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Sarah McFarland Taylor

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Sarah McFarland Taylor is an associate professor of Religious Studies, specializing in
the intersections of media, religion, culture, consumerism, climate change,
conservation, and environment. She is currently working on a project on regenerative
ranching, grassland conservation, and multigenerational ranching families in the
American West. Taylor also teaches in Northwestern’s Program in Environmental Policy
and Culture and in the American Studies Program. She holds a Bachelor's degree from
Brown University, a Master's degree from Dartmouth College, and she earned her
doctorate in Religion and American Culture, with emphasis in the study of religion and
environment, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She earned an additional
advanced degree in Media History, Philosophy, and Criticism from the Graduate School
of Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement.

Taylor has held an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Louisville
Institute Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship, a Wabash Center
Fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation Career Enhancement
Fellowship, and was selected as one of the Indiana University Center for the Study of
Religion and American Culture's "Young Scholars in American Religion." She has
received a Joseph H. Fichter Award for the study of Women and Religion, the Albert C.
Clark Prize for her work on African American religions, and a research award from the
Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. She has held the position of Senior
Research Fellow at the Martin Marty Center Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion
at the University of Chicago and was awarded an Individual Research Grant from the
American Academy of Religion for her archival work on environmental themes and
moral engagement in 1970s television.

Taylor’s first book, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (Harvard University Press, 2007,
2008), is the winner of the Catholic Press Association's First Prize for Best Book on
Gender Issues and also the Association's First Prize for Best Book on Social
Concerns. Green Sisters documents the growing movement of environmentally activist
Roman Catholic religious sisters in North America. In this book, Taylor challenges
received notions of "liberal" and "conservative" in American Catholic historiography and
offers a new understanding of how tradition itself works. Taylor crafted Green Sisters as
both historical anthropology and anthropological history, specifically exploring in her
work the development of the methodology of historical ethnography in American
religious studies.


Taylor’s second book, Ecopiety: Green Media and the Dilemma of Environmental
Virtue (published by NYU Press in 2019) analyzes diverse representations of
environmental moral engagement in contemporary mediated popular culture. Taylor
identifies and explores intertwining, co-constitutive, yet contrary, stories of what she
terms “ecopiety” and “consumopiety” as they flow across multiple media platforms. How
these stories compete and conflict, vying for space as contested narratives in the public
imagination constitutes a central inquiry of the book. Drawing together theoretical
insights from cultural studies, media studies, environmental humanities, and religious
studies, Taylor offers a critical reading of primary source data drawn from such areas as
the marketing of green consumer products, “greenwashed” corporate advertising,
environmental mobile device applications, eco-themed reality television, the marketing
of eco-funerals, Internet sharing of environmental tattoos, “green” fashion guides, and
the media strategies of green hip-hop activism. Taylor makes the case that a detailed,
multi-channel, cross-platform approach to cultural analysis is critical to understanding
the kind of important “work” taking place as mediated popular culture plays an integral
role in framing American environmental moral sensibilities. Ecopiety delves into the
complex and contested processes of remaking our world and rescripting the future in
the digital age—a time when storytelling processes themselves are shaping and being
shaped by new media outlets and digital sharing technologies.


Taylor is the co-editor of two ground-breaking books. The first, co-edited with Eric
Mazur, Religion and Outer Space (Routledge, 2023), examines religion in and on the
final frontier. This book offers a first-of-its-kind roadmap for thinking about complex
encounters of religion and outer space. A multidisciplinary group of scholarly experts
takes up some of the most intriguing scientific, spiritual, trade/commercial, and even
military dimensions of the complex entanglements of religion and outer space.


The second, co-edited with Mara Einstein, Selling the Sacred: Religion and Marketing
from Crossfit to QAnon (Routledge 2024), explores the religio-cultural and media
implications of a two-sided phenomenon: marketing religion as a product and marketing
products as religion. This innovative volume examines the phenomenon of selling the
sacred, providing a better understanding of how marketing tactics, married with religious
content, influence our thinking and everyday lives. By examining religion and marketing
broadly, this book offers engaging tools to recognize and unpack what gets sold as
“sacred,” what’s at stake, and the consequences.



Taylor’s current book project focuses on the power of defiant hope to fuel climate action,
attending in particular to the complex relationship of Generation Z to climate crisis. This
work affirms that feelings of climate anxiety are real, widespread, and particularly
prominent among young people. Taylor offers that, at the same time, it is important to
resist narratives of doom and fatalism, which too often accept the victimization of young
and marginalized people rather than empowering them to make positive changes.
Climate change, contends Taylor, must be framed as a formidable but solvable problem.
By using contemporary media to share stories of evidence-based constructive actions,
she makes the case that it is possible to empower Gen Zs — moving “Gen Dread” from
apocalyptic despair into modes of “defiant hope” that recognize the seriousness of
environmental and climate damage but insist that healing and a better world are indeed

Taylor serves or has served on the editorial boards for the Journal of the American
Academy of Religion; the Journal of the International Society for the Study of Religion,
Nature, and Culture; Worldviews: Journal of Religions, Culture and Ecology; and The
Popular Culture Studies Journal. She has served as both national co-chair of the
“Religion and Ecology” section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and chair of
the "Religion, Ecology, and Culture" section of the Midwest region of the AAR. She has
chaired the AAR's “Religion and Popular Culture” program unit at the national level and
the AAR’s “Religion, Media, and Culture” program unit. She is the founder and chair of
the joint Midwest Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association’s
“Nature, Environment, and Climate” research area. While serving as Regionally Elected
Director for the AAR’s Midwest region and a member of the AAR’s national Board of
Directors, Taylor directed the AAR’s Sustainability Task Force, a group that works to
reduce the Academy’s ecological “footprint.”

Referred to by students simply as “Dr. T.,” Professor Taylor’s courses in the Religious
Studies Department, in the Environmental Policy and Culture Program, and in the
Program in American Studies at Northwestern, focus on aspects of American religion
and culture and explore various understandings and framings of religion and spirituality

as they relate to the natural environment, global climate change, civic moral
engagement, media representations and practices, the mystical dimensions of
contemporary consumerism, and complicated popular notions of human direction and
planetary destiny. Some of Dr. T.’s more popular courses include the RS/EPC seminar,
“Media, Earth, and Making a Difference” and “Introduction to Religion, Media, and

Fields of Specialization
Media, Religion, and Culture
Religion, Environment, and Climate Change
Religion and American Culture
Religion and Marketing
Religion and Equine Studies