Laudato Si’: Transformative Shifts in Environmental Action

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Michael Fotos
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This paper examines the response to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on humans and the environment, Laudato Si’, in the context of environmental action in both faith and secular communities. Short-term action and longer term potential in the United States are considered in this research, with the study period extending from the months before the encyclical’s release through the end of 2015. In order to explore this topic, I completed a content analysis of 145 articles from six faith-based and secular news sources, in addition to conducting seventeen interviews with leaders of faith-based organizations, environmental organizations, and academic experts. This paper finds that Laudato Si’s most salient impacts lie in its reframing of environmental issues in moral terms, leading to an ability to reach a larger portion of the U.S. population and shifting the nature of the relationship of faith communities to the environmental movement. These effects are not without their limitations, facing a complicated relationship with the partisan political nature of the United States. However, I conclude that Laudato Si’ can be considered a transformative document, rather than additive to an existing discourse, for its creation of a new moral frame for engaging with environmental issues and new pathways for action.