Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Religion Social Issues

Agrarian Spirit

Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land

by (author) Norman Wirzba

University of Notre Dame Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2022
Social Issues, Essays, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Ethics, Agriculture & Food
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2022
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2024
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


This refreshing work offers a distinctly agrarian reframing of spiritual practices to address today’s most pressing social and ecological concerns.

For thousands of years most human beings drew their daily living from, and made sense of their lives in reference to, the land. Growing and finding food, along with the multiple practices of home maintenance and the cultivations of communities, were the abiding concerns that shaped what people understood about and expected from life. In Agrarian Spirit, Norman Wirzba demonstrates how agrarianism is of vital and continuing significance for spiritual life today. Far from being the exclusive concern of a dwindling number of farmers, this book shows how agrarian practices are an important corrective to the political and economic policies that are doing so much harm to our society and habitats. It is an invitation to the personal transformation that equips all people to live peaceably and beautifully with each other and the land.

Agrarian Spirit begins with a clear and concise affirmation of creaturely life. Wirzba shows that a human life is inextricably entangled with the lives of fellow animals and plants, and that individual flourishing must always include the flourishing of the habitats that nourish and sustain our life together. The book explores how agrarian sensibilities and responsibilities transform the practices of prayer, perception, mystical union, humility, gratitude, and hope. Wirzba provides an elegant and compelling account of spiritual life that is both attuned to ancient scriptural sources and keyed to addressing the pressing social and ecological concerns of today. Scholars and students of theology, ecotheology, and spirituality, as well as readers interested in agrarian and environmental studies, will gain much from this book.

About the author

Norman Wirzba is the Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School and senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. He is the author and editor of sixteen books, including This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World.

Norman Wirzba's profile page


  • Commended, Catholic Media Association Book Award: Catholic Social Teaching, Honorable Mention

Excerpt: Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land (by (author) Norman Wirzba)

The idea that the places of this life are created by God rests on the conviction that every created thing—ranging from soils, waters, and clouds, to earthworms, fish, and people—is loved by God. There isn’t a single creature that has to exist or is the source of its own being. That anything exists at all is because God wants it to be. If God did not love for something other than God to be, and then make room for it and nurture it, nothing would exist. As the opening poem on creation in scripture (Genesis 1-2:4) sees it, God loves creatures so much that God, while in the midst of creating them, regularly pauses to note how good and fitting their being is. This is a divine love so arresting and profound that it prompts God to observe the first sabbath, which is the hallowed time to relish and delight in the beauty, fertility, and fecundity of everything around. On that first sabbath sunrise, when God looks out on to a freshly made world, what God perceives is God’s own love variously made visible, tactile, auditory, fragrant, and nutritious. God’s creative activity, we might say, comes to its fulfilment in the Sabbath rest that is so deeply affirmative and joy-inducing that there simply is no other place that God wants to be.

If what I have said of creation is true, then it is crucial that we appreciate that created beings and places are not simply the focus or object of God’s love and attention. They are also, and in ways we do not fully understand, the material means and the embodied expressions of divine love. God is often named Emmanuel in scripture, God-with-us. Now we can appreciate why. God is forever wanting to be with creatures because they are the embodied sites through which God’s love is always already at work in the world. It may be more accurate to say that God is with-and-within-us, since that does a better job communicating the intimacy of God’s presence in creaturely life. No creature is a random or pointless fluke. No creature has ever been devoid of God’s affirming presence. Instead, every creature is precious, a sacred gift worthy of our respect and cherishing.

This means that material reality is never to be despised or rejected because in doing so one would also be despising the divine love that is constantly animating and circulating through it. Any and all desires that end with this world being destroyed and left behind are fundamentally confused (at best) or dangerously sick (at worst). Any and all hopes that people might finally escape from this created world to be with God somewhere else are misguided because they forget that this created universe is where God is present and where God’s love is active. If you want to be with God, don’t look up and away to some destination far beyond the blue. Look down and around, because that is where God is at work and where God wants to be. God does not ever flee from creatures. God abides with them like a gardener attends to her garden, preparing the conditions for fruitful life, and then staying close in the modes of nurture, protection, and celebration. This is why Simone Weil is right to say that the fundamental human task is to train and join our love with the divine love that daily sustains the life of all the creatures of this earth.

Editorial Reviews

"There are multiple books on the philosophy and history of American agrarianism, but Norman Wirzba provides—for the first time—a comprehensive 'spirituality' of agrarian consciousness. . . . Wirzba’s book comes at the right moment, pointing us to the shared vulnerability—the deep interconnectedness—that is at the same time our plight and our salvation." —Current

Agrarian Spirit isn’t luddite, nostalgic, or angry. Rather, it’s a gentle, wise, and hopeful call forward, casting a vision for how to live as God’s people in God’s world. I loved this book, and it flooded my imagination with pictures of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be, right now, right in my neighborhood.” —Andrew Peterson, author of The God of the Garden

“Genuine, theologically nuanced and inviting.... Embodying the very dispositions he advocates in the book, Wirzba demonstrates in word and spirit how loving neighbour and place brings one closer to God's loving power, at work in the depths of the world.” —Scottish Theological Journal

“At its heart, this book is an attempt to prompt readers to think more deeply about themselves as but one creature among many in God’s creation and to live more lovingly and gently in creation as a result. . . . Readers will find this a source of inspiration for pursuing a more bountiful way of life among God’s other creatures.” —Reading Religion

"Norman Wirzba's agrarian spiritual exercises reposition us 'down and among' all living things, close to the God who sustains the life of every creature. Agrarian Spirit renews our desire to make a home in this world and to keep faith with the generations coming after us." —Stephanie Paulsell, co-editor of Goodness and the Literary Imagination

"Our current economic habits reveal a vision of the world in which people and creation are disposable capital, to be caught up in the machinery of production and profit. In Agrarian Spirit, Wirzba offers a balm—a restorative perspective that undermines the values of disposability and exploitation." —Englewood Review of Books

"If 'incarnate spirituality' sounds like an oxymoron to you, let Norman Wirzba be your guide to the agrarian arts of faith. This book is the culmination of decades of thinking and writing and work, and there is no writer better equipped to articulate how an agrarian sensibility should shape our spiritual practices.” —Jeffrey Bilbro, author of Reading the Times and editor-in-chief at Front Porch Republic

"This is an inspiring synthesis of current ecological thought and spiritual reflection in the Christian tradition. . . . Wirzba acknowledges the difficulties in constructing this vision alongside the spotty record of ecological care in Christianity's past, yet he still finds possibilities within the tradition to create a framework that draws on religious meaning and energy to advocate a holistic, responsively ecological way of living." —Library Journal

"Norman Wirzba has done it again: this is—literally and figuratively—the most grounded (and grounding) book I've read in a long age. It will lead you to contemplation, and then, if you're lucky, to change." —Bill McKibben, author of The Comforting Whirlwind

"This is an outstanding place to start for both personal and communal work in the redemption of our earthly call to live fully within God’s creation and live wholly in our creaturely selves. . . . Wirzba offers this gift to the church as a way for all of us to cast aside an ideology we may not have known we have, one that puts humans in a singular relationship with God and leaves all the rest of His good creation as merely a backdrop." —Christian Scholar's Review

"I knew this would be a good book, and it is. In his typical clear style, Norman Wirzba takes complex philosophical arguments, agrarian practical insights, and solid theological teaching and mixes them together in accessible prose to encourage and challenge readers." —The Christian Century

"With uncommon depth and breadth, Norman Wirzba’s Agrarian Spirit urges us to embrace and celebrate human and non-human creatures as co-becoming, embodied expressions of God’s creating and sustaining love. He urges us to acknowledge our self-insufficiency and our dependence on others as a gift and as a challenge to develop the nurturing relationships that can heal our world and inspire our hope." —Steve Bell, author of the Pilgrim Year book series