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Christoph Jedan – A Different Kind of Reformation: Revisiting the Lynn White Thesis

This commentary revisits Lynn White’s article, ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’ (1967), and questions the assumption that there is a unified ‘Lynn White thesis’. Instead, it proposes a complex narrative in which four key elements can be identified: (1) the long history of human impact on the environment; (2) the claim that the human-environment interaction took on a new, destructive quality around 1850 through the ‘marriage’ of specifically Western science and technology; (3) an historical narrative of how Latin Christianity is responsible for the specific thrust of Western science and technology, in which White identifies Latin theological voluntarism as key trigger; and (4) a constructivist view of religion as malleable. It argues, further, that White’s narrative itself relies on a radical variant of the Latin theological voluntarism that he attacks, and it points towards Christian environmental virtue ethics as an underexplored way forward.

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