Date of Award

8-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Sociology

Major Professor

Sherry Cable

Committee Members

Robert E. Jones, Harry F. Dahms, William Park

Abstract

Scholars identify an emerging religious social base to U.S. environmentalism and public concern about anthropogenic global climate change. Surveys also show religious and political conservatives express skepticism about this environmental problem and oppose environmental regulations addressing it. White conservative Protestants reflect this contrast by denying human activity causes it and opposing climate policy for mitigating anthropogenic effects on Earth’s atmosphere, while concern and activism for climate protection simultaneously increases among other environmental evangelical Christians. Decades of quantitative investigations reveal religion’s role in environmental concern remains murky. Little clarity exists about how biblical literalism, “end times” eschatology, and religious environmental stewardship or creation care inform their opposition to environmentalism and emerging climate activism. How religion may constrain human agency in response to changing large-scale biophysical conditions or facilitate adaptation to global ecological change is unclear. This dissertation examines how religious beliefs inform public concern about global environmental problems among U.S. conservative Protestants using a qualitative research strategy and case study. It explores predominately white, Republican, educated, middle to upper-income evangelical Christians’ perceptions of climate change through individual, face-to-face unstructured interviews with 52 participants living in the Dayton, Ohio area. It describes how religion informs their climate change beliefs, perceptions it is a problem, and their responses from an applied sociology of knowledge perspective and within a constructionist approach to social problems. Participants differ in beliefs about anthropogenic climate change, but largely agree it is not a serious environmental problem. Six religious themes emerge: Creation beliefs, Sin beliefs, Anti-evolution, God’s involvement in the world, End Times, and Christian stewardship. Individuals’ religious mental schemas reflect literalist applications of Biblical texts to understand large-scale ecological conditions, a theology reducing human agency for addressing global environmental problems, and a perceived responsibility to engage in individual, pro-environmental actions in their everyday lives. This case study richly describes how religion informs public opinion, balances qualitative investigations of religious elites’ perceptions, and contextualizes quantitative analyses of lay evangelical Christians’ views. Implications arise from religion’s’ intersection with environmental policy, public environmental concern, and climate science communication to members of this highly religious segment of U.S. society.

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