Ecotheology is a form of constructive theology that focuses on the interrelationships of religion and nature, particularly in the light of environmental concerns. Ecotheology generally starts from the premise that a relationship exists between human religious/spiritual worldviews and the degradation of nature. It explores the interaction between ecological values, such as sustainability, and the human domination of nature. The movement has produced numerous religious-environmental projects around the world.
The burgeoning awareness of environmental crisis has led to widespread religious reflection on the human relationship with the earth. Such reflection has strong precedents in most religious traditions in the realms of ethics and cosmology, and can be seen as a subset or corollary to the theology of nature.
It is important to keep in mind that ecotheology explores not only the relationship between religion and nature in terms of degradation of nature, but also in terms of ecosystem management in general. Specifically, ecotheology seeks not only to identify prominent issues within the relationship between nature and religion, but also to outline potential solutions. This is of particular importance because many supporters and contributors of ecotheology argue that science and education are simply not enough to inspire the change necessary in our current environmental crisis.
The relationship of theology to the modern ecological crisis became an intense issue of debate in Western academia in 1967, following the publication of the article, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, " by Lynn White, Jr., Professor of History at the University of California at Los Angeles. In this work, White puts forward a theory that the Christian model of human dominion over nature has led to environmental devastation, providing a voice for "The Ecological Complaint".
In 1973, theologian Jack Rogers published an article in which he surveyed the published studies of approximately twelve theologians which had appeared since White's article. They reflect the search for "an appropriate theological model" which adequately assesses the biblical data regarding the relationship between God, humans, and nature.
Some scholars argue that Christians actually helped bring about the current global environmental crisis by instructing followers that God, and by extension mankind, transcends nature. Much of the development of ecotheology as a theological discourse was in response to this argument, which has been called "The Ecological Complaint". Defendants of this perspective essentially claim that Christianity promotes the idea of human dominion over nature, treating nature itself as a tool to be used and even exploited for survival and prosperity.
However, Christianity has often been viewed as the source of positive values towards the environment, and there are many voices within the Christian tradition whose vision embraces the well-being of the earth and all creatures. While Francis of Assisi is one of the more obvious influences on Christian ecotheology, there are many theologians and teachers, such as Isaac of Nineveh and Seraphim of Sarov, whose work has profound implications for Christian thinkers. Many of these are less well known in the West because their primary influence has been on the Orthodox Church rather than the Roman Catholic Church.
The significance of indigenous traditions for the development of ecotheology also cannot be overstated. Systems of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, in combination with modern scientific methods of ecosystem management, are steadily gaining interest as environmental activists realize the importance of locally invested groups.
Christian ecotheology draws on the writings of such authors as Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and Passionist priest and historian Thomas Berry. It is well represented in Protestantism by John B. Cobb, Jr., Jürgen Moltmann, and Michael Dowd; in ecofeminism by feminist theologians Rosemary Radford Ruether, Catherine Keller, and Sallie McFague; in Roman Catholicism by John F. Haught; and in Orthodoxy by Elizabeth Theokritoff and George Nalunnakkal (currently Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilose of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church). Besides works on theology per se, interpreters of the ecological significance of scripture, such as Ellen Davis, also play an important role.
Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Buber, both Jewish philosophers, have also left their mark on Christian ecotheology, and provide significant inspiration for Jewish ecotheology. The most recent and most complete expression of Jewish ecotheology to date can be found in David Mevorach Seidenberg's work on Kabbalah and ecology.
Hindu ecotheology includes writers such as Vandana Shiva. Seyyid Hossein Nasr, a Perennialist scholar and Persian Sufi philosopher, was one of the earlier Muslim voices calling for a reevaluation of the Western relationship to nature.
Elisabet Sahtouris is an evolutionary biologist and futurist who promotes a vision she believes will result in the sustainable health and well-being of humanity within the larger living systems of Earth and the cosmos. She is a lecturer in Gaia Theory and a coworker with James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis.
Valerie Brown is a science and environmental journalist based in Portland, Oregon, whose work has appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives, 21stC, and other publications. She writes regularly about ecotheology.
The majority of the content of Indians of the Americas, by former Bureau of Indian Affairs head John Collier, concerns the link between ecological sustainability and religion among Native North and South Americans.
An important book on perhaps the first ecotheologian, Paul Tillich—who was writing on this issue long before the term "ecotheology" was even coined—is Faithful to Nature: Paul Tillich and the Spiritual Roots of Environmental Ethics (Barred Owl Books, 2017).