Foiling Farmageddon: How do Christian Agricultural Initiatives Pioneer Sustainability Transitions within American Rural Landscapes?

Project Summary

Julius is researching SCAIs because:

  • They allow him to explore the relationship between environment and religion
  • Little previous research on them has been conducted
  • SCAIs may be especially well placed to tackle Farmageddon.

In Christian contexts, such as the USA, religious views on the environment have often been understood in agricultural terms. For example, historian Lynn White Jr. (1967) used the ox-drawn plough to show how Christianity had cultivated an exploitative view of nature. In response, Christian scholars have developed the theology of environmental stewardship, arguing that God’s command to “keep and till [Eden]” (Genesis 2:15) demonstrates their responsibility to care for the environment. Notions of stewardship have also been influenced by agrarian writings emanating from the industrializing USA. For example, Thomas Jefferson (1785) wrote extensively on an agrarian vision in which small-scale agriculture would enable Americans to live in harmony with nature, explore their Christian faith, and ensure their economic independence.

In the 20th century, however, small-scale agriculture collapsed following mechanization. As Jefferson feared, this may have undermined Christianity in rural areas. At the same time, it has caused widespread unemployment, effectively relegating rural areas to the economic periphery. As a consequence, they suffer from a chronic lack of social investment and are vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders, especially for natural resources. The result is “Farmageddon”: a tripolar decline that is at once socio-economic, religious and environmental.

Although the landscape is challenging, SCAIs could offer unique solutions. Because their activities cut across the three dimensions of Farmageddon, they may be well equipped to address it. Furthermore, SCAIs’ status as grassroots initiatives may make them particularly likely to spur rural renewal: Their bottom-up community led approach means they can more easily experiment with sustainable ideas and technologies.

Despite the potential, there has been little research on SCAIs. One reason is that they are a heterogeneous group difficult to distinguish from farms, community gardens and ecovillages. To overcome this ambiguity, Julius defines SCAIs as any organization with a public mission statement mentioning Christianity, sustainability and agricultural production. To address the research gap, Julius is conducting an exploratory mixed method project on SCAIs.

Qualitative data is being collected at Hungry World Farm, Illinois and Bethlehem Farm, West Virginia. There, Julius is observing the beliefs promoted, and how these beliefs drive sustainable practices, such as small-scale agriculture and community outreach. Julius’ qualitative findings will be used to design an online survey distributed to all SCAIs in the rural US. The survey will provide generalizable quantitative results that will enable a broader understanding of the work SCAIs do, and how they pioneer sustainability transitions amidst Farmageddon. Such insights, if reapplied more widely could help to catalyze a shift in US rural areas towards a more sustainable paradigm that better considers the interests of the environment and of rural populations.

1st Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jens Köhrsen  (Faculty of Theology)
2nd Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Manfred Max Bergman (Department of Sociology)
3rd Suprvisor: Prof. Dr. Kate Rigby (MESH, University of Cologne, Germany)

Short Bio

Julius is a doctoral scholar whose research spans the fields of sociology, theology and environmental science. Julius’ PhD focuses on American SCAIs (Sustainable Christian Agricultural Initiatives). Specifically, he is uncovering how SCAIs can pioneer sustainability transitions in landscapes dealing with complex rural decline (“Farmageddon”). His current institutional affiliations include the University of Basel and the University of Cologne. Additionally, Julius holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Geneva.

Research Areas

  • Sociology of Religion
  • Environmental Sociology
  • Ecotheolgy & Ecospirituality
  • Geology & the Anthropocene
  • Interdisciplinarity & Mixed-Methods

Awards

Prix Guillaume Rohat - Special research prize bestowed by Geneva's Environmental Science Institute to recognize exceptional originality in a Master's thesis. Awarded for "Christian Attitudes to the Anthropocene: An Explorative Study in South-West England."

Portrait Julius Malin

Julius Malin

Center for Religion, Economics and Politics
Faculty of Theology
Heuberg 12
4051 Basel

julius.malin@clutterunibas.ch