Religion and Sustainable Agriculture

World Spiritual Traditions and Food Ethics

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Todd LeVasseur, Pramod Parajuli, Norman Wirzba
  • Lexington, KY: 
    University Press of Kentucky
    , October
     394 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Religion and Sustainable Agriculture includes fifteen chapters, each of which focuses on a specific cultural tradition and its relationship between food and religious practice. The authors represented include religious scholars, food activists, farmers and academics. Each chapter presents information in accessible terms and ends with a listing of study questions posed by the author(s) on the topics that are presumably considered to be the most relevant contributions to the overall themes of the book. The guiding framework for the content provided throughout the text is comprised of the following questions:

  • How are religions of the world contributing to a maturing sustainable agricultural movement?
  • How are sustainable agricultural products used in the regions/nations where implemented and how are similar regional/national projects comparable?
  • Do faith-based sustainable farming practices have a negative perspective on global agricultural trade?
  • Is there competition between faith-based sustainable farming and conventional farming as it relates to profit taking?

Not every chapter addresses all of these questions, but each chapter does provide a perspective on the religious-based farming practices observed; the relationship with sustainability; and the impact or influence of modern intervention on the farming practices described.

Chapters 1 and 2 focus on specific areas in the Americas, with Chapter 1 describing Mayan spiritual traditions in relation to agriculture, while the focus of Chapter 2 being the spiritual practices in the Peruvian highlands and the relationship between deforestation, climate change and spiritual community. Chapter 3 reviews permaculture in Malawi, explaining how religious tradition is embedded within the sustainable farming process. Chapter 4 highlights Hawaii and details the differences in the spiritual implementation of permaculture between the global north and the global south. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 focus on the religious influence of East Indian traditions within the subcontinent, and Chapter 8 relays the perspective of Buddhism and active efforts to instill religious traditions in farming in Thailand. The focus of Chapters 9 and 10 are the Hebrew Bible in relation to farming practices in Israel. Chapter 11 assesses the collective farm relative to its religious and community-based practice. Mennonite, Christian and Muslim religious beliefs are highlighted in Chapters 12, 13, and 14, respectively and the book ends with the evaluation of the practices of the Indigenous—Tohono O’odham—of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

The book’s multidisciplinary approach provides a well-referenced source of information on sustainable agriculture and the connection of sustainable food production to religious and spiritual traditions. Though the cultures explored are geographically diverse, the subjects of focus are small rural communities. Despite the significant variations in religious and spiritual traditions, balance with the environment is projected as their common societal norm.

Given the subject and the discussion, the book does project—through its omission—a bias toward rural versus urban settings. Additionally, the book’s focus on religious and spiritual practices appears to have prompted an exclusion of secularized spiritual practice. The latter may have been a nexus to evaluating present agricultural practices relative to the religion-inspired values presented. From this perspective, inclusion of the moral philosophical roots of modern economic theory, specifically addressing the Physiocrats—the French school that focused on the value of agriculture for community sustainability relative to manufacturing—could have enhanced the application of the book while also highlighting historical progression of religious and spiritual traditions. However, though this addition may have proven additive, even without the inclusion, Religion and Sustainable Agriculture succeeds in surfacing alternatives to present agricultural practices where the alternatives, due to their religious and spiritual basis, promote holistic sustainability and further where stewardship takes precedence over dominance.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Madhavi Venkatesan is assistant professor of economics at Bridgewater State University.

Date of Review: 
February 20, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Todd LeVasseur is visiting assistant professor in the religious studies department and director of environmental studies at the College of Charleston.

Pramod Parajuli currently serves as associate gaculty for the PhD program in sustainability education at Prescott College, and has published on the themes of political ecology, religion and ecology, sustainability education, and learning gardens.

Norman Wirzba is professor of theology, ecology, and rural life at Duke Divinity School and research professor in the Nicholas School for the Environment at Duke. He is the author or editor of several books, including The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land and Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.



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