Abstract This article examines the role of religion in shaping environmental action by bringing contemporary arguments in cultural sociology to bear on longstanding debates about the role of religion in environmental care. Drawing on 169 in-depth interviews from 22 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish congregations in Houston and Chicago, we examine conditions under which religion enables and constrains environmental action. Findings reveal that religious institutions can motivate members’ environmental actions when they cultivate not only declarative environmental beliefs but also nondeclarative environmental practices. Religion may inhibit environmental concern when respondents believe environmental commitment undermines their religious beliefs, but such justifications are disconnected from the actual environmental practices they nevertheless engage in. We also find that religious individuals largely attribute motivations for their environmental action to institutions other rather than religion. Our findings shed new theoretical light on the mixed results that characterize research on religion and the environment. INTRODUCTION Prominent religious leaders such as Pope Francis (2015) have called for greater attention to environmental issues, while others offer considerable opposition (Stoll 2015:228). Aside from such high-profile interventions, we know little about how religious people perceive their faith communities to influence their environmental actions. Research on the influence of religion on environmental attitudes and actions is inconclusive (Eckberg and Blocker 1996; Kearns 1996). The focus is on associations between theological beliefs and environmental attitudes, leaving the potential mechanisms that underlie the relationship between religion and environmental action understudied. Research on the environment more broadly has developed a more focused interest in the relationship between people’s attitudes toward the environment and their environmental actions (Feldman and Perez 2012; Pfeffer and Stycos 2002). Substantial research has demonstrated that not only attitudes but even the impact of attitudes on behavior is shaped by their social context (Barber 2004; Derksen and Gartrell 1993). Extant research on religion and the environment, by contrast, is largely decontextualized and is unable to explain why religion seems to both encourage and inhibit environmental action. We argue in this article that recent research on culture and cognition (e.g., Lizardo 2017; Martin 2010; Vaisey 2009) provides crucial insights into the mechanisms through which religion may shape environmental action. Drawing on a study among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious communities, we identify distinct conditions under which religious institutions can either enable or constrain members’ environmental action, by which we mean any environmentally conscious practices that they might engage in (e.g., recycling, using cloth bags, eco-friendly purchases, etc.). We find that religious beliefs can motivate environmental action when religious congregations provide opportunities to practice such actions and cultivate beliefs among members that they will be held accountable for such actions. Religion can inhibit environmental concern when respondents are habituated to interpret such concerns as threats to their religious beliefs and identities, though such respondents nevertheless engage in environmental actions. While most respondents are able to articulate religious justifications to support the environment, they primarily appeal to nonreligious motivations such as economic savings. Our study thus sheds light on some of the mechanisms underlying the mixed findings in the literature and proposes ways in which religious institutions might better cultivate environmental action among members. RELIGION AND THE ENVIRONMENT A predominant concern in the literature on religion and the environment is assessing White’s (1967) provocative contention that Christian theology, by cultivating an attitude of “dominion over nature,” has distorted the Western world’s relationship with the environment (Eckberg and Blocker 1996; Greeley 1993; Kearns 1996). This research has only yielded mixed findings. Some emphasize that religious traditions offer theological motivations to protect the environment—in particular, injunctions about “stewardship” (Kearns 1996); others underscore ways in which religion can discourage environmental action (Peifer et al. 2014); and still others find that religion—even beliefs in stewardship—might have no effect at all (Eckberg and Blocker 1996:353). Scholars also note that White neglected the social dimensions of religion, such as social interactions among congregation members, which influence environmental attitudes more than doctrines or beliefs do (Djupe and Hunt 2009). Another common finding is that members of fundamental or conservative Christian denominations are the least supportive of the environment (Ecklund and Scheitle 2017; McCright and Dunlap 2011; Peifer et al. 2014). Even so, scholars have documented a rise in environmental movements within Christian congregations, including evangelical communities (Danielsen 2013; Wilkinson 2010), challenging research that paints conservative Christians as anti-environmental. In fact, Peifer et al. (2016) find that religiosity mutes the negative relationship of political conservatism to environmentalism. And research on non-Christian religions, such as Islam, is similarly marked by a focus on the role of belief and theology, revealing mixed findings on environmental outcomes (Ekpenyong 2013; Khalid 2002). Research increasingly suggests that the quest for any universal relationship between religion and environmental outcomes (whether attitudes or actions) may be futile (Ecklund et al. 2016a; Sherkat and Ellison 2007). Some find that religion can have both direct and indirect effects on environmentalism, and these can be both positive and negative (Sherkat and Ellison 2007). Studies also point to important denominational differences. Some find that higher church attendance has a negative effect for conservatives and fundamentalists, but for liberal Protestants is positively associated with an environmental action (Hand and Van Liere 1984). Others find the relationship between fundamentalism and lower environmental concern is explained by political conservatism (Greeley 1993; Guth et al. 1995). Researchers also consistently find that religious liberals are more likely than religious conservatives to have positive attitudes toward environmentalism and to take actions to protect the environment (Guth et al. 1995; Hand and Van Liere 1984; Sherkat and Ellison 2007). In its quest for universal mechanisms, research on religion and the environment has neglected contextual factors, which shape this relationship, leaving the mechanisms that underlie this relationship largely unaddressed (Dietz et al. 1998). Although most religious traditions offer justifications for environmental action (Kearns 1996; Khalid 2002), these do not necessarily translate to individual action. Even nuanced studies that examine both direct and indirect effects of religion remain focused on the role of beliefs (Sherkat and Ellison 2007). Although scholars studying the environment recognize the impact of processes embedded in the broader context on the adoption of environmental programs (Vasi 2007), the role of institutions in shaping and constraining individuals’ behaviors and moral commitments (Bellah et al. 1991) goes largely unaddressed in the literature on religion and the environment. To more adequately address the question of how religion shapes environmental action, we turn to the larger question of how culture more broadly shapes action. HOW CULTURE SHAPES ACTION A basic assumption underlying much of the religion and environment literature is that religious people’s environmental actions (or lack thereof) are motivated by their religious beliefs. This assumption is not unique to this literature; indeed, it has long been assumed that people internalize coherent “value systems,” which then motivate their actions (Parsons 1935, 1951). In recent decades, however, research in the cognitive sciences and sociology of culture suggests that people are not actually capable of internalizing coherent belief systems in this manner (Lizardo and Strand 2010:205).1 People are seldom able to give coherent reasons for their actions or to link actions to their purportedly internalized belief systems (Swidler 1986, 2001). Further, what people claim to value does not sufficiently explain how they act (Jerolmack and Khan 2014). Such research calls into question the causal impact of “attitudes,” “values,” and “belief systems” on action. If these cultural elements do not motivate action, at least as much as we thought they did, then we need to rethink the relationship between religion and the environment. Explaining people’s behavior by deriving it from a supposedly consistent set of beliefs is to commit what Chaves (2010) calls the “religious congruence fallacy.” But why is congruence between belief and action so rare? And what does the new research on culture and cognition mean about the power of religion to motivate individuals’ environmental actions? Answering these question requires first taking into account an important distinction between two kinds of culture—declarative and nondeclarative (Lizardo 2017; Patterson 2014)—and understanding the distinct modes in which these two kinds are cognitively acquired, encoded, stored, activated, and used. Declarative culture is acquired relatively quickly, through “explicit, symbolically mediated” means such as language, and stored in a declarative or semantic memory system (Lizardo 2017:91). This mode of culture is propositional in nature, capable of being subjected to inspection through reflection, and is accessed and used relatively slowly in linear fashion (Lizardo 2017:92). Values, attitudes, propositional beliefs, ideologies, aspirations, worldviews, narratives, and so on are forms of declarative culture. Nondeclarative culture, by contrast, is more slowly acquired and requires prolonged exposure to “repeated encodings” that build habits and skills. Its internalization and use do not require symbolic mediation; it is stored in procedural memory as “a complex multimodal and multidimensional network of associations” linked to experiences; and it is accessed and used “via fast (nonreflective, intention-independent) pathways” (Lizardo 2017:92–3). Skills, habits, tastes, dispositions, categorical schema, and implicit associations are examples of nondeclarative culture. To put it in an older formulation, declarative culture is about “knowledge that,” whereas nondeclarative culture is about “knowledge how” (Ryle 1945). This distinction helps us better understand how culture (and, by extension, religion) can motivate action. As Martin (2011:30–1) argues, to talk about motivation is to talk about causation. Here, the dominant understanding of religious motivation, like old understandings of culture, focused mainly on declarative culture in the form of beliefs, theologies, and explicit attitudes, to the neglect of tacit dimensions of culture. However, we know more than we can tell. And what we can tell is seldom the main driver of our action. Proponents of “dual-process” models of culture express the real workings of culture at the individual level through the metaphor of a rider on an unruly elephant: our discursive consciousness, like the rider, is not fully in charge of the elephant, which represents our practical consciousness (Haidt 2006:2–5). Empirical research suggests that even our moral judgments are often motivated not by beliefs we can consciously articulate, but rather by “deeply internalized schematic processes” (or nondeclarative culture), while our deliberations more often provide post hoc justifications of our actions than motivate them (Vaisey 2009:1687). Indeed, our discursive reasoning in many cases may be wrong about what is actually motivating our actions (Martin 2010:234). Thus, people’s declarative and nondeclarative cultural capacities may be loosely coupled (Lizardo 2017:95). The Parsonian model of culture underlying the religious congruence fallacy also assumes that people download coherent value systems into their minds, which then motivate them to act in consistent ways. To address this assumption, we need to consider a second important distinction that Lizardo (2017) proposes: between personal culture (at the individual or intrapersonal level) and public culture, at the extra-personal level, which has to do with public or institutionalized codes, frames, vocabularies, and models. Here, as Ann Swidler’s (1986, 2001) research has shown, people’s declarative and nondeclarative capacities are not consistent with public cultural codes. People use the numerous beliefs, practices, and discourses available in public culture as a “toolkit” through which they pursue various “strategies of action” over time (Swidler 1986:273, 277; 2001). They strategically use cultural meanings—for instance, as post hoc justifications to others—and thus often act in ways that are inconsistent with their purported values (Lizardo and Strand 2010:208; Swidler 2001). Institutional cultural codes do not determine people’s beliefs and actions. Further, “people are more likely to shape their goals or ends around the cultured capacities they have than to reshape their capacities around their ends” (Swidler 2008:615). In other words, action in a particular context (e.g., environmental actions) may be motivated by the nondeclarative skills and capacities people have already acquired rather than by declarative beliefs they acquire from, say, religious institutions. We can thus have a weak coupling of declarative and nondeclarative culture at the personal level (e.g., Vaisey 2009), as well as weak coupling between public culture and personal culture (e.g., Swidler 2001). There are, however, also conditions that facilitate a strong coupling of public culture (in specific fields and institutions) and nondeclarative culture (Lizardo 2017:96; Lizardo and Strand 2010:212). Public culture can become encoded in “automatic” processes that constitute people’s dispositions, such as tastes and habits (Bourdieu 1990; DiMaggio 1997). For instance, practices that constitute environmental action (e.g., recycling) can become habitual and feel like common sense. Due to repeated encoding in both declarative and nondeclarative formats across multiple institutional contexts, people may even experience feelings of guilt when they have to act contrary to such habits (e.g., when they have to throw recyclables in a trash can), or repugnance when they see someone offend this sensibility. Applying the above insights to the religion and environment literature can thus help make sense of the inconclusive findings in that literature. For one, it should disabuse us of the religious congruence fallacy: we should not expect tight coupling between religious institutional codes, individual beliefs, and individual actions. As Chaves (2010:5) argues: “Mixed results are exactly what we should expect if religious incongruence is ubiquitous.” But how, then, might religion actually shape action? As Chaves argues, religious congruence is not impossible, but is relatively rare, and requires certain conditions: “conscious cognitive effort” to overcome inconsistency; “social” effort and reinforcement such as deference to authority or immersion in homogeneous and tightly knit religious cultures; embodied internalization of automatic responses through the cultivation of habit (Chaves 2010:7). We might expect then that for religious institutions to motivate environmental action, they need to provide more than declarative values and beliefs; they also need to reinforce nondeclarative capacities and habits related to the environment. This does not mean that beliefs play no role in shaping such action. As Vaisey notes, “if someone realizes prospectively that she would not be able to justify a particular action to herself or to others in terms of some subjectively mastered and intersubjectively shared cultural script, then the action will be much less likely” (2008:605; see also Vaisey 2009:1678). Justification, therefore, is not simply post hoc rationalization; indeed, the ability to justify an action may be an important condition for action (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). As Lorenzen argues, such justifications may, over time, motivate future actions, which in turn become habitual (2012:113). Further, even when people’s theological beliefs may not directly motivate their environmental actions, they may play a role in rendering such actions as meaningful and “worthy” to members of a particular community (Abramson 2012; Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). Thus, the beliefs that religious institutions offer about the environment might be used by believers to justify either taking or avoiding environmental action, depending on the contexts in which people’s different “cultured competences” are cultivated and triggered. In what follows, we illustrate the above insights through empirical research with members of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations to examine the conditions under which religion might differently motivate and justify environmental action. DATA AND METHODOLOGY To address the relationship between religious belief and environmental action, this article draws on participant observation and in-depth interview data gathered in Houston and Chicago between 2011 and 2014 as part of a larger study on religious people’s attitudes toward science and science-related issues. Houston and Chicago were selected because they are both large cities with well-established scientific and medical institutions as well as great religious diversity. Twenty-three congregations varying by religious denomination, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status (SES)2 were selected to participate in the study. The denominations of the congregations are Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Reform Jewish, Orthodox Jewish, and Sunni Muslim. We studied 4 Catholic, 9 Evangelical, 2 Mainline Protestant, 3 Reform Jewish, 2 Orthodox Jewish, and 3 Sunni Muslim congregations. With the permission of congregation leaders, researchers conducted participant observation at various events and recruited potential respondents for interviews to create a diverse sample across age, gender, and SES. Most were directly approached by researchers at religious services; others were recommended by congregation leaders; and still others were recruited through snowball sampling from the above two groups. Semi-structured interviews (N = 319) were conducted with leaders as well as lay members in these congregations. The average interview lasted 66 minutes. Interviews were manually transcribed and subsequently coded in ATLAS.ti for themes pertaining to environmental action. While interviews examined a wide range of science-related topics (e.g., beliefs about scientists, evolution, reproductive technologies, etc.), our analysis in this article mainly focuses on a limited number of open-ended questions asked of interview respondents about the environment. In our semi-structured interviews, we asked respondents what their faith traditions and congregations taught about the environment, and how this related to any environmentally conscious behaviors they engaged in.3 We searched these interviews for evidence of environmental action and found that 169 respondents from 22 congregations discussed environmental practices they engage in. Respondents brought up a range of actions that they considered environmentally conscious, as we list further below. We were not interested in identifying all the possible actions a particular respondent could consider as environmental, nor were we trying to assess variation in any one action. Rather, we simply wanted to know, for whatever action a respondent offered, whether they considered religion a key factor in shaping that action, and if so, in what way. Our approach relies considerably on interview data and self-reports of environmental action. We realize the limitations of such data due to social desirability bias (Jerolmack and Khan 2014) and potential disjunctures between discursive and practical consciousness (Martin 2010; Vaisey 2009). We are also aware that people often overestimate self-reported behaviors such as frequency of attending religious events (Hadaway et al. 1993). But we do not think the use of interviews and self-reports is a serious problem in our case. Even “honorable” talk in which individuals attempt to present themselves in a positive light can also be a valuable source of data because it demonstrates the ways people try to fit into cultural narratives and the influence these narratives have on people’s lives (Pugh 2013). Further, rather than simply talking about abstract values or attitudes, respondents also often gave us concrete examples of actions, usually in specific contexts (e.g., using recycling bins in church, cloth bags in grocery stores, eco-friendly purchases, etc.). As Pugh (2013:50) argues, “the best interview data often come from getting respondents to offer specific examples … [which can act] like self-constructed windows into ethnographic details that the interviewer can then analyze for deeper layers of meaning.” Furthermore, talk, like any other kind of behavior, can be spontaneous and unreflective just as it can be reflective and measured (Wuthnow 2011). Wuthnow (2008:340–1) underscores the need to examine further narratives and language structures through which people account for incongruities between their values and behaviors, “characterize their motives, and how they describe their goals and the actions they perceive themselves taking in pursuit of their goals.” While taking into account the cautions that Martin, Vaisey, Lizardo, and others have raised about interview methods, we must also concede that ordinary people (and not simply sociologists) have some “critical capacity” to critique their own actions (Boltanski and Thévenot 1999). Neglecting to do so would render people “cognitive dupes,” incapable of any meaningful insight into the causes of their own action. We used participant observation data as a complement to the interviews, although our observations were limited to congregational settings. Researchers attended religious services and events held by the religious congregations participating in the study, for a total of 248 distinct observations. Site visits lasted as long as 5 hours with the average observation lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes. We paid special attention during our site visits to any mention of science or scientific issues, including environmental ones, analyzing these data by scanning field notes for any instances of environmental actions or indicators of the environmental attitudes of congregations and congregants (e.g., recycling bins, mentions in sermons). For more methodological details of the study, see also Ecklund et al. (2016b) and Ecklund and Scheitle (2017). Our study is designed to make analytically generalizable claims about how specific mechanisms work; we cannot make statistically generalizable claims from these data. We realize that (1) within the various traditions we studied, other congregations exist which might cultivate different environmental beliefs and actions than the ones we found, and (2) even within each congregation we studied, we might have chosen to interview other individuals, who may have exhibited very different environmental beliefs and actions than the ones we found. As a result, it would be misleading to focus on the pervasiveness or frequency of the patterns we identify in our sample; making such generalizable claims would require a very different study. Our goal here is simply to illuminate key cultural mechanisms of how (if at all) religious meanings and logics motivate and justify environmental action, and under what conditions. RESULTS While conducting participant observation in congregations, our researchers saw little evidence of environmental action in most congregations, and the environment was rarely brought up by religious leaders or the congregants. Recycling bins were seen in three congregations—two Evangelical and one mainline Protestant. At another Evangelical congregation, a religious leader told the observer that the congregation had a group that participated in several recycling efforts, but the observer did not see any recycling bins on the church grounds. The environment was sometimes referenced in elements of ritual prayers recited in Catholic churches; however, it was not a direct focus of prayer, and the congregants did not seem engaged with these issues. A rare exception was at a young adult Sunday school class attended by one of the observers, during which a man commented that people take too much interest in material things but express little concern about issues such as pollution. The observer noted, however, that no one else in the class subsequently engaged with this point or brought up current environmental issues. In the congregations in our sample, environmental actions were at most a peripheral concern. During interviews, however, respondents across denominations described a wide range of environmental actions they engaged in as individuals and families—conserving water and electricity, growing their own produce, recycling, and more. In table 1, we list the various environmental actions that respondents brought up. Table 1. Environmental Actions Identified by Respondents Conservation Recycling Save water Refuse plastic bags in the store Save electricity Limit use of A/C Don’t waste food Collect rainwater Composting Reuse glass jars Don’t contaminate the river Object to others littering Not throwing trash on street Dispose of medicine correctly Lifestyle Doesn’t walk on grass Ride bikes Plant trees Grow plants Praying for the environment and thankfulness “Enlighten people” about environmental issues Animals Have a beehive Don’t kill animals/bugs for no reason Policy Support higher fuel efficiency standards Products bought Fuel efficient cars Organic food Energy saving water faucets Environmentally friendly detergents Tupperware Kosher food Local products Energy efficient bulbs Products avoided Bottled water Packaged goods Unnecessary items Cleaning products with chemicals Cottonseed oil Styrofoam Paper plates and paper towels Conservation Recycling Save water Refuse plastic bags in the store Save electricity Limit use of A/C Don’t waste food Collect rainwater Composting Reuse glass jars Don’t contaminate the river Object to others littering Not throwing trash on street Dispose of medicine correctly Lifestyle Doesn’t walk on grass Ride bikes Plant trees Grow plants Praying for the environment and thankfulness “Enlighten people” about environmental issues Animals Have a beehive Don’t kill animals/bugs for no reason Policy Support higher fuel efficiency standards Products bought Fuel efficient cars Organic food Energy saving water faucets Environmentally friendly detergents Tupperware Kosher food Local products Energy efficient bulbs Products avoided Bottled water Packaged goods Unnecessary items Cleaning products with chemicals Cottonseed oil Styrofoam Paper plates and paper towels View Large Table 1. Environmental Actions Identified by Respondents Conservation Recycling Save water Refuse plastic bags in the store Save electricity Limit use of A/C Don’t waste food Collect rainwater Composting Reuse glass jars Don’t contaminate the river Object to others littering Not throwing trash on street Dispose of medicine correctly Lifestyle Doesn’t walk on grass Ride bikes Plant trees Grow plants Praying for the environment and thankfulness “Enlighten people” about environmental issues Animals Have a beehive Don’t kill animals/bugs for no reason Policy Support higher fuel efficiency standards Products bought Fuel efficient cars Organic food Energy saving water faucets Environmentally friendly detergents Tupperware Kosher food Local products Energy efficient bulbs Products avoided Bottled water Packaged goods Unnecessary items Cleaning products with chemicals Cottonseed oil Styrofoam Paper plates and paper towels Conservation Recycling Save water Refuse plastic bags in the store Save electricity Limit use of A/C Don’t waste food Collect rainwater Composting Reuse glass jars Don’t contaminate the river Object to others littering Not throwing trash on street Dispose of medicine correctly Lifestyle Doesn’t walk on grass Ride bikes Plant trees Grow plants Praying for the environment and thankfulness “Enlighten people” about environmental issues Animals Have a beehive Don’t kill animals/bugs for no reason Policy Support higher fuel efficiency standards Products bought Fuel efficient cars Organic food Energy saving water faucets Environmentally friendly detergents Tupperware Kosher food Local products Energy efficient bulbs Products avoided Bottled water Packaged goods Unnecessary items Cleaning products with chemicals Cottonseed oil Styrofoam Paper plates and paper towels View Large Most respondents in our sample mention engaging in a number of these items. They were also likely to express the belief that environmental care is important to them personally and to their religious traditions. Their discursive explanations here are patterned to a certain degree by religious tradition. For instance, many Christian respondents describe the ideal of stewardship when discussing the relationship of Christianity toward the environment, while members of certain conservative Christian denominations draw specifically on belief in the supreme power of God to express concern about what they considered excessive or even idolatrous forms of environmentalism. Jewish respondents draw on tikkun olam, the command to repair the world. Muslim respondents often reference an injunction in the Qur’an to conserve resources, especially water. These patterns of meanings and interpretations by religious tradition, however, were not consistently linked by respondents to their specific environmental actions. We now examine the ways in which, across these congregations, religion provides (or is unable to provide) motivations and justifications for members’ environmental actions. When Religion Provides Motivations for Environmental Action In two congregations, researchers observed concerted efforts at environmental care. Here, we find that religious organizations can both justify and motivate environmental action. By claiming that religion provides motivations, we do not mean that people are able to identify or articulate all of their “real” motivations for action; indeed, much of what motivates people operate under the radar of conscious action. Rather, we identify how and when religion provides conditions to activate the key mechanisms of motivation identified by cultural sociologists—symbolic meanings, cognitive triggers, cultural frames, and the cultivation of skills and habits. In such cases, religious organizations help make environmental practices meaningful, salient, habitual, and easier to perform. The clearest example comes from a Reform Jewish congregation. This community had established an environmental committee, with substantial participation from congregation members. A researcher observed a vegetable garden in the front yard of the congregation cultivated by members of their environmental committee. Another researcher observed that the food offered before the service in the lobby was served with real plates and utensils and cloth napkins, instead of paper or plastic. The congregation’s pro-environmental actions came up in the interviews as well—almost every respondent interviewed at this congregation mentioned the environmental committee when asked about the congregation’s views on the environment. Even those who were not involved in the committee were aware of it. As one such respondent said: “There’s the [environmental committee] and basically they organize all kinds of things. Clean-ups, garden planting, recycling programs… So [our congregation] is really about being green and recycling and everything.” This environmental committee is framed by community members as a response to God’s command of tikkun olum. Like Lorenzen’s (2012) “religious environmentalists,” these members engage in environmental actions as a religious duty. This committee also seems to influence the everyday behaviors of congregants. One respondent4 credits this committee with changing her own behavior to be more environmentally friendly, such as turning the water off while brushing her teeth. Due to institutional support privileging and cultivating such actions within congregational settings, members connect the importance of “being green” with their religious identities. This habitual reinforcement, in turn, can influence actions of regular members even outside congregational settings. While wealthier congregations might have more resources at their disposal to encourage such actions, such practices are also cultivated in lower-SES organizations. For example, in response to a question about whether her church talked about the environment, a respondent5 from a lower-SES Black Protestant congregation said: I’m thinking that we all have a pretty good idea that, if you abuse something, you won’t have it long. And when we feed the hungry on Wednesdays, we don’t let them take Styrofoam cups out, we don’t let them take a plate out, because eventually you’ll find that on the streets, on the corners, going down the drains, blocking the drains or whatever. So you realize that it’s not going to degrade, so we have to do something about that. Such congregations link an espoused belief in stewardship with institutionalized behaviors that demonstrate a concern for the environment, taking care to communicate to members the impact of their choices. In this way, injunctions and habits cultivated in religious settings can influence individuals’ practices outside the congregation. A second mode in which we find religion to motivate environmental action is when members are convinced that they will be held accountable to God for such actions. This is illustrated by a Muslim respondent6 who said: “I’m very mindful that, ‘Am I promoting a sustainable environment or not?’ Because I will be answerable to God as a Muslim when one day—did I waste resources? Did I create problems for others or not?” This respondent expressed a committed belief in Quranic injunctions to protect the environment and feels he will be held accountable because mistreating the environment can hurt other people. When asked how such concerns about accountability have an impact on his actions, he talked about his choice to buy a low-emission vehicle and to buy technologies from companies that take measures to improve sustainability. Our Christian respondents frame accountability in the language of stewardship. For example, a pastor in a Black Protestant church7 said: “The scripture says that the earth is the Lord’s, okay? And we come to understand that we are responsible for that. And accountable for that stewardship at every level of our lives, including taking care of our surroundings.” As a result, this pastor tries to minimize the use of nonbiodegradable products and work with trash companies to discard everything in the most environmental way possible. This suggests that accountability for environmental action—whether due to a fear of punishment or a desire to maintain one’s good standing in the eyes of God—can motivate environmental action.8 In both cases—institutional habits and accountability—religious communities not only give people justifications for an environmental action but also provide sources of motivation through nondeclarative internalized dispositions to engage in such practices or to link such actions to expectations of reward or punishment by God. When Religion Provides Justifications But Not Motivations for Environmental Action Respondents often offered religious justifications for an environmental action but appealed to other nonreligious motivations. The latter included general morality (i.e., “the right thing to do”), the influence of families and schools, and economic and social-reputational factors (e.g., cost-savings and peer pressure). These motivations are not mutually exclusive; several respondents brought up more than one category in their interviews. What is noteworthy here is that these respondents, who had already disclosed their religious beliefs earlier in the interview, and thus might have been expected to feel the pressure to be consistent and to state religious motivations, did not do so. Similar to respondents in the previous section, these respondents could cite religious teachings that supported environmental action. But they would also point out that the motivation for their environmental actions was not primarily religious. One way respondents would explain their environmental actions was by drawing on public discourses of general morality—what is right and wrong for all people, regardless of religion. For instance, a Catholic respondent,9 when asked whether her faith tradition taught anything about the environment, replied: “[T]hat we have to take care of the earth and take care of our resources. I mean, I think that’s what the general consensus is among most religions.” But when asked whether her own environmental actions were motivated by her religious beliefs, she replied, “No, I think just in general. I mean, it’s more so my own sense of it. I think just general media in general. Not necessarily [religion].” Another Orthodox Jewish respondent,10 when asked whether her faith influenced her environmental actions, said: “I don’t think of it as a Jewish thing to do. I think of it as ‘This is the right thing to do.’” Such responses connect environmental action to a sense of general morality that is not unique to their religious tradition. Another common source of motivation respondents identified was their family. These respondents admitted that while their religious traditions taught them to care for the environment, their actions were driven less by religious reasons than by their upbringing. For example, a Catholic respondent,11 who believed her faith emphasized the importance of caring for the environment, when asked about what shaped her own environmental actions, said: “Well, that’s kind of like my mom’s thing. [laughs] ... she was very big on not wasting paper towels and not using paper plates because they just ended up in a landfill and taking care of the earth. But I learned that because my mom was really big on that. I don’t know if I would have gotten that by myself [laughs].” This respondent didn’t think religion would have been enough to generate those behaviors; rather, they only developed because they were reinforced in a family setting. Being raised to care about nature occurred before her actually learning theological beliefs about nature. In such cases, religion reinforces an already-cultivated disposition. Others explained their environmental actions by appealing primarily to their economic benefits. A Reform Jewish respondent12 illustrates this: “Having to pay extra for trashcans is what really changed me [laughing]. It wasn’t religion. It was that, ‘You owe us 20 bucks extra because you had two cans out this week.’” Here, she explicitly separates her environmental actions from actions motivated by faith. She went on to talk about her grocery shopping habits, saying she refuses to buy individually packaged items because doing so is cheaper. Respondents also appealed to civic motivations rather than simply emphasizing religious beliefs. One Reform Jewish respondent,13 when asked whether her faith tradition taught anything about the environment, replied: “That we are commanded to protect it because it was created by God.” Yet when asked whether it motivated the specific environmental actions she engaged in, she replied that it was not a matter of just faith but of “being a good global citizen.” Respondents in our sample also expressed the importance of reputational concerns in motivating their actions. For example, a Reform Jewish respondent14 admitted: “I bring my own canvas bags to the store. Of course, there’s a lot of social pressure to do that as well. It’s also nice to bring the bag and have [other synagogue members] see that you’ve brought a couple of bags and that you’re putting your groceries in your own bag you brought to the store.” He went on to say that this was a religious motivation because he wanted to present a certain image of himself to members of his synagogue. Sometimes religion was a post hoc justification. For instance, one Catholic respondent15 listed a series of environmental actions she engaged in—reducing waste, recycling, reusing things, using cloth instead of paper towels—and when asked whether her faith played a role in motivating those actions, replied: “I, to be honest, I’ve never really connected it to religion, but now that I think about it, we’ve been given this place to live; we need to take care of it.” In these ways, religious respondents from diverse traditions attribute their environmental actions to motivations other than religion, dissociating religious declarative discourses from their nondeclarative environmental actions. While respondents can articulate religious justifications that support these actions, they have no trouble admitting that religion as such is not a key motivator here. Indeed, in some cases, respondents who personally engaged in environmental actions, and believed their religious traditions emphasized environmental concern, suggested that their congregations in practice paid little attention to the environment. For instance, a pastor16 from a Southern Baptist congregation admitted: “We as a church don’t even recycle. We as a staff do, in our business office, but we don’t have recycling bins [in church].” In such cases, discourses members hear about stewardship and environmental care may be undermined by their practical experiences in congregational settings. When Religion Does Not Provide Justifications for Environmental Action We find that religion can at times become a barrier to environmental concern and to some extent, environmental action as well. We encountered such responses in conservative traditions (both low- and high-SES congregations)—notably, Evangelical Protestantism and Orthodox Judaism. The main inhibitor for most of these respondents was that they saw religion and the environment as competing commitments. One Orthodox Jewish lawyer,17 for instance, saw environmental groups as focusing on activities that were not important from a religious perspective: “Greenpeace is not a Jewish priority; PETA is not a Jewish priority…. [B]y focusing as extremely as they do on things that may or may not be important, it means they are not paying attention to other things that are as, or more important.” This respondent separated environmentalism from Judaism and expressed concern that focusing on environmental issues would detract from people’s religious devotion. He did not think that the environment might be important from the perspective of his religious tradition; rather, he saw it as a distraction from religious concerns. Several evangelical respondents voiced a similar concern, aligning environmental action with idolatry and worshiping nature. This is illustrated by an Evangelical respondent18 who said: “environmental protections and stuff, environmentalists, it’s like a new religion … passionate, almost cult-like, and infringing on everybody’s freedoms.” This respondent went on to contrast this with her faith, saying “because of my faith I know that God has made us to be free. He’s made us to enjoy life, not to put all these laws and laws and laws on each other.” To this respondent, her understanding of environmentalism is opposed to her view of God and Christianity. Such respondents expressed concern that in broader society, concern for the environment had become a form of idolatry. As one evangelical respondent19 told us: Bob Dylan said it: You’re gonna serve somebody. It may be the devil and it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody. I think that worship is service with affection attached. And I’ve seen people with so much affection and emotion over environmental issues on both sides of it and I’m like, “You’ve now fallen into the prophecy of Romans 1 that says that you will worship the creation instead of the creator.” Yet, even though some respondents espoused such justifications to shun environmentalism when prodded, they admitted that they nevertheless engaged in environmental actions to some degree. For instance, when the Orthodox Jewish lawyer we quoted above was asked whether he engaged in any environmentally conscious actions, he talked about recycling: “I’m not fanatical about it. We do [recycle] … ‘cause it makes sense, and we can do it without too much effort. It doesn’t distract from other stuff, so yeah, we recycle.” Evangelical respondents similarly regularly expressed that concern for the environment was justifiable provided it remained “balanced,” cautioning against “excessive” environmental care. To be sure, religion is not the only barrier to environmental action. Just as religious respondents pointed to nonreligious motivations, they also pointed to nonreligious barriers which, in spite of religious motivations and justifications, inhibited their environmental actions. These included economic concerns (e.g., prohibitive cost of eco-friendly and organic products), lack of knowledge about environmental issues, and not wanting to be seen by peers as environmental fanatics. Finally, in some cases, respondents saw no relationship at all between religion and the environment: some were unaware that their religious traditions taught anything at all about the environment, while others said they never thought about a connection between the two. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS In this article, we have identified conditions under which religious communities can influence environmental action among members—motivating it, justifying it, inhibiting it—as well as when religion seems to have no influence. Our research yields a number of conclusions. First, we found considerable overlap in people’s repertoires of environmental action across religious traditions. This likely reflects the fact that most people in American cities have a shared understanding of and exposure to environmental actions through public institutions such as schools, media, and so on. They may not have coherent “green lifestyles,” but still seem to develop environmental repertoires of action, built on discourses and practices cultivated in various institutions over the course of their lives, many of which they come to consider common sense (Lorenzen 2012). We find that religion can play a role in supporting these repertoires or providing forms of constraint. Second, we identify two distinct ways in which religious institutions can motivate environmental action. In some cases, religion can cultivate environmental action among members by providing not only theological beliefs, but also opportunities for members to develop, practice, and reinforce environmentally conscious behaviors. These are cases of strong coupling between public culture (codes, frames, and models at the congregation level), personal declarative culture (theological beliefs about the environment) and personal nondeclarative culture (environmental action). The congregation thus becomes a site for cultivating and encoding nondeclarative culture through skill-formation. Through programs such as gardening initiatives in the congregation or explicitly adopting environmentally conscious strategies (such as avoiding the use of disposable plates and utensils), members can develop environmental habits that may be transferable to other settings outside the congregation. This finding echoes broader research on the role of religion in shaping social capital (Putnam 2000) as well as civic engagement (Verba et al. 1995). Institutions have the potential to shape our behaviors and moral commitments both within and outside of a particular institutional context (Bellah et al. 1991) and our data illustrate how religious institutions can shape the environmental actions of their congregants. Some differences in specific environmental actions cultivated across religious tradition reflect the influence of SES (e.g., a community garden in a high-SES congregation, or a perception of environmental concern as a “luxury” in the face of more pressing concerns in low-SES congregations). Even low-SES congregations, however, can cultivate environmental actions through practices such as intentionally avoiding the use of Styrofoam. Our study thus shows some support for previous findings that there is no straightforward linear relationship between SES and environmental outcomes (Mehta and Ouellet 1995:140–1). A second mode of motivating environmental action is through specific kinds of religious beliefs and associations, in the form of accountability. In these cases, where respondents’ environmental actions are driven by a sense of accountability to God, public culture does not foster nondeclarative capacities for environmental action, but fosters declarative capacities, which serve as “motivational justifications” (Lizardo 2017:5). Such declarative culture (beliefs about consequences of actions) becomes strongly coupled with nondeclarative associations and emotions (fear, anticipation of punishment, shame, etc.). Just as someone might change their course of action when they anticipate a high likelihood of negative consequences (e.g., fear of getting a failing grade or getting fired), religious believers who think along an extended time-horizon, such as an afterlife, may be spurred to act in situations that they associate with eternal consequences. Here, fear of punishment when associated with “self-conscious emotions,” such as guilt and shame in facing God, can play a motivational role (Kim and Kim 2010; Leary 2007:329–30). Such motivation need not be solely negative; people may also be motivated by factors such as achievement and affiliation (McLelland 1987), including the desire to achieve spiritual goals. Such forms of motivation can engage both declarative beliefs/values and nondeclarative capacities (implicit schemas, associations, and emotions). For religious beliefs to be influential in this manner requires a habitual association between the particular action and its consequences. Arguably, religious institutions, on the whole, have done better to cultivate such associations with things like sexual morality than with environmental decisions. Further, as Lorenzen (2012:113) notes, it is important to factor in the role of time: declarative motivations at one point in time can become a justification at another, and vice versa. Thirdly, we found that while most people admit that their religious beliefs justify caring for the environment, they did not see these beliefs as motivators of their actions. In these cases of justification, there is loose coupling at the personal level between declarative religious values and nondeclarative environmental practices. Many highlighted the influence of habituation within educational institutions and families, which served as sites for the regular cultivation of such practices as recycling, reducing waste, and other forms of conservation and environmental action. In some of these cases, people may indeed be aware of religious institutional discourses surrounding the environment, “but this knowledge is not stored or encoded for themselves as ‘how’ knowledge” (Lizardo 2017:100). The actual encoding happens through other institutions and is triggered and used in ways that have little to do with their religious beliefs (e.g., where recycling bins are readily visible). Our data on individuals’ environmental actions outside their congregations are limited to self-reports, but we think it is quite plausible—as field experiments suggest (Nolan et al. 2008)—that regardless of what people claim to be their primary motivations, reputational concerns have a strong influence in shaping action (or inhibiting it, such as when people refrain from taking actions that might be seen as “fanatical”). In spite of the concerns in the literature about the social desirability or the disconnect between discursive and practical consciousness, ordinary people seem to have some capacity to recognize and even admitting that, for example, social pressure or mere habituation are motivators of their actions, rather than religious belief. We may not be such “cognitive dupes” after all, although more research is certainly needed on the conditions under which we may have more accurate self-awareness. We don’t deny that people may be driven to act by genuine civic motivations or concern for future generations, or that they may value the environment as an end in itself. But we suspect that such beliefs are a result of habitual conditioning in particular contexts that also cultivate their nondeclarative capacities for action. For example, some congregants talked about the environmental actions of their parents shaping their own environmental actions. Growing up in a context where environment-friendly values and behaviors were privileged and practiced likely contributed to the encoding of both declarative values and nondeclarative capacities for action. We recognize that people are complex and it is not only religion that is a source of ambivalence here—many of the very logics listed above that support environmental action can also constrain it. People identify costs to their reputation (e.g., of being labeled as a fanatic) and economic costs (e.g., if organic food is too expensive) or costs to their self-perceptions (being seen as valuing trees over humans, for example). Such obstacles prevent them from engaging in environmental actions beyond what is convenient and widely believed to be a matter of common sense. Finally, our findings support the claim that while being able to justify an action does not necessarily cause people to act, not being able to justify an action can to some extent inhibit people from acting (Abramson 2012:163; Vaisey 2008:608). Some justify limiting, if not avoiding, environmental actions by appealing to religious beliefs—for instance, that the environment should not be privileged above humans, or that God is ultimately in charge of the earth, and therefore concern about climate change is unwarranted. Here, our study finds support for claims in the previous literature that conservative traditions like evangelicalism are concerned that environmentalists privilege the environment above humankind (Hayhoe and Farley 2009; Peifer et al. 2014). Here, Hayhoe and Farley (2009) recommend that to garner more support from religious people, environmental issues should be reframed as people-issues—it is humans who experience the costs of environmental degradation, and so caring for the environment is equivalent to caring for people or God. Cultivating such positive associations with environmental action might provide a “frame bridge” (Snow et al. 1986) that facilitates justifications to engage in environmental action (Lorenzen 2012:111). Our study thus helps make sense of the ambivalence that characterizes the literature on religion and the environment. Scholars debate whether, among conservative religious groups, the dominant relationship between religion and the environment is positive or negative—that is, whether it is primarily about stewardship or dominion (Hand and Van Liere 1984; Kearns 1996). Our respondents embody this tension in the literature. They attempt to navigate this tension, as one evangelical pastor-in-training told us, by advocating for a “middle way”20 between stewardship and dominion. But in doing so, religion may at most be able to justify environmental actions that are “practical” or a matter of “common sense”—that is, actions that are convenient and widely practiced—while inhibiting these believers from justifying serious concern about things like climate change, which might threaten their beliefs about God’s providence. As Martí (2014:505) has argued, “the future of published scholarship in the sociology of religion must depend less on faithful adherence to established concepts and debates and more on welcoming and extending new questions and approaches to religion.” We respond to this injunction by drawing on innovative theorization in cultural sociology that provides new “general concepts” (Wuthnow 2014) to help resolve longstanding “domain-specific” debates on religion and the environment. In doing so, we are better able to specify the conditions under which religion is actually able to influence environmental action. Our findings make it clear that it is not enough to focus on the beliefs that congregations propagate. Future research should extend our approach and examine the workings and pervasiveness of nondeclarative mechanisms as we have identified here. Studies should also consider the role of congregational leadership in moving religious communities toward or away from environmental commitments. Finally, our findings imply that for religious organizations that want to take environmental issues more seriously, it is not enough to provide beliefs and teachings; they must also cultivate skills, practices, and habits that are transferable outside religious settings. FUNDING Research for the Religious Understandings of Science study’s Environmental Care Module was funded by the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice University, the Society for the Scientific Religion, and the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, Elaine Howard Ecklund, PI. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We would like to thank Dara Shifrer, James Elliott, Erin Cech, Elizabeth Long, Daniel Escher, Cleve Tinsley, Daniel Bolger, Di Di, Sharan Mehta, Hillary Davidson, and Omar Lizardo, as well as Gerardo Martí and the anonymous reviewers at Sociology of Religion. All errors are ours. Footnotes 1 Vaisey (2009:1677) rightly notes that as early as 1940, Mills questioned the power of cultural values in motivating action, though this critique did not gain traction until much later. 2 We estimated SES by triangulating three sources of information: (1) Census 2010 data on the median and mean incomes for the zip code of the research, and percentage of the work force occupied in that zip code in management, business, science, or the arts. Since congregations may differ in race and class from their neighborhood, we also included two additional factors in assessing SES, (2) on-site observation through evaluations of the congregants’ signs of SES, including dress, modes of transportation, building quality, and congregational operating budget, and (3) data on the education level of interview respondents from each site. We are unaware of other approaches to estimating SES through similar triangulation, and believe it to be more adequate than considering simply zip code data, since many of these congregations may serve commuters. 3 Specifically, as part of a series of questions about various science-related issues, we asked respondents two questions: (1) “How about the environment—what does your faith tradition say about the environment? For example, the kinds of responsibilities [Christians/Jews/Muslims] have to care for the earth? (2) Does this affect how you live? To what extent does this perspective on the environment influence the kinds of things you buy?” The exact wording of questions and additional prompts used varied across interviews. Our analysis in this article focuses on those who responded to the second question (i.e., who already claimed their faith tradition taught them something about the environment). As we will see below, while many of them claimed their faith traditions taught them to care for the environment, they admitted their actual environmental actions were motivated by other factors. 4 High SES Reform Synagogue, Chicago, Int9, Female, 48, white. 5 Low SES African American Church, Houston, Int10, Female, 57, African American. 6 High SES Sunni Mosque, Chicago, Int4, Male, 50, Asian. 7 Low SES African American Church, Chicago, Int4, Male, 55, African American. 8 We should note that even though researchers show that environmental hazards and pollution disproportionately have an impact on nonwhite and low-SES groups (Elliott 2015), that a faith-based social justice rhetoric did not surface among our respondents. 9 Mid-SES Catholic, Houston, Int2, Female, 43, Hispanic. 10 Mid SES Orthodox Synagogue, Chicago, Int4, Female, 61, white. 11 Mid SES largely white Catholic Church, Houston, Int8, Female, 27, white, College. 12 High SES Reform Synagogue, Houston, Int7, Female, 47, Hispanic. 13 High SES Reform Synagogue, Houston, Int3, Female, 57, white. 14 High SES Reform Synagogue, Houston, Int5, Male, 58, white. 15 Mid-SES Catholic, Houston, Int3, Female, 36, Asian. 16 High SES Evangelical Church, Houston, Int1, Male, 38, Chinese. 17 Mid SES Orthodox Synagogue, Houston, Int7, Male, 64, white. 18 Low SES Evangelical Church, Houston, Int7, Female, 44, white. 19 High SES Evangelical Church, Houston, Int15, Male, 33, white. 20 High SES Evangelical Church, Chicago, Int2, Male, 27, white. 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Published: May 8, 2018
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