Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable): Religious Studies
Though Modern European society thinks of itself today as “Post-Christian”, we must understand that this implies that Christianity has previously had such a profound impact on Europe as to completely shape its cultural landscape. While it may not be the dominant cultural force anymore, many of the theological principles introduced as early as late antiquity, still remain the cornerstone of our culture and democratic thought. The Eurocentric focus within this study is vital because the influence of Christianity was spread prolifically throughout the globe during the era of colonization. As the majority of the world today has been impacted as the colonial descendants of this era, we are continually shaped by the Western theology of the past. Therefore, we must understand how these traditions manifest and relate to the inability to implement large-scale renewable energy. To do this, we must analyze the major theological ideas between nature in Western theology.
Throughout its development, Euro-Christian society has championed the idea of supremacy over nature. The origin of this outlook can be taken from within the book of Genesis. Biblical writers articulate that the world and its contents were specifically created for the use of mankind. God gave the dominion of Earth to man, along with the exceptionalism of being made in his image. To further this phenomenon, the wide acceptance of Neoplatonism during late antiquity, championed the separation between the divine ascension of the human soul, and our physical earthly bodies of clay. This inherently put man and nature at odds, which was only furthered in coming philosophical movements.
The Enlightenment employed these theological roots within the works of Francis Bacon, known as the father of empiricism. At the beginning of his Novum Organum, he reiterated the claim that man had been given the Earth, but since the fall we had been living in discordance with the true will of the divine. Therefore, humanity must take it upon itself to return to an Eden-like state, where man has mastered nature through its torture and submission, so it may yield its secrets and eventually serve us. He believed we are justified in doing so, as our mission since the time of Adam has been to become one with God once more. Therefore, nature could and should be used as a stepping stone of ascension. In the years after, this ideology paved the way for Philosophers like John Locke to expand on society, property, and nature’s relationship to humans. From this literature much of modern Western society was founded, and was certainly an inspiration for both the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
The Christian Anthropocentrism described above has been apparent throughout the common era. To fully understand our current anthropogenic climate issues, we must acknowledge the furthering of Baconian ideals in the pursuit of energy. But where other voices, such as Lynn White see Christian human exceptionalism as doing nothing but harm, I see its recent technological innovations as fulfilling its intended purpose. While White may be correct, this viewpoint only acknowledges non-renewable sources. It is no secret that Christian anthropocentrism has tortured, objectified, and steered the natural world towards complete degradation. But through its furtherment, we have gained the technological secrets of renewable energy. In a sense, I believe Bacon’s ideas were correct. The 400 year trial of his methods has culminated in the conception of renewable energy. Today’s renewable energy technology provides us with an opportunity to over-consume, with little to no environmental consequences. Through sustainable consumption, paradise could indeed be created on Earth. However, the destructive methods it took to get here were clearly not worth it. Still, regardless of how events should have happened, we find ourselves at this crossroads, and must continue to move forward.
- What has western society’s relationship with the natural world historically looked like?
- Has this relationship been influenced by Christian theological thought?
- If so, what specific concepts, and have they been constant within western society’s global spread?
- Are these principals positive or negative?
- Do they currently manifest in a way that furthers our modern day climate issues?
- What can be done to evolve the Euro-Christian theological mindset, in order to improve man’s relationship to the natural world and renewable energy?
- Is this theological remodeling even possible?
- HIST 222 (Britain in the Age of Revolution, 1688 to 1815) spring 2022. I will examine the transformative journey from the enlightenment to the industrial era that shaped Britain, the country at the heart of this movement.
- RELS 225 (Christian Origins) spring 2020. Through studying the conception of Christianity, I will be able to understand where the environmental concepts described in the bible came from.
- RELS 251 (Medieval Christianity) fall 2019. By studying the rise of Christianity from Rome to the emergence of scholasticism, I will be better suited to understand which biblical theories and concepts had strong ties to the first major anthropogenic manipulation pre industrial revolution.
- SOAN 300 (Social Theory) fall 2020. Through understanding the classical theory of philosophers from the enlightenment and on, I gain an understanding of how these ideas effected the natural world.
- SOAN 310 (Religion, Society, and Modernity) fall 2021. Through the use of classic religious frameworks, I will understand the modern ethnographic attributes of Christianity.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 110, GEOL 170, ECON 260, IA 257, HIST 239, PHIL 215. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Feedback to date
- February 2020, Jessica Kleiss (Instructor): I originally focused my area of interest on the relationship between European technological developments and the natural world. This was perceived as too broad of a subject, resulting in an adoption of a more specific focus within interdisciplinary fields of history and technology.
- February 2020, Robert Kugler (faculty consultant): My first meeting with my faculty consultant resulted in adapting my area of interest to analyze simultaneous European theological and technological movements. This way, I became more able to take into account the complicated factors of this concept.
- February 2020: After my first draft, I tried to make the elements of my area of interest fewer and more in depth.
- March 2020, Jessica Kleiss (Instructor): In an office hours appointment there seemed to be an apparent need to go further in depth, and to stay away from glazing over the specifics of my area of interest.
- March 2020: After meeting with my faculty advisor, I abandoned the idea of pursuing a historical analysis of European technology, but rather how Christian theology has been a driving force for climate change and a lack of renewable energy implementation.
- April 2020, Robert Kugler (faculty consultant): My faculty advisor reviewed my summary and gave me feedback on making my progression of logic more easily followable, so that one could understand the theological and historical themes within modern day renewable energy technology.
Revisions to date
- Bacon, Francis. 1900. Advancement of Learning and Novum Organum, 311-470. Willey Book. Link.
- Delucchi, Mark A., and Mark Z. Jacobson. 2011. “Providing All Global Energy with Wind, Water, and Solar Power, Part II: Reliability, System and Transmission Costs, and Policies.” Energy Policy39 (3): 1170–90. Link.
- Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science162 (3859): 1243–48. Link.
- Hatcher, John. 1993. The History of the British Coal Industry: Volume 1: Before 1700: Towards the Age of Coal. Oxford University Press. Link.
- Hey, David. 2008. The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History. Industrial History. Oxford University Press. Link.
- Hoffmann, Richard C. 2015. An Environmental History of Medieval Europe. Chapter 4: Medieval land use and the formation of traditional European landscapes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Jacobson, Mark Z., and Mark A. Delucchi. 2011. “Providing All Global Energy with Wind, Water, and Solar Power, Part I: Technologies, Energy Resources, Quantities and Areas of Infrastructure, and Materials.” Energy Policy39 (3): 1154–69. Link.
- Kuhn, Thomas S. 2012. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Link.
- Locke, John. 1967. Two Treatises of Government. Book One: Of Government Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Link.
- McKnight, Stephen A. 2005. The Religious Foundations of Francis Bacon’s Thought. Missouri: University of Missouri Press. 151-159. Link.
- Merchant, Carolyn. 2003. Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. New York: Routledge. 37-85. Link.
- White, Lynn. 1967. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Science155 (3767): 1203–7. Link.
- Whited, Tamara L., Engels, Jens I., Hoffman, Richard C., Ibsen, Hilde, and Verstegen, Wybren. 2005. Northern Europe: an Environmental History. Chapter 5: New Regimes of Production and Pollution In the Industrial Age. Oxford: ABC-Clio.