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Religion & Nature

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The Field

This graduate specialization focuses on the ways that religion shapes environmental attitudes and practices in cultures throughout the world. We cannot address contemporary environmental problems without understanding the complex, reciprocal relationships among human cultures, religions, and the earth’s living systems. For several decades, scholars from many disciplines have addressed religion’s role in shaping human relations to nature. Some of the areas of study within the program include grassroots environmental movements and communities; environmental ethics, philosophy, and theology; sustainable agriculture and food; animals and religion; outdoor recreation; and regional emphases in India, Latin America, and North America. Departmental faculty are involved in numerous initiatives in these and other areas, including Environmental Values and Practices; the Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; Women, Water, and Equity in India; Global Religion in Practice; and Sustainable Agriculture. Graduate students have opportunities to become involved in many of these projects. They may also work with departmental faculty involved in the study of Religion in the Americas and Religions of Asia and, beyond the department, in interdisciplinary environmental studies programs elsewhere in the university.


The Department of Religion boasts several widely-recognized scholars in this emerging field.

Jonathan Edelmann’s award winning book, Hindu Theology and Biology (2012)  examines the intersection of Hinduism and the biological sciences. He has published in leading journal in the philosophy of science and religious studies, including the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Biology & Philosophy, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and the Journal of the American Oriental Society. Edelmann is particularly concerned with the treatment of animals, respect for all aspects of human life and the earth. In the future he plans to write more about Darwinian evolutionary theory and Hindu thought, drawing on the work of major Hindu thinkers of the 20th century like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Radhakrishnan.

Anna Peterson has published widely on environmental ethics, religion and social change, and grassroots religious communities. Her books include Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World (2001), which explores the links between understandings of human and non-human nature, and Seeds of the Kingdom: Utopian Communities in the Americas (2005), which examines agrarian communities striving for social and ecological sustainability in the U.S. and Latin America. Her current research examines the gap between expressed environmental values and actual practices, and the theoretical as well as practical significance of this disjuncture.

A. Whitney Sanford teaches and researches in two main areas: Religion and Nature and Religions of Asia, and her current work lies at the intersection of religion, food (and agriculture), and social equity. She is currently conducting ethnographic research on the St. Johns River and nearby springs, exploring human attachment to place and water. Her books include Living Sustainably: What Intentional Communities Can Teach Us About Democracy, Simplicity, and Nonviolence (2017), Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture (2012) and Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramanand’s Poetry (2008).

Bron Taylor, who is also a Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, is one of the leading scholars of religion and nature. He is editor of the award-winning Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature(2005), the founding President of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, and founding editor of its Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (since 2007). His research focuses on the religious and political dimensions global environmentalism, including in his edited volume, Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism (1995), and in popular culture, as reflected in Avatar and Nature Spirituality (2013).  His book Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (2010) is considered a path-breaking contribution to religion and nature studies. In 2017 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.

Robin Wright teaches on indigenous religious traditions, religion and healing, and contemporary shamanisms. He has conducted extensive field research on indigenous religions of the Amazon region of Brazil. Through his publications, his collaboration with the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, and the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, he has worked especially on the relations of humans and nature in indigenous cosmologies throughout the Americas, representations of sacred places in indigenous religions, and the centrality of shamanisms to spiritual connections with the natural world. Among his most important books are: Religion, Medicine, and Healing: Contemporary Perspectives (2d ed., 2016) and Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon (2013).

Other departmental faculty also contribute to the Religion and Nature program. Vasudha Narayanan, a scholar of religion in South Asia, has published several articles and chapters on Hindu environmental values. Mario Poceski has also written on Buddhism and nature.. The graduate program in Religion and Nature also draws on faculty and resources from across the university, including internationally recognized programs in Interdisciplinary Ecology and Tropical Conservation and Development.

Graduate Students

Graduate students in Religion and Nature have a broad range of research interests, including the religious and ethical dimensions of fly fishing, wolf reintroduction, sustainability, feminist evolutionary theory, religiously-based agrarian communities, resistance to mountaintop coal removal, sustainable agriculture, conservative Christianity and climate change, sustainability in secondary education, and the work of Mary Midgley.

Recommended courses (beyond Method & Theory I and II and the Interdisciplinary Seminar): REL 6107 Religion and Nature REL 6183 Religion and Environmental Ethics; REL 5195 Religion, Nature, and Society; at least one course in Asian religious traditions; at least one course in Western religious traditions; a course in either the natural sciences or a course in research methods (Students without undergraduate degrees, or graduate coursework or degrees in the natural sciences, will be expected to take at least one course grounded in the natural sciences, as approved by their graduate committee.)

Language requirement: Tested competence in at least one and in many cases two non-English languages selected in consultation with the faculty supervisory committee on the basis of their relevance to the student’s research program.

Qualifying examinations: 1) Religion and Nature in Religious Studies and the Social and Natural Sciences; 2) Religion and Nature in Ethics and Philosophy; 3) Religion, Nature, and Society; 4) A fourth exam in a secondary area, which can be one of the exams in Religions of Asia or Religion in the Americas, or another field such as Indigenous Religions, Sociology, Anthropology, or Philosophy of Religion, among others. This exam is to be determined in consultation with the student’s advisory committee; 5) Oral examination, to be taken upon successful completion of the four written examinations. The oral examination will be based on the answers to the written examinations. Most students will take the above four exams. Alternatives may be approved by the mutual agreement of the committee and student. A student taking a global, comparative approach, for example, may propose taking for the fourth exam, a second region, discipline or tradition-based exam, such as both religion and nature in Eastern hemisphere and religion and nature in the Western hemisphere.