Special Issue "Latter-day Saint Theology and the Environment"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Theologies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 March 2022.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. George Handley
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Interdisciplinary Humanities, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA
Interests: literatures of the Americas; ecocriticism; ecotheology
Ms. Kristen Blair
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Theology, Boston University, 1 Silber Way, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Interests: feminist and womanist biblical hermeneutics; evangelism, environmental theology
Ms. Anna Thurston
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA
Interests: religion and ecology; environmental humanities; industrial ecology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often informally known as the Mormon Church) has received increasing attention in recent years for what its interpreters consider to be its unique and insightful articulations of human responsibility toward the Earth. Sometimes referenced as ‘creation care’ or ‘environmental stewardship’, this scholarship remains somewhat less known in the broader academic field of Religion and Ecology, the subfield of Christian Environmental Theology (or Ecotheology), and even among lay membership of Latter-Day Saints. Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has recently provided resources to highlight and promote its teachings about the importance of attending to ecological health, those resources are under-utilized and sometimes irrelevant to the daily religious practice. In order to contribute to this vital scholarly conversation and to contribute to an understanding of the Latter-Day Saint tradition within the larger field of Religion and Ecology, the online journal Religions will dedicate a Special Issue of its journal to Latter-Day Saint environmental values and ethics. As co-editors, we invite essays that will build on previous work to extend the scholarly conversation about the Latter-Day Saint tradition in relation to the contemporary environmental crisis.

We look for papers that will explore these and other topics as articulated by and interpreted within Latter-Day Saint belief and practice:

  • Latter-Day Saint theologies of land, material wealth, and prosperity;
  • the environmental significance of divine embodiment;
  • agency of matter;
  • the ethics of climate change;
  • the ethics of an end-times or “latter-day” religion; the usefulness and challenges of understandings of apocalypse;
  • the Word of Wisdom as a guide to sustainable living and point of intersection with other ecological aspects of other religious dietary laws;
  • the place and stature of animals and the value of biodiversity;
  • sustainability and the Latter-Day Saint church as a developer of land and builder of chapels, temples, and schools;
  • environmental ethics in the uniquely Latter-Day Saint sacred texts;
  • race and gender in Latter-Day Saint theology in relationship to environmental care;
  • nature and spirit in Latter-Day Saint thought and practice;
  • Latter-Day Saint creation narratives and Ecotheology;
  • the Law of Consecration, care for the poor, and environmental justice; the international church and environmental degradation; and
  • the history of environmental thought in Mormonism; the roots of environmental indifference or antagonism in Mormon culture.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words and a CV should be received by February 28, 2021. The editors will make their selection of contributors by March 15, 2021. Final papers of no more than 7500 words are due on August 15, 2021. Final revisions and publication will be completed by December 2021.

Prof. George Handley
Ms. Kristen Blair
Ms. Anna Thurston
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Mormon church
  • Mormon studies
  • environmental justice
  • sustainability
  • Latter-Day Saint environmental stewardship
  • Christian Ecotheology

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

Article
“All the Precious Trees of the Earth”: Trees in Restoration Scripture
Religions 2021, 12(12), 1035; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel12121035 - 24 Nov 2021
Viewed by 476
Abstract
In Hebrew scripture and the New Testament, trees play a prominent role, most obviously in the first chapters of Genesis and the last chapter of Revelations. Trees also serve as messianic heralds, as life-giving resources, as aesthetic standards of beauty, as exemplars of [...] Read more.
In Hebrew scripture and the New Testament, trees play a prominent role, most obviously in the first chapters of Genesis and the last chapter of Revelations. Trees also serve as messianic heralds, as life-giving resources, as aesthetic standards of beauty, as exemplars of strength and fame, and as markers and instruments of salvation. Like the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day Saint scriptures feature prominent references to forests, trees, branches, roots, and seeds. What is unique about the spiritual and cultural landscape invoked by Latter-day Saint scripture? More specifically, what is said about trees and their accoutrements in restoration scripture? While numerous studies have focused on the major thematic tree scenes in the Book of Mormon, the tree of life in the visions of Lehi and Nephi, Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree, and Alma’s discourse on the seed of faith and the tree of righteousness, this paper aims at a broader look at trees in Latter-day Saint scripture. Taking cues from Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, this paper takes a wide-ranging look at how trees in restoration scripture can help us rhetorically address the ecological dilemmas of our time. When the Gods built us a home, they did so with trees, and when God called on Their people to build a house, God told them to “bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth” to build it (see Abraham 4:11–12 and D&C 124:26–27). Another revelation declares bluntly: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees” (D&C 77:9). As eaters of sunshine and exhalers of oxygen, trees have much to teach us about how to live, and trees in restoration scripture specifically contribute to a broader vision of ecological living. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Latter-day Saint Theology and the Environment)
Article
The Earth as “Mother of Men” in Latter-Day Saint Theology
Religions 2021, 12(11), 1016; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel12111016 - 18 Nov 2021
Viewed by 571
Abstract
Following the completion of work on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith began his work on expanding the Bible’s scope. Unlike many of his contemporary Bible thinkers who were also working on translations of the Bible, Smith expanded the text in unique ways, [...] Read more.
Following the completion of work on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith began his work on expanding the Bible’s scope. Unlike many of his contemporary Bible thinkers who were also working on translations of the Bible, Smith expanded the text in unique ways, breathing life into archaic and mysterious figures and developing themes far beyond the Biblical scope. Within the first year of the Church of Jesus Christ, Smith introduced significant information concerning a vision of the pseudepigraphical character of Enoch and additional information concerning the creation narrative. These additions give insight into Smith’s understanding of his theology and his views on the environment. These additional writings connect environmental care and social injustice. The unique theological implication is that the treatment of the marginalized and downtrodden is closely related to the environment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Latter-day Saint Theology and the Environment)
Article
Disconnection and the Healing Practice of Imagination for Mormon Environmental Ethics
Religions 2021, 12(11), 948; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel12110948 - 01 Nov 2021
Viewed by 554
Abstract
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints possesses a subversive and fecund interpretation of the Christian creation narrative. This interpretation, denying creation ex nihilo, bespeaks a particular attention to and care for the living earth. However, Latter-day Saint praxis is wounded [...] Read more.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints possesses a subversive and fecund interpretation of the Christian creation narrative. This interpretation, denying creation ex nihilo, bespeaks a particular attention to and care for the living earth. However, Latter-day Saint praxis is wounded by a searing disconnect between the theopoetics of its conceptual creation and its lived practice. I argue that the Church must understand this disconnect as a wound and attend to it as such. I turn to theopoetics, arguing that it is in the lived practices of Latter-day Saints engaging somatically with the Earth that can restore our imaginative potential and move toward healing. I begin by exploring the Christian conception of creation ex nihilo and juxtapose this with the Latter-day Saint understanding of formareex materia. I then explore the implications of such a cosmology for environmental ethics and probe the disconnections between theory and practice in Mormonism broadly construed. I propose that the healing salve for disconnection is imagination, a salve found in the first heartbeat of the Latter-day Saint story. I speak with Latter-day Saint theopoetics and indigenous voices, proposing ultimately that is with them that the healing of theology and praxis must begin. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Latter-day Saint Theology and the Environment)
Article
“A World in a Grain of Sand”: The Book of Nature and Restoration Theology
Religions 2021, 12(11), 937; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/rel12110937 - 28 Oct 2021
Viewed by 545
Abstract
Augustine (354–430) is considered to be the first Christian scholar to refer to the Creation’s witness of God as the Book of Nature. For centuries, in conjunction with scripture, the Book of Nature was considered in Christianity to be a second witness of [...] Read more.
Augustine (354–430) is considered to be the first Christian scholar to refer to the Creation’s witness of God as the Book of Nature. For centuries, in conjunction with scripture, the Book of Nature was considered in Christianity to be a second witness of God. These two witnesses were also stressed in Judaism, beginning with the Torah’s account of the Creation. The Book of Nature was prominent in Islam as the faith emerged in the 7th century. However, by the 16th century reliance on the Book of Nature began to wane for all these traditions as allegorical interpretation of the natural world gave way to scriptural literalism, partially in response to emerging scientific advances. The appearance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a self-identified restoration theology in the early nineteenth century should arguably reopen and clarify the Book of Nature in the faith. However, contemporary Latter-day Saint hermeneutics have limited the Creation’s status in the faith’s ontology. The Latter-day Saint theological ideal, supported by the scriptural canon of the faith, counters contemporary neglect, inviting greater attention to and respect for the Book of Nature among the Latter-day Saint community. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Latter-day Saint Theology and the Environment)
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: ‘All the precious trees of the earth’: Trees in Restoration Scripture

Abstract: In Jewish scripture and the New Testament, trees play a prominent role, most obviously in the first chapters of Genesis and the last chapter of Revelations. Trees also serve as Messianic heralds, as life-giving resources, as aesthetic standards of beauty, as exemplars of strength and fame, and as markers and instruments of salvation. Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other restoration scriptures feature prominent references to forests, trees, branches, roots, and seeds. What is unique about the spiritual and cultural landscape invoked by Latter-day Saint scripture? More specifically, what is said about trees and their accoutrement in restoration scripture? While numerous studies have focused on the major thematic tree scenes in the Book of Mormon, the tree of life in the visions of Lehi and Nephi, Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree, and Alma’s discourse on the seed of faith and the tree of righteousness, this paper aims at a broader look at trees in Latter-day Saint scripture. Taking cues from Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, this paper takes a wide-ranging look at how trees in restoration scripture can help us rhetorically address the ecological dilemmas of our time. When the Gods built us a home, they did it with trees and when God called on his people to build a house for him, he told them to “bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth” to build it (see Abraham 4:11-12 and D&C 124:26-27). Another revelation declares bluntly: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees” (D&C 77:9). As eaters of sunshine and exhalers of oxygen, trees have much to teach us about how to live, and the same can be said of the trees in restoration scripture. 

 

Title: The Earth as "Mother of All Living" in Latter-day Saint Theology

Abstract: Following the completion of work on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith began his work on expanding the Bible's scope. Unlike many of his contemporary Bible thinkers who were also working on translations of the Bible, Smith's expanded the text in unique ways breathing life into archaic and mysterious figures and developing themes far beyond the Biblical scope. Within the first year of the Church of Jesus Christ, Smith introduced significant information concerning the pseudepigraphical character of Enoch and an apocalyptic vision he had concerning the history of the world. The vision covers the entire history of mankind, combining both Biblical themes and modern concerns. At one point in the vision, Enoch's prophetic view falls upon a personified depiction of Mother earth, weeping with sorrow. The distressful "mother of all living" proclaims that there would be environmental upheaval due to the social injustice. The unique theological implication is that the treatment of the marginalized and downtrodden are closely related to the environment.

This paper will examine the intersection between ecology and social justice. It will look at the Latter-day Saints' distinctive and insightful theological connection of human accountability toward the earth and their responsibility to care for the neglected. How do issues like prejudice, oppression, and social justice connect to the earth's environment? How were Smith's teachings received and implemented in the Latter-day Saints' early history, and how were these teachings crystalized or neglected in later generations? How would his teaching apply to the contemporary environmental crises we face today? This paper will wrestle with each of these issues and examine the relationship of ethical behavior has on our environment.

 

Title: Mormon Creation Theology and Ecotheology: a Theopoetic Response

Abstract: Mormon theology posits a unique conceptualization of the Christian creation narrative. Denying creation ex nihilo, Mormon theology also rejects creation out of chaos as constructive theologians like Catherine Keller suggest. Mormon scripture suggests a creation out of existing material, an organized creation. This creation narrative imagines two sequences of creation, the first spiritual and the second physical. The theological implications of this construction are awash throughout Mormonism. Interestingly, however, the Mormon history of conflict, displacement, and struggle for identity has similarly displaced the unique implications of the creation narrative. Specifically, I suggest that Mormons have reversed the order of creation in practice, focusing perhaps by necessity on the immaterial and otherworldly rather than the physical. Mormon sacred space has come to communicate safety from the world and represent otherworldliness, deemphasizing engagement with the world as it is. My analysis will focus on Mormon response to environmental stewardship, understood through the lens of a reversed creation theology. I will argue that neither a polemic nor an apology—methods previously employed by Mormon scholars—is an appropriate response to invigorate Mormon thought toward ecotheology. Rather, I argue that a theopoetic response engaging the language and experience of lay membership is the necessary impetus to inspire our people toward environmental stewardship. I use George Handley’s theopoetic Home Waters as a starting point and emphasize the existing structures within Mormonism that can be illuminated to ignite our cultural and theological potential. 

 

Title: Ecotheology and Racism: Recovering Intimacy with Earth and Indigenous Peoples

Abstract: Joseph Smith taught that both matter and spirit are eternal, so the earth, plants and animals growing on it and all races of humans are preeminent, essential, and divine. While this is true, Mormon pioneers, influenced both by ideas associated with Manifest Destiny and readings of scripture biased by American attitudes toward indigenous peoples, colonized both the landscape and the people who lived in the West. Pioneers thought that they could own and recreate the western landscapes, making them “Blossom as the Rose.” Indigenous people also needed to be transformed, becoming “white and delightsome,” even though their world-view that both the earth and all living creatures are divine mirrors the theology expressed by Smith. By overgrazing the land and killing off certain species of fish and animals, pioneers disrupted the food-gathering cycles of indigenous peoples. In The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, Willie James Jennings says that this process was common in the colonization of both South and North America. Religious colonizers created a new “conceptual architecture” and a “new geographic authority,” recasting the New World inside what they thought was Christian theology. Similarly, the Mormon colonists saw both land and people as wild and savage, needing to be redeemed and transformed. Jennings writes, “The natives, black, red, and everyone not white, must be brought from chaos to faith. The land, wetlands, fields, and forests must be cleared organized, and brought into productive civilization.” Jennings suggests that recovering an intimacy of belonging that includes indigenous peoples may decolonize Christian theology. Theological recovery of the vision of the earth and its ecosystems as eternal by modern Latter-Day Saint theologians may be coupled to a revisioning of indigenous people and may help eradicate both destructive environmental theology and systemic theologically-based racism from the Church.

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