Section VI: Reimagining and Mobilizing Religious Traditions in Response to the Eco-crisis

Track 11: Can Mormonism Contribute to Ecological Civilization?
(James McLachlan & Dan Wotherspoon)

Mormonism may be the most successful new religion of the past two centuries. Today it is a significant part of the global religious scene. Many Mormons want to participate in the creative response to current crises, and some find help in Whitehead in this regard. This track will discuss the resources of this community for an Ecological World View

Biographies of Track Organizers:

James McLachlan is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Western Carolina University. His Ph.D is from the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He has been a visiting scholar at the Center for Process Studies. He is past co-chair of the Mormon Studies Group at the American Academy of Religion, Past- President of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is currently a member of the board of the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought, and organizer of the Personalist Seminars. His publications include articles in 20th century Continental thought, especially Levinas, Sartre and Berdyaev. He also publishes on American and European Personalism, Process Theology, Romanticism and idealism, and Mormon Theology. His most recent “Satan: Romantic Hero or Just Another Asshole” in The Devil: Philosophical Implications, Routledge 2015. (I just liked the title) He has also served as a Mormon Bishop.

Dan Wotherspoon has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (1996), where he wrote his dissertation in conversation with process thought and those elements of Mormon theology that could be better mined for a robust environmental spirituality and ethic. He is currently the host of the popular Mormon Matters podcast, a weekly show featuring panel discussions on LDS topics, including many that directly relate to themes in this conference. He served from 2001 to 2008 as editor of Sunstone magazine and as executive director of the Sunstone Education Foundation. He is also a past director of communications for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He is the author of more than thirty essays and editorials, and is the editor of the volume, The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-day Saints by Frances Lee Menlove (Signature Books, 2013). He is currently working on two books for publication in 2015–2016.

Suggested Readings:

  1. Handley, George, Terry Ball, and Steven Peck, Ed. Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment. Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2006. (online at

  2. Willliams, Terry Tempest, William B. Smart, and Gibbs M. Smith, Ed.  New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community. Layton: Gibbs Smith Publishers,1998.

  3. Irreantum (Magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters) 4, no. 2 (Summer 2002), special edition on “Engaing the Environment through LDS Writing.”

  4. Bryner, Gary. “Theology and Ecology: Religious Belief and Environmental Stewardship.” BYU Studies. 49:3 (Summer 2010): 21-45.

  5. Handley, George. “Faith and the Ethics of Climate Change.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 44:2 (2011): 6-35


Track Program:

Friday, June 5, 2015

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Section Plenary for Section VI (of which Track 11 is a part), “World Loyalty,” by Mary Elizabeth Moore, Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Theology and Education, Co-Director of the Center for Practical Theology, Boston University School of Theology, Boston MA, USA

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.: Track Session #1

Topic: Mormonism, Process-Relational Metaphysics, and the Earth

James McLachlan, Philosophy and Religion Western Carolina University

Title : Relational Resources of Mormon Theology

Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” is an international conference that focuses on the big ideas that matter for a thriving ecosphere. The question I’ve been asked to consider is what intellectual resources in Mormonism might be able to contribute toward an ecological civilization. At face value this would seem a difficult sell. Have not Mormons bought into the exploitative practices of Western Civilization that are not sustainable? While this may be true there are resources in Mormon theology to go another way. Mormon theology is by its nature relational. Both Humans and Divine beings are seen as mutually depending on each other. God is affected and changed by human suffering and human thriving. But beyond the relation of humans and God the earth itself is ontologically of the same being as the Divine. All beings are interconnected, related to each other in such ways that any action affects all. Failure, as ecological disaster, is a real possibility if human beings ignore the relational realities that face them. In this way Mormonism, at it’s most fundamental level, is relational and has the theological resources to be a partner in building an Ecological Civilization. The question is will Mormons as a people and religious movement move in that direction.

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.: Track Session #2

Topic: Mormonism, Process-Relational Metaphysics, and the Earth

Dan Wotherspoon, Ph. D, Religion, Claremont Graduate University; editor and Mormon podcaster

Title: “Joy in the Measure of Their Creation”: Mormon Resources for Environmental Sensibilities and Action

Continuing the framing begun by James McLachlan in Track Session #1, Dan Wotherspoon discusses additional theological and process-relational metaphysical sensibilities in LDS thought that match well with environmental themes. He also presents a survey of many historical and contemporary social practices, along with various cultural peculiarities of Mormonism, that point toward and might undergird a far more robust form of environmental activism than currently holds sway among most church members.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. : Track Session #3

Topic: Embodiment and Ecology

Rachel Whipple, Comparative Studies, Brigham Young University; neighborhood advocate

Title: Complicit Embodiment: A Dark Ecology of Mormonism

A dark ecology is one that goes beyond the basic scientific understanding of ecological interrelatedness to acknowledge human responsibility and complicity within the environment. It is a kind of ecological thinking that blends scientific and artistic understanding, one that takes into account the cultural and psychological aspects of human experience as much as it does the harsh reality of the world in which we find ourselves. Dark ecology both encourages reflection on our culpability and calls for a course of action that may be undertaken on an individual or community level, much like religion. Although most work that may be considered dark ecology has been decidedly secular, Mormon narratives of the beneficial fall, choice and accountability, and restoration are consistent with a dark ecological aesthetic.

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.: Track Session #4

Topic: Expanding our View of Business and Commerce in Conversation with Key Mormon Ideas

Presentation 1

Lori Taylor , Ph.D., History, University of Buffalo, sustainable businesses entrepreneur

Title: Smallering Mormon Stories

My presentation won’t look a lot like a scholarly paper. It will look more like stand-up, relating the unrelated to make people laugh (a bit) and, while they are laughing, slip past their defenses to consider how they can do the impossible: use the ideas of Mormonism in service of an ecological civilization. I propose an exploration of sustainability (through the idea of “Smallering” that guided my business, which is really more E.F. Schumacher than Seuss), LDS growth (let’s call that “Biggering,” as in The Lorax), corporate storymaking and PR, and the radical practice of changing stories. 

Presentation 2

Jim Smithson, Ph.D., Sociology, Cornell University; former research supervisor for the LDS Church, conducting social science research in more than thirty countries

Title: Are the LDS Concepts of Consecration and Stewardship Still Relevant in Today’s Mormonism?

This presentation will describe the early Mormon concepts of consecration and stewardship (C&S) primarily focusing on its use in the late Gordon Wagner’s 1977 dissertation in economics, “Consecration and Stewardship: A Socially Efficient System of Justice.” Wagner’s ideas and work in Africa then provide a practical foundation for discussing how (or whether) C&S, rooted in Mormon principles, might still provide a meaningful response to world economic and environmental challenges. 

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.: Track Session #5

Topic: Earth Stewardship and Service

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., teaches religious studies at Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley, including “The Vanishing Garden: Religion and Earth Stewardship”

Title: Earth Stewardship in Light of St. Matthew 25 and King Benjamin’s Address

In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Jesus gives the ultimate challenge to his followers—they are always to consider those whom they see as “the least” as if they were Jesus himself. Here, Jesus speaks of this challenge of discipleship in the past tense but clearly intends for his followers to apply it in the present. In terms of earth stewardship, I think he also intends that we think of those who will be adversely affected in the future by our indifference and inaction. In other words, he is saying that we should consider those who will suffer disease, destruction and death because we failed to act in the interest of future generations as far as the earth is concerned, as if they were Jesus himself. As Francisco Goldman says, “The great metaphor at the heart of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew is that those who suffer and those who show love for those who suffer are joined through suffering and grace to Jesus Christ.” Likewise, in the Book of Mormon, the Nephite king, Benjamin, articulates an ethic that enjoins us to “love one another and serve one another” without judgment and with special emphasis on those who suffer because of want, which increasingly will include those affected by our inaction on climate change.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Track Session #6

Topic: Environmental Resources and Activism within the Community of Christ

Nelda Kerr, Claremont School of Theology

“Open Canon and Whiteheadean Thought” (Abstract forthcoming)

Michael Lewis, Community of Christ

(Title and Abstract forthcoming)

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.: Track Sesstion #7

Topic: LDS Creation Narratives

Steven Peck, Biology, Brigham Young University

Title: “Evolution, Niche Theory, and LDS Scriptures: Reframing LDS Creation Narratives”

In this paper I explore how viewing LDS creation scriptures through the lens of evolutionary and ecological science creates a coherent narrative theology that allows for deeper engagement with issues of ecological sustainability and responsibility. I focus on the idea of creativity and novelty being inherent in God’s creative purpose. I draw on French philosopher Henri Bergson to frame a non-teleological unfolding for creation that engages fully with modern science and LDS thought. 

4:00 – 5:30 p.m.: Track Session #8

James McLachlan and Dan Wotherspoon, discussion leaders

Title: Working Group Discussion: Mormonism and Ecology—Next Steps

In this final session, all track presenters and attendees are invited to participate in a working group discussion of the many ideas and possibilities shared during the previous few days and come together to discuss and begin to organize future projects designed to help Mormonism better fulfill its promise as positive, active contributors in helping the planet and building a sustainable future.