Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & the Environment


Robert Wilson


Activism;Care for Creation;Catholic Church;Ethnography;Justice;West Virginia

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Geographers have long studied the challenge of achieving holistic justice. Rather than something found wholly within human relations, in recent years these analyses have increasingly understood justice as socio-ecological. The Catholic Church is a global institution with more than 1.3 billion adherents and millions of employees operating hundreds of thousands of parishes, schools, and other institutions across the world. The Church has long centered justice through both activism and intellectual theorizing. To date, however, geographers have not rigorously engaged this work or the ongoing environmental turn within the Catholic Church and its conceptions of justice. Scholars specializing in religions and the Catholic Church, meanwhile, have tended to overlook the institution’s environmental aspects—particularly when it comes to evaluating the Church today. This dissertation helps geographers, as well as their interlocutors in religious and environmental studies, better understand the Catholic Church as a socio-ecological actor. These empirical analyses also provide the basis proposing a new theoretical framework for orienting geography as a recursive dialectic between material realities (geos) and ideological representations thereof (graphos). To offer these contributions, this dissertation splits into two parts. Part One focuses on two discursive traditions of CST—the Vatican and grassroots Appalachian strands—with regard to their efforts to articulate notions of socio-ecological justice. Oriented by geographic theories of place, Part Two turns to ethnographically examine a Catholic intentional community in north-central West Virginia committed to socio-ecological justice: Nazareth Farm. Since its founding in 1979 and while remaining firmly grounded in both their Catholic faith and long traditions of activism in and for Appalachia, over the forty-plus years since Nazareth Farm has envisioned, taught, and sought to enact justice. Initially, they focused on home repair and community building efforts. However, and mirroring the broader Church’s socio-ecological justice turn, the Farm underwent a socio-ecological turn during the past fifteen years. Drawing upon embedded fieldwork within this intentional community, as well as ninety-seven supporting interviews, Caring for Creation examines the successes and roadblocks the intentional community at Nazareth Farm encountered as they sought to make their visions of justice takes place. The possibilities and challenges identified throughout this dissertation offer important lessons regarding our collective responsibility to create a better world.


Open Access

Included in

Geography Commons