Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 14, No 4 (2020)

‘At Home on the Earth’: Toward a Theology of Human Non-Exceptionalism

Dorothy C. Dean
Issued Date: 5 Mar 2021


The climate crisis requires a revaluation of what it means to be human that radically rejects human exceptionalism. I argue that such an account of human being can be constructed from a combination of Sallie McFague’s theology and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. While McFague’s theology established the parameters for an embodied, ecotheological concept of human being, I contend that Merleau-Ponty’s late work can push this vision of humanity from being anti-anthropocentric to being truly non-exceptionalistic, by making it possible to understand humans as part of the ‘mesh’ of the world. This allows for a human non-exceptionalism that still has room for the differentiation and relationality necessary to honor human diversity and to facilitate ameliorative action. The result is a foundation for a new ecotheological concept of human being that can speak to what it means to be human in the Anthropocene.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £18.00 )

DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.40899


Barad, Karen. 2012. ‘On Touching—the Inhuman That Therefore I Am’, Differences 23.3: 206-23. Doi:

Bauman, Whitney. 2014. Religion and Ecology: Developing a Planetary Ethic (New York: Columbia University Press).

Beiler, Kevin J., Suzanne W. Simard, Sheri A. Maxwell, and Annette M. Kretzer. 2009. ‘Architecture of the Wood-Wide Web: Rhizopogon Spp. Genets Link Multiple Douglas-Fir Cohorts’, New Phytologist 185.2: 543-53. Doi:

Bryant, David J. 2014. ‘The Human Animal and Christian Ecotheology: Reflections on Taking Biology Seriously’, JSRNC 8.1: 85-110. Doi:

Case-Winters, Anna. 2007. Reconstructing a Christian Theology of Nature: Down to Earth (Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate).

Catton, William R., and Riley E. Dunlap. 1978. ‘Environmental Sociology: A New Paradigm’, The American Sociologist 13.1: 41-49.

Clark, Jonathan L. 2014. ‘Labourers or Lab Tools? Rethinking the Role of Lab Animals’, in Nik Taylor and Richard Twine (eds.), The Rise of Critical Animal Studies: From the Margins to the Centre (London: Routledge): 139-64.

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

Eaton, Matthew. 2017. ‘Beyond Human Exceptionalism: Christology in the Anthro­pocene’, in Celia Deane-Drummond, Sigurd Bergmann, and Markus Vogt (eds.), Religion in the Anthropocene (London: Lutterworth Press, 1st edn): 202–17. Doi:

Gebara, Ivone. 1999. Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press).

Haraway, Donna J. 2008. When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Harris, Melanie L. 2017. Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-honoring Faiths (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books).

Keller, Catherine. 2018. Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (New York: Columbia University Press). Doi:

Leeks, Asher, and Stuart West. 2019. ‘Altruism in a Virus’, Nature Microbiology 4.6: 910-11. Doi:

McFague, Sallie. 1982. Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress Press).

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press).

McFague, Sallie. 1993. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (London: SCM Press).

McFague, Sallie. 2001. Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

McFague, Sallie. 2008. A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

McFague, Sallie. 2017. ‘Reimagining the Triune God for a Time of Global Climate Change’, in  Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster (eds.), Planetary Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress):  101-18. Doi:

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible: Followed by Working Notes (Evanston: Northwestern University Press).

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2003. Nature: Course Notes from the Collège de France (ed. Séglard Dominique; trans. Robert Vallier; Evanston: Northwestern University Press).

Rivera, Mayra. 2015. Poetics of the Flesh (Durham: Duke University Press). Doi:

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1983. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press).

Schneider, Laurel. 2007. Beyond Monotheism: A Theology of Multiplicity (London/New York: Routledge, 1st edn). Doi:

Toadvine, Ted. 2005. ‘Limits of the Flesh: The Role of Reflection in David Abram’s Ecophenomenology’, Environmental Ethics 27.2: 155-70. Doi:

Toadvine, Ted. 2007. ‘How Not to Be a Jellyfish: Human Exceptionalism and the Ontology of Reflection’, in Corinne Painter and Christian Lotz (eds.), Phenomenology and the Non-Human Animal (Dordrecht: Springer): 39-56. Doi:

Waal, F.B.M. de, Stephen Macedo, Josiah Ober, and Robert Wright. 2006. Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

White, Lynn, Jr. 1967. ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’, Science 155 (3767): 1203-207. Doi:

Yong, Ed. 2016. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life (New York: Ecco).

Yu, Yang, Chun-Li Li, Rui Du, and Jun Chen. 2019. ‘Rat Model of Empathy for Pain’, BIO-PROTOCOL 9.12: e3266. Doi: our current concept of human being.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy