Religion & Nature

Religion and Nature

The Field

This graduate specialization is the first in the U.S. to focus 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. 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.

Whitney Sanford studies religious attitudes towards agricultural sustainability, particularly in South Asia and Latin America. Her recently completed manuscript Transforming Agriculture: Hindu Narrative and Ecological Imagination explores how Hindu narratives of agriculture can provide the foundation for an improved agricultural ethic. Current research interests include the relationship between agricultural biotechnology and forms of neo-colonialism, particularly in Latin America and India. Her new project “Gandhi’s Environmental Legacy: Food Sovereignty and Social Movements” investigates Gandhi’s influence on sustainability and food and water sovereignty movements in India, Sri Lanka and Mexico.

Bron Taylor is one of the leading scholars of religion and nature. He is editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (2005), the founding President of the Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, and editor of its Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. 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 his most recent book, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (2010).

Several other departmental faculty 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. Robin Wright has conducted research among indigenous peoples in the Amazon since the 1970s, with special interest in the impacts of development on the environment and indigenous peoples and the relations of humans and nature in indigenous cosmologies. 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, feminist evolutionary theory, religiously-based agrarian communities, resistance to mountaintop coal removal, and the work of Mary Midgley.

Required courses (beyond Method & Theory I and II): REL 6107 Religion and Nature (Core Seminar); REL 6183 Religion and Environmental Ethics (Core Seminar); 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. 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.

Religion and Nature Curriculum:

  • Religion and Nature Courses
  • Religion and Nature Electives