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Naturally Ambivalent: Religion’s Role in Shaping Environmental Action 

Sociology of Religion, Volume 79, Issue 4, 21 November 2018, Pages 472–494.
Published: 08 May 2018


В этой статье рассматривается роль религии в формировании экологических действий путем привлечения современных аргументов в культурной социологии к давним дебатам о роли религии в охране окружающей среды. Опираясь на 169 подробных интервью с 22 христианскими, мусульманскими и еврейскими общинами в Хьюстоне и Чикаго, мы изучаем условия, при которых религия допускает и ограничивает действия в области окружающей среды. Результаты показывают, что религиозные институты могут мотивировать действия своих членов в области охраны окружающей среды, когда они культивируют не только декларативные экологические убеждения, но и недекларативные экологические практики. Религия может препятствовать заботе об окружающей среде, когда респонденты считают, что приверженность делу защиты окружающей среды подрывает их религиозные убеждения, но такие оправдания не связаны с реальной природоохранной практикой, которой они, тем не менее, занимаются. Мы также находим, что религиозные деятели в значительной степени приписывают мотивы своих экологических действий другим учреждениям, а не религии. Наши результаты проливают новый теоретический свет на смешанные результаты, которые характеризуют исследования в области религии и окружающей среды.


Prominent religious leaders such as Pope Francis (2015) have called for greater attention to environmental issues, while others offer considerable opposition (Stoll 2015:228). Aside from such high-profile interventions, we know little about how religious people perceive their faith communities to influence their environmental actions. Research on the influence of religion on environmental attitudes and actions is inconclusive (Eckberg and Blocker 1996; Kearns 1996). The focus is on associations between theological beliefs and environmental attitudes, leaving the potential mechanisms that underlie the relationship between religion and environmental action understudied. Research on the environment more broadly has developed a more focused interest in the relationship between people’s attitudes toward the environment and their environmental actions (Feldman and Perez 2012; Pfeffer and Stycos 2002). Substantial research has demonstrated that not only attitudes but even the impact of attitudes on behavior is shaped by their social context (Barber 2004; Derksen and Gartrell 1993). Extant research on religion and the environment, by contrast, is largely decontextualized and is unable to explain why religion seems to both encourage and inhibit environmental action.

We argue in this article that recent research on culture and cognition (e.g., Lizardo 2017; Martin 2010; Vaisey 2009) provides crucial insights into the mechanisms through which religion may shape environmental action. Drawing on a study among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious communities, we identify distinct conditions under which religious institutions can either enable or constrain members’ environmental action, by which we mean any environmentally conscious practices that they might engage in (e.g., recycling, using cloth bags, eco-friendly purchases, etc.). We find that religious beliefs can motivate environmental action when religious congregations provide opportunities to practice such actions and cultivate beliefs among members that they will be held accountable for such actions. Religion can inhibit environmental concern when respondents are habituated to interpret such concerns as threats to their religious beliefs and identities, though such respondents nevertheless engage in environmental actions. While most respondents are able to articulate religious justifications to support the environment, they primarily appeal to nonreligious motivations such as economic savings. Our study thus sheds light on some of the mechanisms underlying the mixed findings in the literature and proposes ways in which religious institutions might better cultivate environmental action among members.



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