Grounding Religion

A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology, 2nd Ed.

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Whitney A. Bauman, Richard Bohannon, Kevin J. O’Brien
  • New York, NY: 
    , May
     280 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This handbook provides an excellent introduction to key issues of environmental concern viewed through the prism of a modern-day, secularist view of religion-writ-large. Grounding Religion frames the conversation with five definitions of religion: Paul Tillich (ultimate concern), D. T. Suzuki (inmost voice), Emile Durkheim (community), Karl Marx (opium), and Judith Butler (not a fixed category). Each proves useful when, chapter by chapter, the fifteen contributors assess their respective ecological concerns.

The authors explore several contexts, noting the important of place(such as being in a volcano eruption zone), as well as gender, sexual identity, race, and ethnicity. Chapters are dedicated to the conundrum of globalization and the consequent disruption to local economies, the difficulties inflicted by climate change, the perils of vitiated food sources, the maltreatment of animals in the name of human comfort, as well as concerns in regard to technology, justice, and sustainability. The conclusion acknowledges the depressing nature of these topics, suggesting that through heightened awareness, proper corrective action may begin.

This book will prove useful in the undergraduate classroom. It clearly lays out the issues cited above. Each chapter effectively defines its arguments and terms. Several concrete examples are given that will encourage student conversations, especially on the extractive process of mountaintop removal, the alteration of food through industrialized agriculture, and the multiple challenges posed by climate change. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter enhance its effectiveness as a teaching tool.

 Two shortcomings of the book can be easily remedied. First, despite its 2017 imprint, no mention is made of Laudato Si’. Hence, any class in religion and ecology would also need to include reading and discussion of this important document, published in 2015 and readily available online. Second, despite an occasional reference to Buddhism or Hinduism, this book does not include a global perspective on religion and ecology. This could also be corrected by including in one’s syllabus one or more of the many resources that dig deeply into how specific faiths have found and expressed their own voice in light of environmental challenges, such as Deep Ecology and World Religions edited by David Landis Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb (State University of New York Press, 2001), and the many handbooks, companions, book series, and encyclopedias issued by Oxford University Press, Blackwell Wiley, Harvard University Press, Berkshire, Continuum, and other publishers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Chapple is professor of Indic and comparative theologies at Loyola Marymount University.

Date of Review: 
November 22, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Whitney A. Bauman is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Florida International University, Florida, USA. 

Richard Bohannon is a cartographer and teaches in the Geography Department at St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, USA. 

Kevin J. O’Brien is Associate Professor of Religion and Dean of Humanities at Pacific Lutheran University, Washington, USA.


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