Lynn White, Jr. was a medieval scholar and former college president (Mills College, 1943–1958) who was instrumental in establishing the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at UCLA in 1962. White’s primary interest was the historical development of technology and the effect that technology had on the societies of Europe during the medieval period. He is probably best known, however, for “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” which appeared in the magazine Science in 1967. In thisshortarticle White argued that humankind’s destructive impact on the environment was largely attributable to the link of Western science and technology to a Judeo-Christian tradition that emphasized “man’s transcendence of, and rightful mastery over, nature.” The result, said White, was a modern ecological crisis for which “Christianity bears a huge measure of guilt.” According to White, the remedy for this was not a renunciation of Christianity, but the adoption of an alternative Christian view toward nature, that of Francis of Assisi. White’s article is still capable of eliciting strong reactions (both positive and negative), but it also helped to initiate a significant reappraisal of the role that religion should play in the formation of environmental ethics.
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