Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 14, No 2 (2020)

From Stewardship to Creation Spirituality: The Evolving Ecological Ethos of Catholic Doctrine

Lukas Szrot
Issued Date: 2 Oct 2020


The relationship between the Catholic Church and the world’s poor is complicated by the link between concern for the earth and concern for the poor. To historically situate this relationship, in this article I examine thirty papal encyclical letters and three other salient documents issued by six Popes, spanning a period between publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring (a common starting-point for modern environmentalism) and Pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato si’ [‘Praise Be to You’]: On Care for our Common Home encyclical on climate change. Encyclicals were coded for changes in Catholic doctrine using a typology developed by sociologists of religion: from a ‘Stewardship Ethic’ rooted in individual sin, to an ‘Eco-Justice’ ethic, which bridges concern for the environment with concern for the poor, and finally, to an ethic of ‘Creation Spirituality’, which views humans and nature as inseparable. This analysis offered evidence of significant doctrinal shifts in Catholic social teaching toward a distinctively ‘greener’ reading of the tradition. Research on the religion–environment connection that focuses on describing and interpreting change over time offers robust means by which to assess whether, how, and to what extent religious organizations and their adherents engage with environmental issues.  

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.38023


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