Mark R. Stoll
is associate professor of history and Director of Environmental Studies at Texas Tech University. His book Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism
(Oxford University Press, 2015) offers a history of environmentalism emerging from a religious aesthetics and moral vision. Stoll argues that environmentalism began with Calvinists theological commitments regarding the divine relationship with nature and humanity. The Reformed branch of Christianity held that God spoke through scripture and "the book of nature." Believers expressed this idea not only in literature but also through landscape paintings and a tradition of natural science and conservation. Preferring unpeopled landscapes, art was to capture both the truth of God's creation and the sublime and the beautiful. Humanity had a moral responsibility to preserve the land for the common good and future generations. The book is filled with creative and colorful characters, well known and lesser known, whose commitment to preserving the earth was undergirded by religious ideals. The children of the Reformed tradition promoted biological holism, nature's unity and diversity, and gave birth to ecology, conversation, and land improvement. National parks, American cities and their parks, and agriculture all bear their imprint. By 1870, the Reformed tradition faded and conservation and ecology were taken up by Transcendentalist, progressive Presbyterians, and denominations with an individualist ethic such as the Baptist to shape modern environmentalism. Stoll demonstrates how the children of these traditions challenge the often-assumed historical divide between religious ideas and environmentalism.