Skip to main content

To Care for Creation

The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement

To Care for Creation

The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement

Controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll proclaimed from a conference stage in 2013, “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” The comment, which Driscoll later explained away as a joke, highlights what has been a long history of religious anti-environmentalism. Given how firmly entrenched this sentiment has been, surprising inroads have been made by a new movement with few financial resources, which is deeply committed to promoting green religious traditions and creating a new environmental ethic.

To Care for Creation chronicles this movement and explains how it has emerged despite institutional and cultural barriers, as well as the hurdles posed by logic and practices that set religious environmental organizations apart from the secular movement. Ellingson takes a deep dive into the ways entrepreneurial activists tap into and improvise on a variety of theological, ethical, and symbolic traditions in order to issue a compelling call to arms that mobilizes religious audiences. Drawing on interviews with the leaders of more than sixty of these organizations, Ellingson deftly illustrates how activists borrow and rework resources from various traditions to create new meanings for religion, nature, and the religious person’s duty to the natural world.

216 pages | 4 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Earth Sciences: Environment

Religion: Religion and Society

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology


“This is a well-researched study with some spectacularly good interviews. It covers important terrain not only sociologically but also theologically. If American civil society—particularly the religious underpinnings of American political culture—cannot come to terms with climate change and the environmental insights necessary to act on it, then the struggle against some of the more dire future scenarios will be in vain. Ellingson’s work represents an important sociological contribution needed to underpin long-term change.”

Richard L. Wood, author of A Shared Future and Faith in Action

"The religious environmental movement that Ellingson documents is not simply the faith-based component of the wider green movement. He shows that it first and foremost targets religious people and institutions, trying to instill in them new traditions, identities, and ways of fulfilling their sacred duties vis a vis God’s creation.  In doing so, Ellingson offers a theoretically integrated approach to studying social movement emergence and development by showing how the creativity and agency of movement actors are culturally and religiously embedded.”

Rhys H. Williams | director, McNamara Center for the Social Study of Religion, Loyola University Chicago

“Does it matter why people care, or only that they care? Keenly attuned to how activists make use of their own religious traditions and attentive to the constraints imposed by religious authority and audiences, Ellingson illuminates the culturally-embedded emergence of new forms of engagement and new understandings of responsibility for the natural world. Simultaneously eloquent and accessible, To Care for Creation is a compelling model for movement scholarship that wrestles seriously with the content of belief.”

Elisabeth S. Clemens, coeditor of Politics and Partnerships

“Ellingson provides some good information on Catholic religious environmental movement organizations, including the Catholic Climate Covenant with its ties to the USCCB for good and ill. Ellingson closes with a survey of lessons learned from his study and the outlook for a movement with little history and less funding, but rich spiritual resources. This reasonably priced book with its fine scholarly apparatus is recommended for all academic libraries.”

Catholic Library World

“Ellingson provides a sociological exploration of contemporary faith-based environmental movements in the US. Drawing especially on interviews with movement leaders, he concludes that these movements are as much concerned with the revitalization of religious traditions as they are with saving the environment. . . . In explaining how and why these movements have developed as they have, Ellingson places much emphasis on the realities of "embeddedness" within particular theological/symbolic/cultural traditions. This book will be valuable for those interested in sociological analysis of movement formation and development, specifically in the context of religion. Recommended.”


“A fascinating account of the emergence of the religious environmental movement. . .A carefully researched and well-written book that skillfully interweaves case description and theoretical development. It will likely generate a wealth of conversation and future research.”


Table of Contents

One / A Greener Faith
Two / The Emergence of the Religious Environmental Movement
Three / Mission, Strategy, and the Search for Legitimacy
Four / Creating Religious Environmental Traditions
Five / Coalition Building and the Politics of Cooperation in the Emergent Movement
Six / Conclusions: Embeddedness, Strategic Choices, and Religious Social Movements

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press