Disruption: Ecological and Spiritual Change on North America’s Lowest Shorelines

“The first extended ethnography to explore how ecological disruptions affect North American Christian relationships with ‘other-than-human’ beings, including natural entities, such as animals, plants, or microbes, as well as supra-natural ones like God. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Hillary Kaell Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

Climate change is a pressing issue, yet we still know relatively little about how people experience a changing climate day-to-day (Brace and Geoghegan 2010; Clingerman 2015; Hulme 2016), particularly in moral and spiritual terms. My project is the first extended ethnography to address this issue. It focuses on Christians in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These Atlantic barrier islands are built of shifting sand; when yearly hurricanes and other storms strike, things are turned upside down and re-rooted, replaced, and reimagined. It is an environment so transient one can see changes from year to year. It has also been heavily engineered and developed for commercial fishing and tourism. It thus provides a unique ‘laboratory’ in which to see human impacts on ecological systems and human responses to ecological change. The islands are also solidly Christian, with 57 active churches for the approximately 50,000 residents.

Taking the Outer Banks as a starting point, my project rethinks studies of religion and ecology through a “holistic” approach in three complementary ways: it integrates the ‘religious’ side of Christians’ experience into larger economic, political, and ecological frameworks; it includes church-going Christians and people of Christian backgrounds who are spiritual but do not affiliate; and it takes a multispecies approach that includes the lifeworlds of non-human inhabitants of the Outer Banks, such as animals, plants, and microbes. This approach reorients our perspective to reveal how humans are integrated into ecological systems.