SPIRIT AND NATURE: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue
Edited by Steven C. Rockefeller and John C. Elder.
Beacon Press: Boston, 1992.
226 pp. $30.00 (clothbound) $16.00 (paperback).


Driving toward Seattle in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I am faced again with a certain despair for the environment and myself. Here I am rushing to Seattle past urban sprawl and “industrial parks” (a wonderful oxymoron) in a truck that con­sumes far more energy than is necessary, pondering the conse­quences of our ugly “progress”­ only to realize I have arrived at these same observations, conclu­sions, and sentiments before. I have begun to recognize a familiar feeling that life is moving in circles, that for all the politically correct talk about the environ­ment, the charters, and the summits, nothing really changes for the better, and just identifying environmental and ecological problems is no longer important. The next far more difficult step must be to question how these problems can be corrected and to admit that many of the proposals already put forward have failed; not because the ideas were wrong, but because advocates have not appreciated the need for a more sophisticated understanding of human nature in relationship to the environmental crisis. Spirit and Nature,edited by Steven C. Rockefeller and John Elder, is an important new direction in envi­ronmental discourse because it squarely faces the question of reli­gious force, both personal and institutional, as a prime player in the politics of environment.

The text contains the lectures and addresses of a four-day symposium entitled “Spirit and Nature: Religion, Ethics, and Environmental Crisis,” which was held at Middlebury College (where both Rockefeller and Elder are professors) in the fall of 1990. The symposium presented Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and Native American reli­gious perspectives.

Every chapter in Spirit and Nature sounds a note that could be lengthened, shortened, or tuned in some way; and while each voice is intelligent and caring and unique, several recurring themes and questions emerge.

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