Spiritual Land Governance & Polticial Ecologies of Mapping Episcopal Church-owned Land

Authors: Emma Lietz Bilecky*,
Topics: Land Use, Religion and Belief Systems , Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: land technologies, land governance, church land, race, religion
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


My paper interrogates the uses of spiritual land governance for resisting, but also expanding various forms of resource extraction and ecosystem disturbance. I compare common property ownership and governance in the Episcopal Church (TEC), originating through royal land grant, and sacred natural sites (SNS) maintained by tribal and federal governments. As opposed to spiritual land governance approaches which establish legal relationship with other-than-human persons and “enspirited land” (Studley 2019), TEC land governance and property ownership reflects its settler-colonial history and a financialized view of land (Fairbairn 2020), privileging “stewardship” of church buildings, and distinguishing church “congregations” from broader land/soil communities whose various labors are enlisted as a resource in the maintenance of threatened institutions (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, Krzwosynska 2020). While churches reflect a version of common property ownership and use land to address environmental justice, they also reinforce whiteness as property when church property is considered “assets” (Harris 1993).

Emerging church land mapping technologies may resist this recoding via cartographic strategies which re-place “congregations” within an otherwise external but spiritually metabolized “nature” (Smith 1984): representing churches as agents in processes of dispossession, territorialization, and landscape transformations over time (Hervieu-Leger 2002, Ingold 2009, Latour 2018, Richter & Yaalon 2011). Resisting the violent logics of colonial and capitalist land governance through spiritual land governance requires recognizing such contexts in addition to historic and contemporary “architectures of theft,” processes of consent, land return, and a layered religious narratives (Basso 1996, Yellowhead Institute 2019, Whyte 2018).

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