magazine Grist named her one of the world’s top 15 green religious leaders.

    Contact: 908-362-6735.
  • Joanna Macy

    Joanna Macy is an eco-philosopher and a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. She has been an activist for many years in the peace, justice and ecology movements and conducts workshops and training for many groups, including churches. She lives in Berkeley, Calif. Contact through her website.

  • Beth Norcross

    Beth Norcross is an adjunct faculty member in eco-theology and eco-spirituality at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. She co-founded the Green Seminary Initiative and has developed several Earth-centered educational resources for congregations and individuals.

  • Bron Raymond Taylor

    Bron Raymond Taylor is a religion professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he helped to launch a graduate program in religion and nature. Taylor was also instrumental in the formation of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and served as its first president from 2006-2009. He is considered a leading scholar on religion and nature, and his books include (as editor) the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and (as author) Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.


  • Norman Wirzba

    Norman Wirzba is professor of theology and ecology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. His research focuses on “understanding and promoting practices that can equip both rural and urban church communities to be more faithful and responsible members of creation,” specifically through eating as a spiritual discipline, theological reflection as informed by place and agrarianism as a viable and comprehensive cultural force. Wirzba’s books include (as co-author) Making Peace With the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile With Creation.


  • Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

    The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life concentrates on addressing climate change and encouraging sustainable congregations. Its national partners are the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

  • Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

    The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation was formed to put into action the ideas set forth in the “Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship,” which posits that although “some environmental concerns are well founded and serious, others are without foundation or greatly exaggerated.” The alliance is based in Virginia and includes clergy, theologians, scientists, policy experts and others. Megan Toombs is the Alliance’s media contact.

  • Earth Day Network

    The Earth Day Network was born out of the first Earth Day in 1970 and works with more than 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. In addition to coordinating Earth Day activities, the network, which is based in Washington, D.C., works throughout the year to promote green policies. Its website includes resources for faith groups wanting to get involved.

  • Earth Ministry

    Earth Ministry includes congregational activists in the Puget Sound, Wash., area, but its programs and resources are in use throughout the United States and Canada. It is interested in creation care and eco-justice, including food issues. Though based in Christianity, Earth Ministry’s programs and membership are open to people of all faiths. LeeAnne Beres is the executive director.

  • Episcopal Ecological Network

    The Episcopal Ecological Network is a ministry of the Episcopal Church that advocates on behalf of the church for care of the environment.

  • Evangelical Environmental Network

    The Evangelical Environmental Network is a Christian ministry dedicated to mobilizing people to care for God’s creation. The network provides resources for congregations and advocates for environmentally friendly policies.

  • GreenFaith

    GreenFaith is an interfaith coalition based in New Jersey that works with houses of worship, religious schools and people of all faiths to help them become better environmental stewards. The Rev. Fletcher Harper is executive director.

  • Interfaith Power & Light

    Interfaith Power & Light works to mobilize faith communities in response to global warming. The organization has affiliates in more than 35 states and is based in San Francisco. Susan Stephenson is executive director.

  • Mennonite Creation Care Network

    The Mennonite Creation Care Network encourages the congregations in the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Church Canada to engage in care of the environment and serves as a network for Mennonites engaged in that work. Jennifer Schrock heads the network, which is based in Wolf Lake, Ind.

  • National Religious Partnership for the Environment

    The National Religious Partnership for the Environment is an alliance of major faith groups and denominations across the spectrum of Jewish and Christian communities and organizations in the United States. Its four founding partners are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Creation Justice Ministries and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

  • Presbyterians for Earth Care

    Presbyterians for Earth Care, formerly Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, is a grass-roots national organization of Presbyterians associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are concerned about the environment and work to support the church’s environmental statements and goals.

  • Target Earth

    Target Earth, in Colfax, Wash., is a national network of Christian organizations committed to environmental stewardship.

  • Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth

    The Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth encourages Unitarian Universalists and organizations at all levels to articulate Unitarian Universalist theology, principles and values around Earth ministry and to develop common language to facilitate their environmental justice work.

Institutes and centers

  • Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies

    The Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies defines its mission as promoting “knowledge of the Creation with biblical principles for the purpose of bringing the Christian community and the general public to a better understanding of the Creator and the stewardship of God’s Creation.” It conducts programs to promote Christian environmental stewardship through academic and community programs, outreach and retreats. The institute maintains campuses in Michigan, Washington state, Costa Rica and India. Fred Van Dyke is executive director.

  • Passionist Earth & Spirit Center

    The Passionist Earth & Spirit Center strives “to inspire, educate and mobilize religious institutions and people of faith to assume an active role in caring for God’s creation, embracing Gospel justice and nurturing spiritual wisdom.” The center describes itself as rooted in Christianity and the Passionist charism but with programs and resources available to all. It’s located in Louisville, Ky., and the Rev. Joseph Mitchell is executive director.

  • Shalom Center

    The Shalom Center focuses on planetary ecological dangers from its offices in Philadelphia. It is associated with the Jewish Renewal movement, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director.

  • Teva Learning Center

    Teva Learning Center is a Jewish environmental education institute. It is nondenominational and provides educational service for participants from Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues, camps and youth groups. Yishai Cohen is director of programs.

  • Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

    The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology wants to establish religion and ecology as an area of study and research in universities, colleges, seminaries and other religiously affiliated institutions. The forum arose out of a series of conferences on the world’s religions and ecology hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions.

Faith-based projects and programs

There are numerous faith-based programs focused on various aspects of eco-spirituality, and their numbers continue to grow. Here are just a few.

  • Canfei Nesharim

    Canfei Nesharim (Hebrew for “the wings of eagles”) works to educate the Orthodox Jewish community about preserving the environment. Evonne Marzouk is the organization’s founder and executive director.

  • Environmental Justice Program

    The Environmental Justice Program, a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, educates and motivates Catholics to a deeper reverence and respect for God’s creation and encourages Catholics to address environmental problems, especially as they affect poor and vulnerable people. The program serves as a resource for Catholic dioceses and state Catholic conferences, and through them Catholic parishes. Contact through the website.

  • God’s Renewed Creation

    God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action is a project of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church that examines the interconnectedness of poverty, violence and environmental degradation. The project has worked toward numerous sustainability projects, including the certification of LEED Methodist offices, and provides resources, study guides and materials. Contact through the website.

  • Green Seminary Initiative

    The Green Seminary Initiative fosters efforts by theological schools and seminaries to incorporate care for creation into the identity and mission of the institution. It is dedicated to building a nationwide coalition of theological schools that infuse care of the Earth into all aspects of theological education. The Green Seminary Initiative is hosted by the Theological School at Drew University in New Jersey.

  • Creation Justice Ministries

    Creation Justice Ministries (formerly the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program) works in cooperation with national bodies of Protestant denominations, Orthodox communions, regional faith groups and congregants to protect and restore God’s creation.

  • TorahTrek

    The TorahTrek Center for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality conducts retreats, outdoor adventures and events that make a connection to Jewish life and the environment. Rabbi Mike Comins is its founder. It is based in Los Angeles. Contact through the form on their website.

  • Web of Creation

    The Web of Creation, an ecumenical site maintained by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, provides congregational resources on ecology and religion. Contact director David Rhoads.

International organizations and sources

  • Alliance of Religions and Conservation

    The Alliance of Religions and Conservation is an international secular organization that works to help religious bodies develop environmental stewardship programs. It’s based in Bath, England.

  • A Rocha

    A Rocha is an international Christian organization working to care for the environment. The organization has projects in many countries around the world. The organization’s U.S. office is in Fredericksburg, Texas.

    Contact: +44 (0)300 770 1346.
  • Big Green Jewish Website

    The Big Green Jewish Website is the home of the climate change campaign of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom. The site works to raise awareness about environmental issues by educating and empowering people to make changes in their lives.

  • Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology

    The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology is a Christian teaching and research institute associated with the University of Toronto in Canada. Dennis Patrick O’Hara is director.

  • Richard Foltz

    Richard Foltz is a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and director of its Centre for Iranian Studies. He is considered a pioneer in the academic field combining religion and ecology and is an expert in Islamic religious and cultural attitudes toward animals. His books include (as author) Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures and (as editor) Worldviews, Religion and the Environment: A Global Anthology. He has also researched Mormonism.

  • International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers

    The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers includes indigenous women from the Americas, Asia and Africa who first convened in 2004. Their alliance emphasizes prayer and education to protect the Earth and indigenous ways of life. The group’s office is in Sonora, Calif. Contact using the form on their website.

  • International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture

    The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture is an organization of experts from around the world on religion, cultures, geographies and their environmental concerns. It is based at the University of Florida. Sarah Pike is the president. Communications director is Ipsita Chatterjea.

  • Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences

    The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences is an international organization that highlights a Muslim perspective on environmental issues. It is based in Birmingham, England. Fazlun Khalid is founder and director.

  • Sallie McFague

    Sallie McFague is Distinguished Theologian in Residence at Vancouver School of Theology in Canada and a former dean at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. She has written numerous articles and several books on theology and the environment, including Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature and Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint.

Regional sources

In the East

  • Mohamad A. Chakaki

    Mohamad A. Chakaki is an environmental consultant for the Baraka Group in Washington, D.C. He helped launch the environmental network Green Muslims. Contact through the Center for Whole Communities, where he is on the faculty.

    Contact: 802-496-5690.
  • Stephanie Kaza

    Stephanie Kaza is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where she teaches courses on religion and ecology, eco-feminism and “unlearning consumerism.” She is a practicing Soto Zen Buddhist and is co-editor of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.

  • David Legates

    David Legates is a professor in the geography department at the University of Delaware. His expertise includes hydroclimatology, computational methods and precipitation and climate change. He is a former director of the university’s Center for Climatic Research and a former Delaware state climatologist. Legates is a noted denier of human contribution to climate change.


  • Jonathan Merritt

    Jonathan Merritt writes and speaks extensively on faith and culture and is a senior columnist for Religion News Service. Merritt’s books include A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined. He can discuss the viewpoints and concerns of young evangelicals on a range of issues, especially on sexuality and sexual identity and the environment. He lives in Brooklyn. Contact through his website.

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.

  • Linda Neil

    Sister Linda Neil is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and is based in the order’s Albany, N.Y., province. Neil, who has master’s degrees in Earth literacy and in religious studies, teaches a workshop series titled “Encountering Earth: Reclaiming the Human in the Web of Life,” designed to help participants become more mindful of the Earth’s systems and creatures.

In the South

  • Fred Bahnson

    Fred Bahnson is director of the Food, Faith & Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, N.C. He co-founded a church-supported agriculture ministry in Cedar Grove, N.C., in 2005 and has taught regenerative agriculture for many years. Bahnson is the author of Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith and co-author of Making Peace With the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile With Creation.

  • Karen Baker-Fletcher

    Karen Baker-Fletcher is a professor of systematic theology at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. She specializes in womanist theology and is the co-author of My Sister, My Brother: Womanist and Xodus God-Talk. Baker-Fletcher’s research interests also include ecology, and in 2007 the environmental magazine Grist named her as one of 15 top religious leaders on green issues.

  • Beth Conklin

    Beth Conklin is an associate professor of anthropology and religious studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and co-director of the Ecology and Spirituality in America project at the university’s Center for the Study of Religion and Culture. The project focuses on the influences driving the consumer culture in the U.S. and the problems it creates.

  • Anne Daniell

    Anne Daniell is an instructor in the religious studies department at Loyola University New Orleans. She is particularly interested in “theology of place” (particularly New Orleans), which examines how eco-culture affects religiosity and how constructive theological thinking can shape how people care for their environment.

  • Vasudha Narayanan

    Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and she helped found the university’s Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, of which she is director. She is a noted scholar of Hinduism and the environment.

  • Dr. Matthew Sleeth

    Dr. Matthew Sleeth is a former emergency room physician who now preaches and teaches widely on faith and the environment. He is based in Lexington, Ky., and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action.

In the Midwest

  • Leith Anderson

    The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the former senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.

    Contact: 202-479-0815.
  • Steven Bouma-Prediger

    Steven Bouma-Prediger is the author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. He is a professor of religion at Hope College in Holland, Mich., where he leads the environmental studies program.

  • Chad Cooper

    The Rev. Chad Cooper is executive director of the Sustainability Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith nonprofit that assists congregations with strategies, tools and resources to protect the planet. The organization is based in Mission, Kan.

  • Lorrie Heber

    Lorrie Heber is director of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. The center fosters “the preservation, restoration and reverent use of all natural resources” and offers workshops, “Earth Sabbaticals” and other events.

  • Paula Gonzalez

    Sister Paula Gonzalez is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati who has been involved in energy and environmental issues since the 1970s. A former biology professor, she regularly gives talks on eco-spirituality and related topics. She was instrumental in establishing EarthConnection, a nonprofit environmental learning center in Cincinnati.

  • Gregory Hitzhusen

    Gregory Hitzhusen is a lecturer in the School of Environmental and Natural Resources at Ohio State University. His research interests include religious influences on environmental attitudes and behavior and other aspects of environmental ethics and eco-theology. Hitzhusen, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the contributions of Christianity and Judaism to environmental ethics and education and who holds an M.Div. degree, has said that scare tactics and overly technical information do not seem to resonate with faith communities in talks about the environment, but discussions of eco-justice and stewardship do.

  • Charles Morris

    The Rev. Charles Morris is a Catholic priest and an assistant professor in the religious studies department at Madonna University in Livonia, Mich. Morris founded Michigan Interfaith Power & Light and regularly blogs about environmental matters for National Catholic Reporter.

  • Robert Sirico

    The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s also a Catholic priest. He has argued that marijuana legalization could lead to some social benefits, like a reduction in illegal drug trafficking.

In the West

  • Gary Chamberlain

    Gary Chamberlain is professor emeritus of Christian ethics in the theology and religious studies department at Seattle University. He has written about the religious response to the global water crisis, including in his book Troubled Waters: Religion, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis.

  • George Handley

    George B. Handley is a professor of comparative studies and interdisciplinary humanities at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He often writes, speaks and teaches on the intersection of faith, literature and the environment and has written many essays on Mormonism and the environment. Handley co-edited Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment.

  • Ahriana Platten

    The Rev. Ahriana Platten is founder and director of the Colorado EcoSpiritual Center in Colorado Springs. The center provides training and other resources that foster reverence for the Earth and its inhabitants. People of all beliefs and lifestyles are welcomed.

    Contact: 719-332-9788.
  • Tri Robinson

    Tri Robinson is founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, Idaho. He is the author, with Jason Chatraw, of Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship.

    Contact: 208-377-1477.
  • Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    LLewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi teacher and founder of the Golden Sufi Center, which has its North American headquarters in Point Reyes Station, Calif., as well as offices in the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Vaughan-Lee, a native of London, edited the anthology Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, and a column he wrote on eco-spirituality was published by The Guardian. Contact through Seana Quinn.

  • Carla Woody

    Carla Woody is the founding president of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, an Arizona-based nonprofit whose mission is to “honor and preserve the integrity of indigenous wisdom and sacred cultural practices by providing cross-cultural exchanges, education, and community-building opportunities.”

    Kenosis Spirit Keepers will host a Seed Wisdom Conference at the end of January 2014 to benefit the Seed Temple project.

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