The historical roots of the ecological crisis


In this chapter, I analyse the provenance and legacy of the influential journal article published in Science ‘The historical roots of the ecologic crisis’ (White 1967). I argue that White’s analysis is significantly embedded in his late-modern scholarly context and fails to transcend some embedded prejudices, not least of which his tendency to portray religion not as a complex lived phenomenon, but rather in forms which are reduced to simple binaries. I go on to explore the modern conceptual legacy surrounding the use of “crisis” in the interpretation of historical events and documents, particularly in relation to the environment and suggest that the concept of “crisis” comes with its own intellectual baggage and cannot be invoked as a purely neutral observation. I note several ways that the text of the bible resists such framings, particularly given the array of other-than-human voices which convey prophetic speech. As a metaphor, “crisis” may mobilise our attentions, but it also can serve to obscure the more complex dynamics at work in the present moment and in biblical texts. I conclude by arguing that biblical hermeneutics would be well-served if to were to dispense with the hand-wringing over “anthropocentrism” which was a hallmark of White’s generation of scholarship and instead turn to focus on more complex creaturely entanglements and hybrid geographies.

in The Oxford Handbook of Bible and Ecology, 2021
Jeremy Kidwell
Jeremy Kidwell
Associate Professor in Theological Ethics

Ethicist, activist, hacker, ethnographer and eco-theologian. Interdisciplinary and unafraid.