Joseph Sittler and Early Ecotheology

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


This study analyzes early twentieth-century ecotheology about which it provides a great deal of new information. The focal point is the work of Joseph Sittler (1904 1987), an American Lutheran and ecumenical theologian. Through the use of systematic analysis and historical methods, Sittler s thought is placed in context in relation to other early ecotheology and environmentalism.

Many strands of early ecotheology are here reintroduced into the discourse on ecotheology, such as the British contributions by both Anglican and Reformed theologians. For the first time, a relatively comprehensive overview of early ecotheology is given. American and British sources are the most prominent, although some discussion about Scandinavian ecotheology is included. German sources are not used, but early German ecotheology is briefly discussed.

The study confirms that there were significant forms of Christian environmental thought and action well before the age of environmentalism began in the 1960s. This fact has consequences for the definition of ecotheology. The study includes substantive discussion of definitions, typologies and methods of environmental theology. It argues that ecotheology (or ecological theology) has many benefits as a general term for the subject matter. The existence of early ecotheology requires that the concept be widened to include these early forms, even though a significant change took place in the 1960s, when a wider ecotheological movement was born.

For the first time, the growth of ecotheology is placed in the historical context of theological developments in the twentieth century. One of the findings is that certain socially-oriented forms of Christian theology included environmental concerns early on. Especially significant in this regard is Walter Rauschenbusch, the famous Social Gospel theologian, whose ecotheology receives a close reading for the first time in this study, and the multitalented Liberty Hyde Bailey. The study shows that their concerns were picked up by different post-liberal (in a general sense) and neo-liberal theologians, such as several of the realist theologians in the United States. Paul Tillich s theology of nature evidently made a powerful impact. The most influential early ecotheologians combined insights from both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. Through their work, the legacy of early ecotheology was carried on to the next generation, who made their mark in the age of environmentalism.

In this study, Sittler s early theological development is comprehensively examined for the first time. Although Sittler grew up in a traditional American Lutheran environment, he was affected by ecumenical currents relatively early on. Already in his youth he manifested a strong interest in the natural world and the fine arts, both of which later became major themes in his theology. Sittler was shaped by neo-orthodoxy and Scandinavian theology as propounded by his teachers John O. Evjen and Walter M. Horton, and he later became closely involved with the realist theologians, including Tillich. Sittler contributed to the changes in American Lutheranism, especially with his first book, The Doctrine of the Word (1948), and he soon moved in an ever more ecumenical direction. He was influenced by process thought, but developed his (eco)theology in a more traditionally theistic manner.

Sittler began addressing environmental concerns in the early 1950s, especially in his seminal essay A Theology for Earth (1954). At the same time he found his theological stance: Sittler wanted to develop neo-orthodoxy-influenced theology in a more earth-affirming direction. Many of the ecotheological arguments Sittler used are already found in some form in earlier ecotheology, but out of these arguments, Sittler constructed a more comprehensive ecotheology in a creative fashion. He included basic notions of stewardship, yet Sittler was exceptional in emphasizing the status of nature as man s sister and the interdependence of humans and the rest of nature. He further developed many of his insights in his later work, which is a topic for future research.

Overall, early ecotheology emerges from this study as multifaceted. There was dominion (Horton) and stewardship ecotheology (the agrarians, Walter C. Lowdermilk, the Malvern Conference 1941); there were eco-justice elements (Daniel Day Williams, Sittler), emphasis on spiritual experiences in nature (Bernard E. Meland) and ecological subjectivity (Charles E. Raven, Herbert H. Farmer, Tillich, Sittler). There was both strong and weak anthropocentrism, and some early ecotheologians emphasized the theocentric, intrinsic value of nature (Bailey, Tillich, Sittler). Numerous themes are featured, such as aesthetics, eschatology, Christology, Incarnation, sacraments and theological anthropology.

The role of these early ecotheologians is discussed in relation to environmental history and environmental education. The findings show that ecotheology was not as emphatically separate from other kinds of environmentalism as it was after the end of the 1960s and the Lynn White debate. Early ecotheologians contributed to the general development of environmental thought and action.
Painoksen ISBN978-951-51-0499-1
TilaJulkaistu - jouluk. 2014
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


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