The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism

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Donald A. Crosby, Jerome A. Stone
Routledge Handbooks in Religion
  • New York, NY: 
    , February
     420 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Religious naturalism names a heterogeneous movement that finds religious value in nature and without the need for the supernatural. Probably few have heard of religious naturalism or are familiar with this philosophical theological movement. Yet there are many paths that lead one to encounter religious naturalism: seeking reconciliation between science and religion, ecological concerns, questions of theodicy, or an experience of deep reverence towards nature.

The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism introduces the reader to the ecosystem of religious naturalism. 

The editors of the handbook, Donald Crosby and Jerome Stone, are “convinced that religious naturalism can be a significant religious option for persons unable to endorse the outlooks and commitments of religious traditions in which supernatural realms, personages, presence, powers, and events play the dominant role—but for whom the insistent lure of religious aspirations, values, and meanings is persistent and compelling” (3). For Crosby and Stone, religious naturalism contributes to the process of shifting away from the anthropocentric thinking that our current ecological crisis requires. The task of this handbook is “to give expression to some varieties of religious naturalism and perspectives on religious naturalism as these have been developed or are in the process of being developed by proponents, expositors, and critics of this outlook on human beings and their world—an outlook that is coming increasingly into notice in our time” (1). It is hoped that this task will “give substantive shape, character, and content to ways in which religious naturalism can be conceived, practiced, and appraised” (1). While Crosby and Stone represent particular varieties of religious naturalism, this handbook aims to provide a window onto a growing ecosystem of naturalistic religious options. 

The handbook is divided into seven parts with thirty-four essays by thirty-seven authors. The first and last parts nicely frame the volume because they highlight the debate about religious naturalism as a religious option. In part 1, religious naturalism is distinguished from similar movements like materialism, humanism, and process theology. While Stone defends religious naturalism, Willem Drees prefers other religious and naturalistic options. In part 7, critiques of religious naturalism evaluate it as a religious option based on its religious availability (David Conner) and whether it achieves its desired goal of drawing people closer to nature (Lisa Sideris).  Other viewpoints are presented as well. Defenders and critics of religious naturalism in this volume share similar concerns for a robust connection between ecology and religion. 

Part 2 looks at some of the historical antecedents of religious naturalism, such as the views of Ernst Haeckel, Henry Nelson Wieman, John Dewey, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Karl Jasper. Part 3 examines two ways the question of values in nature arises: pantheism and materialism. Part 4 shows how religious naturalism can support political action. For example, Carol Wayne White’s African American religious naturalism, with its concept of sacred humanity, bridges religious naturalism and liberative frameworks. Victor Anderson offers a pragmatic naturalist public theology focused on creative exchanges. Michael Hogue constructs a political theology for the anthropocene.

A significant portion of this volume is dedicated to exploring religious naturalism’s relationship to traditional religion and practice. There are three broad strategies taken in part 5 on the question of traditional religions. The first is naturalizing a religious tradition. The means of naturalization differ, ranging from Karl Peters’s naturalizing Christian doctrines to Varadaraja Raman’s argument for finding resources in the Hindu tradition that speak of a reverence for nature. The second strategy is to argue that a religious tradition is itself a form of religious naturalism. Jea Sophia Oh argues for understanding Daoism as religious naturalism while Mary Evelyn Tucker demonstrates that Confucianism is a form of religious naturalism. The third strategy is interreligious dialogue. Stephanie Kaza engages in dialogue with religious naturalism from a Zen Buddhist perspective that highlights areas of convergence and divergence between the two traditions. Thomas Norton-Smith’s reflections discuss religious naturalism from both a Native American philosophical perspective and the viewpoint of constructive realism. The next section asks what it means to practice religious naturalism. Diverse approaches are represented, including ways to put religious naturalism into practice through spiritual practices, adult education, organizational models, and frameworks for understanding different options for practicing religious naturalism. 

This handbook marks a further development in religious naturalism by bringing together a wide variety of religious naturalist thinking in one volume. Both major streams of religious naturalism are represented, including Crosby’s Nature of Religion, Stone’s minimalist transcendence, and Robert Corrington’s ecstatic naturalism. Additionally, new developments are represented, such as White’s African American religious naturalism and Demian Wheeler’s pantheistic religious naturalism. The engagement with critiques of religious naturalism provides new questions to wrestle with, such as Norton-Smith’s observation that people do not engage with an abstract nature, but with particular geographies like mountain ranges. Sideris objects that some religious naturalists in their quest for a reverence of nature end up with a reverence for science that distances them from nature. Anderson, Hogue, and White provide fruitful avenues for connecting religious naturalism with liberative frameworks. This handbook acts as a resource for both the layperson and the scholar in the areas of religion and ecology, science and religion, philosophy of religion, ethics, and naturalistic religious practice. The shift away from anthropocentric thinking introduces a myriad of options and invites us to generate new questions, possibilities, and opportunities.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rudolph Reyes III is a doctoral student in Social Ethics at the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology and a member of the Religious Naturalist Association.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Donald A. Crosby is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Colorado State University.

Jerome A. Stone is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, William Rainey Harper College.


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