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Environmental theology pertains to "The study of God’s relationship to the environment" (Jacobus, 2004).
Lynn White, Jr. must be associated with any scholarly writings on environmental theology because his work in the 1960s precipitated a renewed interest in the field on a massive scale. “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (White, 1967) is the most common citation in a literature review on the subject.
Writings in environmental theology normally cover two veins of thought. One sector being a belief system and the other sector being a behavior system. It is commonly found that documents closely associated with environmental theology do not directly define the term (Jacobus, 2001). A distinction should be made; theology is a belief system and ethics is a behavior system.
Basic environmental theology
Environmental theology generally must include an understanding of God's relationship to the cosmos or Creation, a cosmology. Robert J. Jacobus divides the possibilities into three basic views of God’s physical relationship with the environment. One, the Creator-God exists externally to the physical world (Timm, 1994). The second is God exists internally in the environment (McFague, 1993, Tobias, 1994). The third basic view stipulates God as an entity does not exist (Berry, 1994; Callicott, 1994; Swimme, 1994; Wei-ming, 1994). Three variations of these basic types can be identified in literature. The first is the person of God can be distinctly separate from the environment and also exist internally in the environment (White, 1994). A second variation purports that God and nature exist as separate deities (Griffin, 1994). The third variation denies God as a cognitive entity and views the environment as Creator/deity. If God is external to the environment God then the Creator-God interfaces with the environment as a distinct entity, while if God is internal to the environment, one may make no distinction between the person of God and the environment and the notion of Creator itself may become problematic. A mystical viewpoint common to several religious traditions that unites these categories is that God is continuously creating the universe, and that the universe is a direct expression of God's being, rather than an object created by God as the subject.
From the environmental perspective the corresponding worldviews would be (1) nature is created, (2) nature is divine and (3) nature is emergent. Three environmental theologies emerge, (1) God exists eternally and the environment is God’s creation, (2) the environment is God (Nelson, 1990) and (3) the environment emerged from physical conditions (Fraley, 2000). But Robert S. Corrington goes so far as to say that God is an emergent property of the cosmos itself.
There is not a clear distinction between environmental theology and ecotheology, though the term environmental theology might indicate a theology in which environmental ethics is established prior to one's understanding of the meaning of God.
- Defining Environmental Theology: Content Analysis of Associated Literature, thesis, West Virginia University
- Nature and Spirit (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992)
- Berry, T. (1994). Ecological geography. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 228–237). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Callicott, J. B. (1994). Toward a global environmental ethic. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 30–40). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Fraley, L. E. (2000). General behaviorology. Morgantown, WV: NextPrint
- Griffin, D. R. (1994) Whitehead’s deeply ecological worldview. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 190–206). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Jacobus, R. J. (2001). Defining environmental theology: Content analysis of associated literature. Master’s thesis. West Virginia University, Morgantown. [On-line]. http://kitkat.wvu.edu:8080/files/1885.1.Jacobus_R_Theisis.pdf.
- Jacobus, R. J. (2004). Understanding environmental theology: A summary for environmental educators. The Journal of Environmental Education, 35(3) 35-42.
- McFague, S. (1993). The Body of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press
- Nelson, R. H. (1990). Unoriginal sin. Policy Review, 53, 52-60
- Swimme, B. (1994). Cosmogenesis. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 238–242). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Timm, R. E. (1994). The ecological fallout of Islamic creation theology. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 83–95). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Tobias, M. (1994). Jainism and ecology. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 138–149). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- Wei-ming. T. (1994). Beyond the enlightenment mentality. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 19–29). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
- White, L., Jr. (1967). The historical roots of our ecological crisis. Science, 155, 1203-1207
- White, R.A. (1994). A Baha’i perspective on an ecologically sustainable society. In M. E. Tucker & J. A. Grim (Eds.), Worldviews and ecology (pp. 96–112). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.