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Welcome to the 2021 ISSRNC online conference - Religion and Environment: Relations and Relationality.
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Sunday, February 28 • 11:00am - 11:45am
American Evangelicalism and the Environment: Confronting the Past, Present, and Future

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(LIVE conversation with presenters. Please watch the session video beforehand.)

This interdisciplinary paper session includes research on evangelicalism and the environment that examines or re-examines what we know about its past, present and future. Surprisingly little historical work has looked beyond stereotypes of evangelical environmental apathy to present a nuanced picture of how evangelicals' response to the environmental crisis has changed over time. At the same time, ethnographic work is only now beginning to provide a more textured analysis of why lay evangelicals in America tend to reject climate science. Even less is known about what role Christian nationalism plays in how Americans--evangelical or otherwise--regard the environmental crisis. In terms of its future, the evangelical tradition is both declining in size and also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Is evangelicalism in the process of becoming more "green," or green in a different way, as these demographic changes take place? From our different disciplinary perspectives--history, anthropology, religious studies, and human dimensions of natural resources--we envision and invite an interdisciplinary audience of scholars interested in the intersection of evangelicalism, politics, and the environment in the US and beyond to discuss the past, present and future of American evangelicalism.

Neall Pogue, “From Nature Stewardship to Anti Environmentalism: How Two Evangelical Organizations Supported then Rejected Environmental Protection, 1990-1994”

During the early 1990s, the two largest politically conservative evangelical organizations, that today make up much of the religious right movement, allied themselves with pro-environmental initiatives organized in part by Vice President Al Gore and scientists E.O. Wilson and Carl Sagan. In 1991, Richard Land, the new Christian Life Commission's Executive Director of the 15 million member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) dedicated his division's seminar to environmental protection and later signed an environmental declaration with Sagan, Wilson and Gore. Simultaneously, the Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Robert Dugan, joined the progressive Evangelical Environmental Network. By 1994, however, both Dugan and Land, along with their organizations, abandoned environmental efforts and opposed the groups they once supported. This paper explores the factors that led conservative evangelicals to largely act as a roadblock in the present against nature protection initiatives. Supporting sources come from various archives as well as interviews with the NAE's former Washington lobbyist Richard Cizik and the SBC's Richard Land. Such sources reveal that economics, conspiracy theories and in particular social and political pressure ultimately crushed a surprisingly eco-friendly push within the stereotypically militant and reactionary religious right.

Susannah Crockford, “Locating Religion in Conservative Christians' Rejection of Climate Science”

In this short presentation, I will assess the findings from interviews undertaken in Louisiana, Missouri, and Arizona with people who doubt the conclusions of climate science concerning anthropogenic climate change. Using a comparative frame, the reasons for climate denial or skepticism will be highlighted with a view to drawing out the location of religion in these reasons. End times beliefs and politically motivated denial are present, but a more significant theme running through the responses is a conceptual schema that excludes thinking of nature as extensively affected or able to be affected by humans. I will focus on the conception of nature among Conservative Christians in three states to answer the central question of why they reject climate science.

Robin Veldman, “Incivil Religion: The Environmental Politics of Christian Nationalism”

Evangelical Protestants have been the subject of significant focus among scholars of religion and the environment, but little attention has been paid to the related but distinct phenomenon of Christian nationalism. Comparing and contrasting the radio broadcasts and online materials of two sometime collaborators--David Barton and Glenn Beck--I highlight that the environment has been an underexamined but significant theme within Christian nationalist discourse. Specifically, Barton and Beck have both adeptly used media to reach audiences that were disengaged or disinterested in environmental politics, and to persuade their listeners and viewers not only that certain environmental policies threaten their way of life, but also that they threaten to erode the nation's Christian heritage. While Barton, a best-selling author, radio host and political activist, is well-connected with and best known among evangelicals, Beck, a former television host on Fox News and current host of the nationally syndicated "Glenn Beck Radio Program," speaks to a much broader audience. Understanding the appeal and impact of anti-environmentalism in a Christian nationalist register is key, I suggest, to achieving a more panoramic view of the landscape of religion and the environment in the United States.

Benjamin Lowe, “Generational Shifts in Climate and Environmental Attitudes and Engagement among American Evangelicals”

The relationship between Christianity and the environment has long been a contested subject, especially when it comes to evangelical Protestants in the United States. In recent decades, a growing number of evangelical leaders and institutions have spoken out in favor of greater climate and environmental action. At the same time, however, numerous studies find that American evangelicals continue to be among the most skeptical of climate and environmental problems and the least supportive of proposed solutions. Within this complex and polarized context, there is a growing narrative, including in numerous news media articles, that younger evangelicals may be shifting to be more concerned about these issues than their parents and grandparents. This paper draws on data from a mixed methods study--including surveys and interviews with students and faculty at thirty-five Christian colleges and universities across the United States--to identify and examine generational differences that may be emerging in climate/environmental attitudes and engagement among American evangelicals.

avatar for Robin Veldman

Robin Veldman

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Texas A&M University
avatar for Neall Pogue

Neall Pogue

Senior Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Studies, The University of Texas at Dallas
avatar for Susannah Crockford

Susannah Crockford

Researcher, Ghent University
avatar for Benjamin Lowe

Benjamin Lowe

PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida

Sunday February 28, 2021 11:00am - 11:45am MST
Online (Live)