Sarah McFarland Taylor Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Sarah McFarland Taylor is an associate professor of Religious Studies, specializing in the study of religion and American culture; religion and environment; and the relationships among media, popular culture, and religion. Taylor also teaches in Northwestern’s American Studies Program and in the Program in Environmental Policy and Culture. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Brown University, a Master's degree from Dartmouth College, and earned her doctorate in Religion and American Culture (with additional Ph.D. emphasis in Women's Studies) from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently pursuing an additional advanced degree in “Media History, Philosophy, and Criticism” in The New School for Public Engagement’s Graduate School of Media Studies.

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. In the 2008-2009 year, she held the position of Senior Research Fellow at the Martin Marty Center Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago. She has recently been awarded an Individual Research Grant from the American Academy of Religion for her archival work on environmental themes and moral engagement in 1970s television.

Her book, Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (published by Harvard University Press in 2007), 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 current book project, Ecopiety: Media, Environment, and Popular Moral Engagement (forthcoming, NYU Press), 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, 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, global warming video games, the marketing of eco-funerals, Internet sharing of environmental tattoos, 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 the “greening” of American 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 serves 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 Religion, Environment, and Culture; 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 new “Nature and Environment in Popular Culture” research area. While serving as Regionally Elected Director for AAR’s Midwest region and a member of 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.”

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 of the category of “religion” as it relates to ethnicity, women's experiences, the natural environment, media representations and practices, and to popular notions of “Americanness.”

Fields of Specialization

Religion and American Culture
Religion and Environment
Religion, Media, and Popular Culture Studies
Gender Studies

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