Chapter 7: Case Study: Wilderness and Creation Spirituality

7.4 Applied Wilderness Spirituality: Inspiring National Parks and Environmentalism in America

Vernal Falls, Yosemite (1983). “Glory to God for the beauty of the earth,” says photographer Fred Krueger.

One of the more noteworthy examples of how religious influences have played a role in the conservation and preservation of nature in America is to look at the use of religious themes in the formation of the national parks and in the rise of environmentalism. Mark Stoll, a historian at Texas Tech, has done pathbreaking work on this topic, in his book Protestantism, Capitalism, and Nature in America (2007), in several other articles [1] and in his most recent book: Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism (2015). Stoll details how early proponents of preservation like John Muir preached about nature using the resonant biblical themes of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and how religion provided early American environmental leaders with a moral and cultural basis to champion their work.

A good summary of Stoll’s work can be heard in a recent podcast, but part of the point for our purposes is simply to note that mainstream religion has already been a very significant inspiration for conservation and preservation progress in America, prior to the rise of the modern environmental movement whose counter-cultural leanings tended to eschew the dominant religious culture. When we look back at the ways that religion was particularly influential in the past in America, the passionate and deeply moral values that follow from the encounter with pristine nature and the awe-inspiring beauty of nature have particularly fueled those developments. Wilderness spirituality may well remain an essential ingredient in positive religious environmental influence.

  1. See for instance Mark Stoll’s “Milton in Yosemite: Paradise Lost and the National Parks Idea” (Environmental History 13 (April 2008), 237-74.) and his essay, “Religion ‘Irradiates’ the Wilderness,” chapter three of American Wilderness: A New History (Lewis, M. L. (2007). American Wilderness: A New History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 35-53.)


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Religion and Environmental Values in America Copyright © 2019 by Gregory E Hitzhusen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.