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Research Paper | 20th March 2024

Political Asceticism: On the Environmental Thought of Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Merton

Alda Balthrop-Lewis | Catholic Social Teaching, Sustainability, Eco-thelogy, Environmental Ethics, Faith-based Communities, Social Justice, Spirituality


This paper is about ascetic, contemplative traditions of Christian life and the ways those traditions might be related to environmental politics.

Asceticism here refers to forms of spirituality that are often characterized by renunciation or other spiritual exercises. This paper, written by 2023 LSRI Visiting Fellow Dr Alda Balthrop-Lewis,  emerged from a fascination with these practices, on the hypothesis that humans who do them have sometimes found ways to build peaceable communities founded on economic equality and productive cooperation with the ecologies in which they are set. Dr Balthrop-Lewis explores how, in communities like these, members have successfully disciplined themselves to a life shaped by just labour and integration in flourishing ecologies.

This paper will be of interest to those working at the intersection of religion and environment, including environmental history, eco-theology and political ecology.

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