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Was White Right? Biblical Interpretation, Theological Stance and Environmental Attitudes among a Sample of ukChurchgoers

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Lynn White’s controversial hypothesis, that Judaeo-Christian belief led to attitudes towards the environment that have spawned an ecological crisis, has received much attention from sociologists of religion, notably in the United States. Surveys of the general population show negative correlations between biblical literalism and environmentalism, but these seem to be due to the particular nature of religion and politics in the usa. This study uses more nuanced measures of biblical interpretation and theological stance to examine the issue among a sample of 537 committed churchgoers from a range of mainly conservative Protestant denominations in the United Kingdom. Literal interpretation of Genesis was directly negatively correlated with concern for the environment, after allowing for indirect effects through dominion and stewardship theologies. The effect of symbolic interpretation was mediated by sacramental understanding of creation and stewardship. Stewardship was a key belief that mediated the effects of symbolic interpretation and theological stance on concern for the environment. Biblical interpretation, dominion and sacramentalism were uncorrelated with willingness to sacrifice to protect the environment, but stewardship was indirectly positively correlated through its effect on environmental concern.

Affiliations: 1: York St John University York UK A.


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