Lynn White Jr.’s ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’ after Fifty Years

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History Compass





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Over the past half-century, Lynn White Jr.'s ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’ has stimulated examination of the relationship between religion, particularly Christianity, and attitudes toward nature in the U.S. and elsewhere. The article contrasts critiques of the Lynn White thesis as expressed in White's scholarly work (Medieval Technology and Religion, Medieval Technology and Social Change) with the far broader response to ‘Roots’ by not only medieval historians but also scholars in the fields of environmental philosophy and ethics, Religion and Ecology, and modern history. The bifurcated response to White reveals how the White thesis became a flashpoint for discussion of environmental issues outside and beyond medieval studies, a discussion that until recently took place largely independently of continuing work in medieval environmental history itself. Only within the last decade or so have the main lines of criticism of the White thesis by medieval historians begun to be integrated into a more unified consensus, leaving as White's legacy the fundamental point that religion is an important, if not the only, factor in how human societies relate to the natural world.

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