Theses Master's

ReMembering the Story of the Anthropocene Age: Papal Bulls of Domination, Private Property, and an Ecotheology That (Re)members Towards Creating the Beloved Community

Wolcott, Sara Jolena

We need to re-situate the origin story of the Anthropocene Age into the Doctrine of Discovery and the Great European Witch-hunts. Doing so more accurately traces the formation of the imagination, institutional actions, theological frameworks, and moral codes of conduct that have validated an extractive set of values expressed via relationships in economic, political, social, ecological, and intellectual spheres. This “new” origin story was initially showed to the author through conversations with indigenous peoples from the Haudenosaunee nation and the elders in Mexico; she subsequently did the historical research and connected different, previously disconnected strands of thought which forms this thesis. This “new” narrative is distinct and significantly supplements the predominant narrative of conceptualizing the Anthropocene Age as arising from and during the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. The thesis offers several critical processes, including ReMembering, ReEnchanting and the powerful process of ecological family history. Through including her own family history into this thesis, Wolcott integrates a personal, social, ecological, and political re-narration process that has significant implications for the identity of the United States of America.

After explaining the basic argument, the thesis takes the reader on a historical journey to engage with key moments in time. In Part I, we look briefly at the Roman Empire and the man of Jesus of Nazareth and key moments in the Middle Ages that help form the theological beginnings of what we now refer to as the Doctrine of Discovery. The bulk of Part I connects a series of Papal Bulls that authorized the colonization and subsequent enslavement of Africans in the 1450s, the European Witch Hunts (1484) and the colonization of subsequent ecological and cultural destruction of the Americas (1493). It then considers the implications of these connections. Part II goes into the formation of the United States. It goes through and interweaves theological questions of land, private property and intellectual property, governance, Quakerism, family history, nature, and the notion of “wilderness.” Notions of “reMembering” and “reenchanting” are woven throughout the thesis. The thesis ends with a note of jubilation on the strong potential that arises from these new origin stories and from enabling individual and collective narratives to be reMembered through the integration of multiple perspectives. The conclusions lightly touch on the implications for different leaders of cultural change today, including religious leaders, artists, family members, activists, and those directing financial flows.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Union Theological Seminary
Thesis Advisors
Rasmussen, Larry L.
M.Div., Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
March 11, 2020


This is an updated version of my 2017 thesis. Approximately 15 pages were added throughout the thesis. As I explain in the forward, I have been teaching this material for several years, and so the additions arose primarily to add greater clarity and some extra insights into the analysis of the historical research that I came to realize in the subsequent three years. A few additional sources, including Sylvia Federici, whose work is directly related to what I discuss but of whom I was unaware, were also added.