Religion in Conservation and Management

A Durkheimian View


  • Gene N. Anderson University of California, Riverside



Religion and environment, Emile Durkheim, religion and nature, anthropology of religion, sociology of religion


Many traditional societies use religion as the main vehicle for teaching and sanctioning environmental management. They construct the principles for sustainable (or ideally sustainable) use as ethical rules given by the gods or spirits at the dawn of time. Other societies do not do this; some use secular morality, while others simply have no sustainability rules at all. Modern societies with cultural roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions often take the passage in Genesis 1 about ‘dominion’ over nature as a charter or even a directive to destroy natural environments and species. It is worth inquiring how the successful societies manage religion. Durkheim (1995 [1912]) argued that religion is used by societies to encode morality and motivate people emotionally to follow that morality. Cross-cultural and cross-religion studies, some cited herein, show that this very often includes morality relating to conservation or resource management. Can we use their principles to save the planet today?

Author Biography

Gene N. Anderson, University of California, Riverside

Professor Emeritus Dept. of Anthropology University of California, Riverside


Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World (New York: Pantheon).

Alvard, Michael, and Lawrence Kuznar. 2001. ‘Deferred Harvests: The Transition from Hunting to Animal Husbandry’, American Anthropologist 103: 295-311.



How to Cite

Anderson, G. N. (2013). Religion in Conservation and Management: A Durkheimian View. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 6(4), 398–420.