Eco-Spirituality in Environmental Action

Studying Dark Green Religion in the German Energy Transition


  • Jens Koehrsen Centre for Religion, Economy and Politics, University of Basel



energy transition, Dark Green religion, ecospirituality, worldviews, forerunners, sustainability, cities, urban low carbon transition, Germany, anthropocentrism


There is a rising debate about the religious dimensions of environmentalism. A prominent approach to this phenomenon is Bron Taylor’s Dark Green Religion. Taylor assumes that Dark Green Religion is a globally growing phenomenon which involves “para-religious” perceptions and feelings towards nature. Followers of Dark Green Religion would experience feelings of connectedness to nature, consider it to be sacred and of intrinsic value, and reject anthropocentrism. I discuss Taylor’s argument in the light of a study on an urban energy transition process in Northern Germany. Interviewing actors strongly participating in this process, I find some evidence for features of Dark Green Religion while also revealing their ongoing anthropocentric orientations. The findings suggest a need for more in-depth studies to improve our understanding of eco-religious worldviews among environmentally engaged actors and their impact on sustainability transitions.


Author Biography

Jens Koehrsen, Centre for Religion, Economy and Politics, University of Basel

Centre for Religion, Economy and Politics, University of Basel, Switzerland.


Asad, Talal. 2009. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).

Becci, Irene, and Christophe Monnot. 2016. ‘Spiritualité et Religion: Nouveaux Carburants vers la Transition Énergétique?’, Histoire, Monde et Cultures Religieuses 40.4: 93-109. Doi:

Bergmann, Sigurd. 2009. ‘Climate Change Changes Religion’, Studia Theologica—Nordic Journal of Theology 63.2: 98-118. Doi:–00393380903345057.

Bergunder, Michael. 2011. ‘Was ist Religion? Kulturwissenschaftliche Überlegungen zum Gegenstand der Religionswissenschaft’, Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 19.1-2: 3-55.

Campbell, Colin. 1972. ‘The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularization’, in Michael Hill (ed.), A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain (London: SCM-Canterbury Press): 119-36.

Campiche, Roland J. 1993. ‘Individualisation du croire et recomposition de la religion’, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions 81 (janvier-mars): 117-31. Doi:

Clugston, Richard, and Steve Holt (eds). 2012. Exploring Synergies Between Faith Values and Education for Sustainable Development (San José: Earth Charter International).

Dobbelaere, Karel, and Jan Lauwers. 1973. ‘De?nition of Religion: A Sociological Critique’, Social Compass 20.4: 535-51. Doi:

Fritz, Justin. 2012. ‘Environmentalism and the “Ecological Indian” in Avatar: A Visual Analysis’, The Arbutus Review 3.1: 67-90. Doi:

Gardner, Gary T. 2003. ‘Engaging Religion in the Quest for a Sustainable World’, in State of the World, 2003: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.): 152-75.

Gottlieb, Roger (ed.). 2006. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Doi:

Gottlieb, Roger. 2008. ‘You Gonna Be Here Long? Religion and Sustainability’, Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology 12.2: 163-78. Doi:

Hedlund-de Witt, Annick. 2012. ‘Exploring Worldviews and Their Relationships to Sustainable Lifestyles: Towards a New Conceptual and Methodological Approach’, Ecological Economics 84:74-83. Doi:

Hedlund-de Witt, Annick. 2013. ‘Pathways to Environmental Responsibility: A Qualitative Exploration of the Spiritual Dimension of Nature Experience’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 7.2: 154-86. Doi:

Hervieu-Léger, Danièle. 2003. ‘Individualism, the Validation of Faith, and the Social Nature of Religion in Modernity’, in Richard K. Fenn (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Sociology of Religion (Malden, MA: Blackwell): 161-75. Doi:

Huber, Andreas, Jens Köhrsen, and Jannika Mattes. 2013. ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Local Reorganization Processes—Empirical Findings from Two Case Studies’, Proceedings of the ECEEE 2013 Summer Study: 271-82.

Johnston, L.F. 2014. ‘Sustainability as a Global Faith? The Religious Dimensions of Sustainability and Personal Risk’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82.1: 47-69. Doi:

Kimmins, J.P. 1993. ‘Ecology, Environmentalism and Green Religion’, The Forestry Chronicle 69.3: 285-89. Doi:

Klagge, B., and T. Brocke. 2012. ‘Decentralized Electricity Generation from Renewable Sources as a Chance for Local Economic Development: A Qualitative Study of Two Pioneer Regions in Germany’, Energy, Sustainability and Society 2.5: 2-9. Doi:

Koehrsen, Jens. 2015. ‘Does Religion Promote Environmental Sustainability? Exploring the Role of Religion in Local Energy Transitions’, Social Compass 62.3: 296-310. Doi:

Koehrsen, Jens. 2017a. ‘Boundary Bridging Arrangements: A Boundary Work Approach to Local Energy Transitions’, Sustainability 9.3, 424: 23pp. Doi:

Koehrsen, Jens. 2017b. ‘Religious Agency in Sustainability Transitions: Between Experimen­tation, Upscaling, and Regime Support’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. Doi:

Koehrsen, Jens. 2018. ‘Exogenous Shocks, Social Skill, and Power: Urban Energy Transitions as Social Fields’, Energy Policy 117: 307-15. Doi:

Luckmann, Thomas. 1967. The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan).

Luckmann, Thomas. 2002. ‘Schrumpfende Transzendenzen, expandierende Religion‘, in Thomas Luckmann (ed.), Wissen und Gesellschaft: Ausgewählte Aufsätze 1981–2002 (Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft): 139-55.

Luhmann, Niklas. 2000. Die Religion der Gesellschaft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag).

Markard, Jochen, Rob Raven, and Bernhard Truffer. 2012. ‘Sustainability Transitions: An Emerging Field of Research and Its Prospects’, Research Policy 41.6: 955-67. Doi:

Mattes, Jannika, Andreas Huber, and Jens Koehrsen. 2015. ‘Energy Transitions in Small-Scale Regions—What We Can Learn from a Regional Innovation Systems Perspective’, Energy Policy 78: 255-64. Doi:

Nelson, Robert H. 2012. ‘Economics and Environmentalism: Belief Systems at Odds’, The Independent Review 17.1: 5-17.

Rasmussen, Larry L. 2011. ‘Energy: The Challenges to and from Religion’, Zygon 46.4: 985-1002. Doi:

Riesebrodt, Martin. 2007. Cultus und Heilsversprechen: Eine Theorie der Religionen (Munich: Beck).

Rolston III, Homes. 2006. ‘Science and Religion in the Face of the Environmental Crisis’, in Gottlieb 2006: 376-97.

Schäfer, Heinrich. 2009. ‘Zum Religionsbegriff in der Analyse von Identitäts­kon?ikten: Einige sozialwissenschaftliche und theologische Erwägungen’, epd-Dokumentation 5: 6-16.

Shibley, Mark A. 2011. ‘Sacred Nature: Earth-Based Spirituality as Popular Religion in the Paci?c Northwest’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture 5.2: 164-85. Doi:

Shove, Elizabeth, and Gordon Walker. 2007. ‘CAUTION! Transitions Ahead: Politics, Practice, and Sustainable Transition Management’, Environmental Planning A 39.4: 763-70. Doi:

Sovacool, Benjamin K. 2014. ‘What Are We Doing Here? Analyzing Fifteen Years of Energy Scholarship and Proposing a Social Science Research Agenda’, Energy Research & Social Science 1: 1-29. Doi:

Stadt Emden. 2010. ‘Integriertes Kommunales Klimaschutzkonzept’. Online:

Stark, Rodney, and Roger Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Taylor, Bron. 2001. ‘Earth and Nature-Based Spirituality (Part I): From Deep Ecology to Radical Environmentalism’, Religion 31.2: 175-93. Doi:

Taylor, Bron. 2004. ‘A Green Future for Religion?’ Futures 36.9: 991-1008. Doi:

Taylor, Bron. 2008. ‘From the Ground Up: Dark Green Religion and the Environmental Future’, in Donald K. Swearer (ed.), Ecology and the Environment: Perspectives from the Humanities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press): 89-107.

Taylor, Bron. 2010. Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Taylor, Bron. 2013. Avatar and Nature Spirituality (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press).

Tucker, Mary E. 2006. ‘Religion and Ecology: Survey of the Field’, in Gottlieb 2006: 398-418. Doi:

Tucker, Mary E. 2008. ‘World Religions, the Earth Charter, and Sustainability’, Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology 12.2: 115-28. Doi:

Witt, Joseph D. 2016. Religion and Resistance in Appalachia: Faith and the Fight against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky).

Woodhead, Linda. 2011. ‘Five Concepts of Religion’, International Review of Sociology—Revue Internationale de Sociologie 21.1: 121-43. Doi:



How to Cite

Koehrsen, J. (2018). Eco-Spirituality in Environmental Action: Studying Dark Green Religion in the German Energy Transition. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 12(1), 34–54.