Religion & Nature in North America
"Without a fascination with the grandeur of the North American continent, the energy needed for its preservation will never be developed" ~ Thomas Berry
REL 3103: Monday, Period 6-7 (12:50-2:45), Little Hall, Room 0121;
Wednesday, period 6 (12:50-1:40), Turlington 2305
REL 5199:Monday, Period 6-7 (12:50-2:45), Little Hall, Room 0121;
Wednesday, period 6 (12:50-1:40), Turlington 2305 (or by arrangement)
Professor Bron Taylor (Ph.D.)
Office: Anderson 121
Office hours: Mondays 3-5 and by appointment
Brief Course Description (in UF Catalogue)
Investigation of the ways that “religion” and “nature” have evolved and influenced one another during the cultural, political, and environmental history of North America since European Contact.
This course critically examines the roles played by “religion” and “nature” during the evolution of the cultural, political, and environmental history of North America. Specifically, it considers questions such as:
- • What are the various and contested ways terms such as “religion” and “nature” are understood, and do such understandings enhance or constrain our ability to apprehend their reciprocal influence in American cultural, political, and environmental history?
- • Have the habitats of North America shaped human consciousness, including “religious” or “spiritual” perceptions, ritualizing, and ethical practices, and if so, how? This question will be in mind throughout the course, from an examination of the cultures of the continent’s “first peoples,” to religionists, environmentalists and scientists in the 20th century.
- • How and to what extent have religions of various sorts influenced human behavior in ways that contributed to the transformation of North American ecosystems?
- • What roles have religiously-shaped concepts of nature played in American political history? For example, how have notions such as “natural theology” “natural law” and understandings of “sacred nature” influenced social life and natural systems during the history of the United States?
- • How have religion-related nature discourses, attitudes, and practices been shaped by, and shaped European cultures, and later, by such developments in international spheres?
The course will draw on diverse sources, including ethnographies and other studies pertinent to America’s aboriginal peoples, environmental histories that attend to the role of religion in landscape transformations, primary texts written by the figures most responsible for watersheds in the “religion and ecology” ferment in America, scholarly examinations of these figures and their influence, as well as studies of social movements engaged in the “greening of religion” or conversely, resisting religion-inspired environmentalism. A variety of theoretical issues and background articles, including biographies of many of the central figures to be examined, will be provided from The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (2005). Students will complete the course with a broad knowledge of nature-related American religious history, acquainted both with pivotal figures, movements, and critical questions.
- Religion & Nature with Early European Contacts (1000-1600).
- The arrival, first of the Norse, then the Spanish and other European peoples, set in motion dramatic and sometimes devastating changes to the land, its first inhabitants, and the new immigrants. Religion had much to do with the character of these encounters and these changes.
- The Colonial Period (1600-1775).
- Fear, Ambivalence, and the Stirrings of Reverence toward Nature in the Colonial Period to the Founding of the Republic (ca. 1600-1776).
- Religion & the Ideology of Manifest Destiny as the violent collision of European and Native American Religious Cultures escalate.
- Early Republic to the End of the Frontier (ca. 1780 to 1890).
- The subjugation of wild peoples and places (continued).
- The European tributary of aesthetic, religious, and romantic attachments toward nature,
- Transcendentalism and romantic theologies of correspondence.
- Wildness and wilderness emerge as nature religion.
- The End of the Frontier to Earth Day (1880-1970).
- Forest Reserves & National Parks; Scouting and Indian Guides.
- Nature writing, Back to the Land Movements, and early “post-supernaturalistic spiritualities of connection.”
- the Land Ethic (1948), Sea Mysticism & Silent Spring (1962).
- “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (1967) and the turn toward the indigenous cultures of Turtle Island (1969) and those originating in Asia.
- Religion and Nature from Earth Day & the Age of Environmentalism (1970 to present)
- Asian, Pagan, and Native American Spiritualities as Nature Religions.
- the “Greening” of some factions of the World’s Major Religions.
- The growth of Scientific Nature Religion, including Systems Ecology and the Odumites; Conservation Biology and Restoration Ecology; “Intelligent Design” and its variants; and the Consecration of Scientific Narratives in Cosmos, The Epic of Evolution, & the Universe Story
- Environmentalism and Religion
- Reactionary Responses
- International Dimensions and Future Trends
Note: most of the required books can be found inexpensively from online and other used booksellers. Wherever available, required book readings will also be available on reserve at the library. Additoinal articles will be available online via lnks found in the course schedule.
Required readings (graduate and undergraduate sections)
|Albanese, Catherine L. Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990.|
|Deloria, Vine (Jr.). God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. Updated ed. Golden, Colorado: 1972; reprint, Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1994.|
|Nash, Roderick Frazier. Wilderness and the American Mind. 4th ed. 1967; reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.|
|Pike, Sarah. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.|
Additional Required Readings for Graduate Section.
|Gatta, John. Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present. Oxford & Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2004.|
|Gould, Rebecca Kneale. At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.|
|Sears, John. Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.|
|Highly recommended for purchase; selections required or recommended.|
|Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1986 (reprint); also in Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Brooks Atkinson. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. Or Essays and Lectures (includes Nature) Library of America, 1983.|
|Muir, John. Nature Writings. Edited by William Cronon. New York: Library of America, 1997. This is the best single volume of Muir’s writings and it belongs in religion and nature scholars libraries.|
|Thoreau, Henry David. There are many editions; two from the Library of America are nicely produced, 1985 & 2004.|
Supplementary Primary Texts
|Burroughs, John. Accepting the Universe. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920. Commemorative Edition, George W. Lugg, ed., reprint of 1920 publication; Moore Haven, Florida: Rainbow Books, 1987, or 2001 edition from Fredonia Books; and Time and Change (the Complete Writings of John Burroughs). Amsterdam: Fredonia Books, 2001|
|Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York City: Houghton Mifflin, 1962; The Sea Around Us. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950; Under the Sea Wind. New York: Dutton, 1991; The Edge of the Sea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955. Carson, Rachel. Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachael Carson. Edited by Linda Lear. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.|
|Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1986 (reprint); also in Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Edited by Brooks Atkinson. New York: The Modern Library, 2000.|
|Eiseley, Loren. The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature. New York: Vintage, 1959; The Firmament of Time. New York: Atheneum, 1960; The Invisible Pyramid. New York: Scribners, 1970; The Unexpected Universe. New York: Harcourt, 1972; The Star Thrower (anthology). New York: Harcourt/Harvest, 1979; All the Strange Hours. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.|
|Jefferson, Thomas, Notes on the State of Virginia, Penguin Classics, 1998.|
|Leopold, Aldo. The Sand County Almanac with Essays from Round River. Oxford: 1949; reprint, New York: Sierra Club and Balentine Books, 1971.|
|Muir, John. Nature Writings: The Story of by Boyhood and Youth; My First Summer in the Sierra; The Mountains of California; Stickeen; Essays. Edited by William Cronon. New York: Library of America, 1997.|
Students may propose a variety of other figures, to name a few possibilities:
Willa Cather, Susan Fenimore Cooper, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Gifford Pinchot, Ernest Thompson Seton, Sarah Orne Jewett, Theodore Roosevelt, Ansel Adams, David Brower, Mable Osgood Wright. Moreover, although the first priority in this class is to help students understand the premium on this class is to focus on the period leading up to 1970, Earth Day, and the Age of Ecology, I will consider proposals to focus on more recent figures including: Edward Abbey, Thomas Berry, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Denise Levertov, Joy Harjo, Robinson Jeffers, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Gary Snyder, Starhawk, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, E.O. Wilson. Feel free to make your own proposals.
- This is a reading-intensive class so a high priority will be placed on the quality of preparation, participation, and thus also attendance (30%). To ensure careful preparation, there will be regular, unannounced, quizzes held in class based on the readings, or, students will be asked to submit by email, normally no later than midnight Sunday (otherwise by announcement), a 300-500 word summary of the major arguments being articulated in the major reading, and identify major fault lines and competing perspectives. The weeks in which these short essays will be required will be announced in class, by email, or placed in the reading schedule; so pay attention!
- Multiple choice in class & take home essay mid term exam (30%); see class schedule for details.
- Multiple choice and short answer final exam (40%); see class schedule for details.
This course is being combined with a graduate seminar. This has both disadvantages and advantages, but the course has been designed to amplify the advantages. It may be necessary to make adjustments to course readings and requirements along the way. The online version of this syllabus is the operative and binding version, so it is imperative that you use the online version, rather than versions printed out earlier in the class.
- The quality of this course depends on the preparation and insights of every participant. Only in exigent circumstances may students be absent. Students are expected to be punctual, for this expresses courtesy and respect for your colleagues.
This course is a luxury in that the premium in it is the reading of primary and secondary sources that you will likely not have the opportunity to do in a similar way unless your research takes you in these directions. Consequently, it is what I call a ‘readings’ course. This means I do not require a research paper. Rather, I prioritize careful reading and class preparation, in-class presentations, and exams, which provide an opportunity to demonstrate careful reading and analytical insights. Here are the specific assignments:
- Consistent attendance, quality of preparation, & participation (15%). Normally, by no later than Sunday evening (otherwise by announcement), students are to email a 500-800 word summary of the major arguments being articulated in the major readings, with some reflection on the relationship among these arguments and other currents in the class, first in other readings from that week, and then, with regard to other theoretical streams they are encountering. In other words, after articulating the arguments being advanced and what is at stake with regard to them, you are to identify the fault lines and competing perspectives that are emerging and make connections among the various understandings. If the key readings are not argumentative, then you should describe the perspective(s) presented and note connections among this week’s and prior readings. Remember that the course has to do with religion and nature in America, so you should be especially alert and engaged in analysis of the religious dimensions of the arguments, figures, movements, and so on, that appear in your readings. In fall of 2010 you will also be regularly called upon to explain and interpret readings that the undergraduates have not had in their assignments.
- Biographical, Movement Research, or Controversy Analysis (& related classroom presentation). (15%) Each student will either (1) read the major writings of and about seminal figures or (2) movements critical to the America’s religion and nature ferment, providing written and oral reports to the classroom, as negotiated with and scheduled through agreement with the instructor, and helping to select representative samples of these writings for the entire class to read. In your presentations you should endeavor to situate the subject within the broader cultural ferment of the time. Presentations focused on individuals will include the reading of biographies (see course bibliography for some examples). A third option will be to read into a critical controversy, such as Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” and its “New Western History” detractors, analyzing the controversy’s relevance to this course’s critical questions. Whatever else they do, all presentations will bring the same sorts of critical questioning to these analyses as identified under #1, above.
- Mid term exam with in-class and take-home essay components (30%)
- Final exam: with in-class and essay dimensions specified in the course schedule (40%).
* Alternative: Students wishing to write a standard research paper may do so, replacing this for assignment #2, above. In such a case both exams, and the research paper, will each be worth 30% of the course grade.
- This course is an important one for Religion and Nature graduate students seeking competence in Occidental traditions in general and North American in particular. It is also an elective in the Religions in the Americas concentration. Given that other courses are offered that focus on Asian and Abrahamic religions, and do so making a priority of examining developments since 1970, the priority in this course is historical. The central objective is to illuminate broad cultural trends and nature-related practices and transformations, rather than attempting to survey the world’s major religious traditions, and their natural dimensions, in America.
- Course readings and requirements may be modified. The online version of this syllabus is the operative and binding version, so it is imperative that you use the online version, rather than versions printed out earlier in the class.
- The quality of this seminar depends on the insights of every participant. Only in exigent circumstances may students be absent. In such cases, such an absence should be pre-approved by the instructor and the reasons documented. Students are also expected to be punctual, for this expresses courtesy and respect for your colleagues.
Points Possible for Required Assignments
This chart shows the points it is possible to earn for each assignment:
Points per Assignment
Total Possible Points
Quizzes & Summaries
500 minimum, 750 maximum words
Total Possible Points:
Points per Assignment
Total Possible Points
500 minimum, 750 maximum words
written and oral reports
For both the midterm and final exams, the total number of points earned by each student will be divided by the total number earned by the highest-scoring student. The resulting percentage will be used to calculate each student’s grade for the course. Put in a formula, it looks like this:
the score of each individual student (your score)
(divided by) the highest score earned by a student
The percentage arrived at by means of this formula will be evaluated according to the following scale:
This kind of scoring is fairer than many other forms of grading because: (1) It is based on what students actually achieve rather than some preconceived standard held by the professor; (2) Each student can receive a high grade; (3) Hard-working students will not be penalized for staying in a demanding course full of industrious students. With a traditional curve, demanding courses that “weed out” less industrious students, leaving hard-working ones, can unintentionally harm good students putting them in competition with each other. This will not occur in this course. To further insure fairness, any extra credit points will be added to the individual student’s score, only after the highest score earned by a student has been established. This ensures that the extra credit earned will not increase the difficulty of the grading scale.
Course instructor reserves the right to lower or raise course grades based on classroom contributions or upon absences. Instructor also reserves the right to change course requirements.
Late or Missing Assignments. Students who do not turn in study guides or reading analyses on the days they are collected will not receive points. The total number of points possible for the review essay will be reduced by 20% for each day it is late.
Returned Assignments. Assignments will usually be returned to students no later than one week after they were due. At the end of the semester, unreturned course work will be available for pickup in the Religion Department office in Anderson 107 for 30 days after the official date that grades are posted by the registrar. After this time, they will be recycled.
Academic Dishonesty. Students engaged in any form of academic dishonesty, as defined under the “Academic Misconduct” section of the Student Discipline Code, will be subject to other disciplinary measures. Students are expected to know what constitutes plaigerism and to understand and avoid inadvertent forms of it that can occur by cutting and pasting quotations from various texts on the world wide web and elsewhere.
WEEKS: August - 01 - 02 September 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 October - 07 - 08 - 09
November 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 December 14 - 15
Note: All readings are to be completed before the class date/week under which they are listed. This schedule is subject to change so rather than printing it, I recommend bookmarking it and consulting it regularly.
(Week 1) 23 & 25 August
Starting with a question: Does surfing (ocean not internet) have anything to do with religion, nature, and ethics in North America? If so, why?
(Week 2) 30 August & 1 September
Nature & religion surrounding the birth of the republic
(Week 3) 6 September (Labor Day ~ no class) 8 & 13 September
New streams of aesthetic and spiritual appreciation of nature emerge and evolve in the early republic's first century and to the end of the frontier.
(Week 4) 15 & 20 September
(Week 7) 6 & 11 October
John Burroughs & Loren Eiseley: science & nature religion in the early & mid-20th century
Email to Dr. Taylor's email address a reading review covering the main readings over the past two weeks, by 8:00 a.m., Friday, 15 October (Homecoming); you may use 50% more words than for a single week, if you wish.
(Week 8) 13 & 18 October (15 October is Homecoming)
Aldo Leopold, the Wilderness Society, and the breakthrough of explicitly biocentric environmental ethics.
(Week 9) 20 & 25 October
Rachel Carson, the environmental Era, the environmental justice movement, and the rising influence of nature writing.
(Week 10) 27 October & 3 November (1 November no class / AAR meeting)
Developments from & since the 1960s
(Week 11) 8 & 10 November
Paganism and the New Age
(Week 12) 15 & 17 November
Wilderness victories and the intensification of social conflict over nature religions, wildlands, and sacred space claims
Reading review due by 8 a.m. 15 November (preferably by 5 p.m. 14 November) focused on Vine Deloria's and other readings about Native Traditions and Nature, and the Paganism and New Age readings (for graduates, including Pike). Read, but there is no need to mention Nash's 'Philosophy of Wilderness' this time. You may use 50% more words than for a single week, if you wish.
(Week 13) 22 & 24 November (Thanksgiving is 25 November)
The “Greening” of Mainstream Religions?
Scientific and other forms of contemporary nature religion
Motion Pictures (possible film night): Carl Sagan's "Contact" or Disney's "Pocahontas"
(Week 14) 29 November & 1 December
(Week 15) 6 & 8 December (Last Week of Classes)
THE CUMULATIVE FINAL EXAM ~ IN CLASS ~ 6 DECEMBER
Graduate Section Essay ~ In Class ~ 8 December
- Writing Well
Joshua Sowin's 'A guide to writing well'
Bron Taylor's Writing Well Guide
Documentaries & Production Companies
- American Values / American Wilderness (High Plains Films/2005)
- Battle for Wilderness (1989)
- Call of LIfe (Species Alliance/2010)
- Faithkeeper (Bill Moyers/PBS/1991)
- In the Light of Reverence (Sacred Land Film Project/Christopher McLeod/2001)
- The National Parks / Americas Best Idea (Ken Burns/PBS/2010)
- Pocahontas (Disney/1995)
- Renewal: America's Emerging Religious Environmental Movement (2007)
- Spirit & Nature' (PBS/Moyers, 1991); (viewable, here, online)
- Sweating Indian Style: Conflicts Over Native American Ritual (Society for Visual Anthropology/1994)
Motion Pictures (theatrical)
- Dances With Wolves (1990)
- The Color Purple (1985)
- Contact (1991)
Academic organizations intersecting with themes of this course:
The International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE)
International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
Environmental Ethics (Journal)
Environmental Values (Journal)
Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University
Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
Additional resources, such as links to podcasts, music, slideshows, video, music, and websites, will be made available here during the course. Students are encouraged to send their own ideas for resources to the course instructors.