Spiritual Ecology
A Quiet Revolution
by Leslie E. Sponsel
July 2012, 284pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-36409-9
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-0-313-36410-5
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Secular approaches to the environmental crisis have certainly made substantial inroads since the first Earth Day in 1970. Yet, the crisis not only persists, but is getting worse. Happily, there is an additional approach developing—spiritual ecology. Drawing on the wisdom of centuries and a wealth of different traditions, spiritual ecology can generate the profound transformations that are required if ecosanity is to be restored.

A prominent scientist and scholar documents and explains the thoughts, actions, and legacies of spiritual ecology's pioneers from ancient times to the present, demonstrating how the movement may offer the last chance to restore a healthy relationship between humankind and nature.

An internet search for “Spiritual Ecology” and related terms like “Religion and Nature” and “Religion and Ecology” reveals tens of millions of websites. Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution offers an intellectual history of this far-reaching movement. Arranged chronologically, it samples major developments in the thoughts and actions of both historic and contemporary pioneers, ranging from the Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi to Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement and James Cameron’s 2010 epic film Avatar.

This foundational book is unique in that it provides a historical, cross-cultural context for understanding and advancing the ongoing spiritual ecology revolution, considering indigenous and Asian religious traditions as well as Western ones. Most chapters focus on a single pioneer, illuminating historical context and his/her legacy, while also connecting that legacy to broader concerns. Coverage includes topics as diverse as Henry David Thoreau and the Green Patriarch Bartholomew’s decades-long promotion of environmentalism as a sacred duty for more than 250 million members of the Orthodox Church worldwide. For more information, visit www.spiritualecology.info.


  • Clear, concise, and captivating essays on well-known, as well as little-known, pioneers in spiritual ecology
  • Chapter-long treatment of each individual's contributions, allowing for in-depth coverage
  • An extensive resource guide, including films and websites
  • An appendix listing approximately 100 pioneers in spiritual ecology
Leslie E. Sponsel, PhD, is professor emeritus in anthropology at the University of Hawai`i, Honolulu, HI, where he developed and directed the Ecological Anthropology Program for three decades. Sponsel publishes extensively on a diverse number of subjects at the interfaces of ecology, religion, and peace. He conducted field research in the Amazon rainforest in Venezuela and, since the mid-1980s, has been pursuing fieldwork in Thailand. He is developing the Research Institute for Spiritual Ecology (RISE).


"This is a valuable and challenging work that deserves wide reading and consideration." —Current Anthropology, April 1, 2013

"Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries."—Choice, April 1, 2013

"[T]he book . . . [has] value as a compendium of diverse material so presented as to promote a worthy cause."—Human Ecology, October 5, 2014

"This is a wide-ranging and impressively informed book. . . . The book brings into comparative focus a splendid collection of spiritually inspired persons and movements whose exemplary ideas, convictions, and actions have significant bearing on the field of environmental thought and action."—Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, April 29, 2015

"Sponsel beautifully integrates the different dimensions of spiritual ecology: theology, morality, social movement, and personal experience; and he does so with a fine eye to its global and multicultural nature. This always clear and often moving book deserves wide readership and serious attention. "—Roger S. Gottlieb, Author of A Greener Faith and Engaging Voices

"Spiritual Ecology is essential reading today, when most of the world seems swept up by the economic dimensions of the environment. Providing a welcome antidote to the current materialistic approach, Leslie Sponsel’s keen reminder of the spiritual component of nature is both timely and a reminder that the most effective reasons for conservation come from the heart, not from the wallet."—Jeffrey A. McNeely, Senior Science Advisor, International Union for Conservation of Nature

"Leslie Sponsel’s new book is an excellent guide to spiritual ecology. It is much more: it is an evocation of spiritual ecology—its forms, its dynamic development, and its promise for the contemporary world. Dr. Sponsel, a leading authority on this field, provides a historical overview of the development of ecological and environmental visions in religion from earliest times to the present. He surveys major religions, and, in particular detail, modern writers who have developed new philosophical understandings of religion-environment relationships. This book serves both as a wonderful introduction to the field and an inspiring essay on the basic tenets, values, and goals of spiritual ecology."—E. N. Anderson, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of California, Riverside

"As Sponsel so ably demonstrates, there has always been a dimension of environmentalist thought that is founded on the understanding, explicit or implicit, that nature is sacred. As activists and policy makers seek ways of averting environmental disaster, the time is overdue for this mode of thought to enter the mainstream. This much needed book provides the kind of understanding that might help it to do so."—Kay Milton, Professor Emerita, Queen’s University Belfast

"This book is a tour de force. No one has attempted to bring together such a wide range of people and movements under the rubric of Spiritual Ecology. The result is deeply engaging for scholars and activists alike. Sponsel has given us a gem."—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University

"Whether one agrees or disagrees with the themes or theses presented within this book, it is bound to become one of the foundational pioneering texts in the spiritual ecology movement. It is written in a dramatic manner with personal insights from ethnographic research along with details regarding the main personalities, both religious and secular, who have contributed to this movement. "—Raymond Scupin, Director, Center for International and Global Studies, Lindenwood University

"Spiritual Ecology is a must read for anyone interested in having harmonious and peaceful relationships with (M)other Nature. As we rewild our hearts we must feel the deep interconnections that exist between ourselves and other beings and diverse and magnificent landscapes. The quiet revolution must begin and end in our heart. We suffer the indignities to which we subject animals and Earth and everyone benefits when we openly and widely express dignity, respect, kindness, compassion, peace, and love."—Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado; Author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Wild Justice, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

"Sponsel, a noted scholar of ecological anthropology, traces a broad, ecumenical 'religion of nature' from deep roots in the past to modern advanced thinkers. He argues persuasively that we would not have an environmental crisis today if we treated the earth with respect and reverence. The book offers a fascinating tour through the spiritual landscape, and its extensive notes give readers a rich guide to further reading and reflection."—Donald Worster, Author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

"Leslie Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology is a great guide to the wide landscape of the environmental movement. The book brings together the scientific philosophical, political and religious aspects of environmentalism. If you want to see a bigger picture of the multi-dimensional view of sustainability and spirituality then this is the book for you; it is informative, educative and evocative."—Satish Kumar, Editor-in-Chief, Resurgence Magazine

"I am delighted with this inspiring panoramic introduction to the remarkable people who have personally contributed to the on-going 'quiet revolution' that will help solve our contemporary problems of conflict, poverty, and environmental degradation. This source book could only have been produced by an anthropologist with firsthand experience with life in the tribal world and in the ancient great civilization cultural traditions of South and Southeast Asia. This an absolute treasure trove of cross-cultural ideas and sources for beliefs and practices that respond constructively to global environmental problems and related social justice issues. I immediately went to the library and the Internet to learn even more about particular organizations and people. As an anthropologist who has been concerned with indigenous people and the environment for many years, I am especially pleased with how sensitively Sponsel treats the 'ecologically noble savage' issue, and the well-deserved importance he gives to animist beliefs generally."—John H. Bodley, Regents Professor of Anthropology, Washington State University

"Humans possess an inherent inclination to find meaning and purpose through their relation to the world beyond themselves, to what we call nature. This marvelous and informative book explores this need from its roots in tribal cultures through its expression and distortion in the modern era. It is only recently that people have come to believe human progress and civilization means transforming and transcending our evolutionary roots in the natural world. This book importantly explores and leads the way toward a new movement, 'spiritual ecology,' bringing us back to our spiritual roots in nature."—Stephen R. Kellert, Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus, Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

"This is a subject that should have been documented long ago—this wise and careful book fills an important gap, and does it with real power."—Bill McKibben, Author Eaarth

"At a moment in history when political and technological solutions to the environmental crisis has been shown to have their limits, Leslie Sponsel has compiled a wonderful collection of essays on a spiritual approach to ecology. Fundamentally re-envisioning the relationship between the human and nature, Spiritual Ecology draws on the wisdom and practical insights of global spiritual traditions from antiquity to the present. This is a foundational text that includes inspirational classics as well as critical essays that explore how a spiritual ecology can deeply inform our debates about our relationship to our planet."—Duncan Williams, Chair, School of Religion, University of Southern California

"In a world where religious beliefs are too often seen as the source of deadly tension and violent conflict, Leslie Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology offers a helpful and healing contrary view. Aptly subtitled, A Quiet Revolution, this provocative collection of essays serves as key resource and guide to the global sources of inspiration, thought, and action that collectively constitute a life-sustaining path for humanity."—Barbara Rose Johnston, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, California

"Awareness that the natural world is our essential ground of being, to be revered as sacred, goes back to the dawn of the human journey. Today this awareness returns in the growing recognition that we cannot fully face or adequately respond to what our species is doing to the biosphere without a spiritual apprehension of our non-separateness from it. That is the quiet revolution to which Leslie Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology brings a fresh and fascinating overview. To the unfolding history it provides, this lean and lovely book takes the archetypal form of Tree, letting us follow—from roots to branches, leaves and fruit—the organic emergence of our native wisdom." —Joanna Macy, PhD, Author, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we’re in Without Going Crazy
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