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Sacred Mountains: A Christian Ethical Approach to Mountaintop Removal

by Andrew R. H. Thompson

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Place Matters: New Directions in Appalachian Studies
212 pages  Pubdate: 12/18/2015  6 x 9  6 b&w photos

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On a misty morning in eastern Kentucky, cross-bearing Christians gather for a service on a surface-mined mountain. They pray for the health and renewal of the land and for their communities, lamenting the corporate greed of the mining companies. On another day, in southern West Virginia, Andrew Jordon hosts Bible study in a small cabin overlooking a disused 1,400-acre surface mine. He believes his efforts to reclaim sites like these represent responsible environmental stewardship.

In Sacred Mountains, Andrew R. H. Thompson highlights scenes such as these in order to propose a Christian ethical analysis of the controversial mining practice that has increasingly divided the nation and has often led to fierce and even violent confrontations. Thompson draws from the arguments of H. Richard Niebuhr, whose work establishes an ideal foundation for understanding Appalachia. Thompson provides a thorough introduction to the issues surrounding surface mining, including the environmental consequences and the resultant religious debates, and highlights the discussions being carried out in the media and by scholarly works. He also considers five popular perspectives (ecofeminism, liberation theology, environmental justice, environmental pragmatism, and political ecology) and offers his own framework and guidelines for moral engagement with the subject.

Thompson’s arguments add to the work of other ethicists and theologians by examining the implications of culture in a variety of social, historical, and religious contexts. A groundbreaking and nuanced study that looks past the traditionally conflicting stereotypes about religion and environmental consciousness in Appalachia, Sacred Mountains offers a new approach that unifies all communities, regardless of their beliefs.

Andrew R. H. Thompson is assistant director of the Center for Religion and Environment and postdoctoral fellow in environmental ethics at Sewanee’s School of Theology. He has contributed chapters to The Changing World Religions Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices, and Politics; Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives; and Edinburgh 2010: Mission Today and Tomorrow.

Thompson’s approach is novel, unique and useful. The author argues convincingly that what is needed in looking at mountaintop removal, is a new and integrating perspective rather than repeating the familiar time-work binaries that pervade much of Appalachian scholarship. -- Stanley Brunn, professor of geography at University of Kentucky

This thoughtful interpretation of the controversies over mountain-top removal mining is unique in the range of its religious and cultural analysis. -- Willis Jenkins, associate professor of religion, ethics, and environment, and director of graduate program at the University of Virginia

Thompson's book is a methodological masterpiece [ . . . .] -- Choice

[Thompson] has written an interesting and impressively-researched entry in the literature of MTR.

Thompson shows great breadth and depth in his research and covers such areas as the ecological, environmental, and human impacts of MTR, the place of religion in Appalachia, and the concept of Appalachia as place in the consciousness of the United States as a whole. -- Tennessee Libraries