Questions about land use, conservation, and preservation—already so perplexing and contentious—take on a new complexity and greater urgency when the land in question is understood as sacred. This is a view increasingly held, as adherents of mainstream religions come to recognize what indigenous peoples knew centuries ago—that the sacred inheres in nature itself. What such a trend means and how it involves the forces of culture, religion, and constitutional law (especially First Amendment clauses concerning the free exercise of religion) are considered with a remarkable breadth and depth of understanding in this important new work.
Drawing on case studies of national parks and monuments, national forests, and other public lands and resources, Lloyd Burton gives a clear and comprehensive account of how the intertwining influences of culture, religion, and law have affected the management of public lands and resources in the recent past and how they may do so in the future. In a unique and unprecedented way, his book weaves together teachings on nature and the sacred among indigenous and immigrant culture groups in the United States; the relevant constitutional history of religion and government action; and analysis of contemporary conflicts over culture, religion, and public lands management. As such, Worship and Wilderness is essential reading not only for public land managers and environmental policy makers but also for anyone interested in the growing significance of religious interests in the use of resources that constitute our national commons and our common natural heritage.