Review: Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest

Article excerpt

Review: Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest By Thomas R. Dunlap Reviewed by Carter Meland University of Minnesota, USA Thomas R. Dunlap. Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2004. 224 pp. ISBN: 0-295-98397-3 (cloth). US$24.95. Recycled, acid-free paper.

Is environmentalism a religion? It promotes standards of ethical behavior for the morally righteous (who intone the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, sometimes with the fervor of a snakehandler speaking in tongues) and it advises that we should stand humble before Creation-even if there may not be a Creator, acknowledging our insignificance in a grand design we can only assume is at work.

In Faith in Nature, Thomas Dunlap has written an academic, intellectual history of the (largely Euro-) American environmental movement. His book explores the origins of Euro-American environmentalism, looking at the nexus of scientific materialism and romantic transcendentalism that informed environmentalists like Thoreau, Leopold, and Carson in their work. Dunlap proposes that the environmental movement seeks to resolve the tension between science and religion, "offering material explanations," as he informs us, "but looking beyond facts towards meaning" (p. 149). The drive toward meaning is what makes environmentalism a religious quest in Dunlap's estimation. It seeks to use scientific facts in order to mobilize a transformation of society, to save the world. The transformative goal of environmentalism is what makes it religious.

Every movement needs its histories, and in the turn to a religious perspective Dunlap examines a fruitful area for further inquiry in American environmentalism. The book's discussion of the historical roots of the movement is in-depth, perhaps too much so to those with more than a passing knowledge of the subject. …