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Sanctity, If You Will

Sanctity, If You Will

(p.117) 5 Sanctity, If You Will
Landscapes of the Secular
Nicolas Howe
University of Chicago Press

With the rise of newly assertive minority religions since the 1970s, policing the line between the “truly religious” and the “merely spiritual” has become an ever more important imperative of the state. Yet even as many groups have fought for the former status, others have tried to rid themselves of religious associations that might compromise their position as fully secular and thus fully rational members of civil society. Environmentalists are one such group. This chapter examines the surprising career of religious rhetoric in environmental law, whose early theorists challenged law’s dominant semiotic ideology by treating wilderness as a special kind of sacred landscape, one with agentive capacities that could grant it standing to “sue” for its own preservation. Through a close reading of theoretical texts connected to the landmark 1972 Supreme Court case, Sierra Club v. Morton, it probes these outer limits of secular landscape discourse and ask how the spatial imaginary of American civil religion might be reconciled with new forms of so-called land-based spirituality.

Keywords:   wilderness, environmental law, standing, religious experience, agency, Sierra Club v. Morton

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