Faithful advocates: faith communities and environmental activism in Scotland
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date09/07/2019
This thesis investigates local-level environmental activism in faith communities, and aims to understand what explains environmental advocacy by Christian faith communities. It asks why Christian communities are participating in environmental advocacy, and identifies the motivations and practices behind their engagement. Faith-based organisations and faith communities are increasingly active in environmental advocacy, both through high-level interventions, and local-level action. While high-level engagement often attracts widespread attention, as in the case of the Pope’s 2015 environmentally-focused encyclical, the engagement of locally-grounded faith communities is often overlooked, both in academia and practice. This thesis aims to fill that void by exploring faith-based environmentalism from the perspective of the local faith community. It takes an ethnographic approach, based on twelve months of participant observation in three Christian congregations in Edinburgh engaged in environmental action. Building on earlier studies of religion and ecology and religious environmentalism, this thesis argues that environmental engagement is explained by theological motivations, and also by practical factors expressed and experienced in the social context of the local faith community. Theologically, faith communities base their environmental engagement within a broad framework of justice, understanding the natural environment as God’s creation, and aligning a Christian responsibility to ‘care for creation’ with recognition of the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on those least equipped to respond. Yet theology alone cannot explain this advocacy. Engagement is motivated by a sense of community and, more pragmatically, is also explained by everyday issues that reflect the reality of life in a faith community. It is in the social context of the faith community that these factors are brought together. Above all, the research findings emphasise the importance of community, understood both as people and place, as a key underlying factor explaining engagement. By highlighting the central role of community in environmental advocacy, this thesis offers insight into religious environmentalism that prioritises the everyday, ‘lived’ experience of religion, and articulates the importance of the social context in which religion is practiced for understanding engagement.