Toward a More Wholly Communion: Cultivating Ecological Enlightenment and Sustainable Action in Christians

Cary Hauptman Gaunt (2009)

Increasingly, environmental, scientific, and religious organizations and leaders are calling for people of faith to wake up to the global climate and other environmental crises and step up their ecological responsibility by leading more sustainable lives. Yet only a few seem to hear the calls and even fewer are responding in substantive ways. Many have commented on the gap between the religious theory for environmental care and the actual practice of living ecologically sustainable lives. Exploring how to bridge this gap is increasingly important as environmental regulatory, policy, and technology efforts fall short of goals and environmental professionals, including regulators, managers, and scientists, call for ways to “cultivate the [ecologically] enlightened citizen” (Boesch and Greer, 2003). My research addresses the gap through a grounded theory analysis of the sustainability journeys and formation processes of Christian role models of ecological enlightenment who demonstrate commitment to a sustainable way of life. The individuals profiled in my study not only heard the calls for a new way, but are responding whole-heartedly with intention and discipline and are guiding others toward a new ecological era. I conducted in-depth interviews with 10 adult Christian men and women role models about their personal pathways to ecological enlightenment, commitment to sustainability, and the role of spiritual/religious practices in this transformation. Initial research participants were discovered through the literature and/or nominated by academic and professional experts of religion, spirituality, and sustainability. Additional candidates emerged through theoretical sampling protocols. By focusing on factors contributing to the ecological formation and/or conversion of these role models, I provide insights on how some people are actually able to “walk the talk” of environmental sustainability despite immense social and cultural pressures to do otherwise. Each role model’s individual story is presented and common themes shared among the stories are identified, focusing on the importance of transformational experiences and journeys, enlarged perceptions, holistic service, faith and practice, community, and grace and will. I weave these themes into recommendations for others seeking to embody sustainability at a personal level and for environmental professionals desiring to develop new approaches to address the underlying causes of unsustainable human behavior.

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