The Pacific Northwest Forest Debate: Bringing Religion Back In?1

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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Abstract

This paper puts into relief the religious dimension of the fierce fight over the federal forests in Oregon. My purpose is to describe and comment on some of the religiously based normative pictures that underlie the institutional dynamics of the dispute. Oregon's religious contours are sketched as backdrop. Strands of civil religion Oregon style are teased out. Oregon Lutheran and Catholic visions are examined. Based on field observations, interviews and analysis of public documents, the essay finds a vital, though marginalised, religious dimension to the debate. Yet, moral vocabularies of a religious nature, evident in the personal convictions of forest debate participants, tend to drop out in public discourse, especially at the level of policy. While preserving the Enlightenment critique of religion, I argue, religion should be brought back in to the public square to give voice to religious persons and groups. Citizens and national forest policy makers must create the conditions in which religious voices are heard along with biological and economic ones. Not doing so violates a fundamental principle of political liberalism: inclusion. Suggestions are made as to how public debates, which include religious voices, might proceed.

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