Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery holds keys for the faith community to understand its role in these times of both ecological crisis and calls for justice.

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to a system of beliefs and a legal doctrine that are traced back to 15th-century papal bulls that gave permission for Christian colonizers to “invade, capture, subdue and vanquish all pagans and Saracens” who were seen as enemies of Christ. As a result the lands and possessions of Indigenous peoples were seized and slavery was authorized in perpetuity. These beliefs, reinforced by a “theology of domination” declaring humans to have dominion over the earth and all its creatures have led us down a dangerous path, resulting in the genocide of Indigenous peoples across the globe, enslavement, exploitation and the degradation of our planet. We have the power and the responsibility to examine the truth of these ideologies and correct our course. 

Our Work

Mindahi Bastida presents a letter to Pope Francis asking for support for Indigenous peoples to protect and restore sacred sites in the world and to rescind the historical papal bulls, affecting Indigenous peoples lives and territories.

Read his full statement

CEE Field Ed student Petra Thombs mobilized an effort to engage and educate the Union Theological Seminary community on the Doctrine of Discovery, resulting in a letter to the Vatican signed by UTS President Serene Jones.

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Addressing Inter-Generational Trauma Brings About Both Healing and Policy Change

In a multi-year relationship, CEE worked with community members in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2019, Mindahi Bastida joined them to celebrate the city’s Proclamation of its first Indigenous People’s Day and for an OPEN Conversation about Indigenous people’s rights, the consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery, and original caretakers’ wisdom, history and connection to the land.

Related Thoughts on World Environment Day

Photo: Bruna Costa / Esp. DP FOTO
Photo: Bruna Costa / Esp. DP FOTO

“Our nation is going through a painful reckoning with systemic racism and worsening economic inequity, so the environment can seem to be a lesser concern. But as many Native American and Black voices have pointed out, ecological, racial and economic issues have always been intertwined.” 

Executive Director Karenna Gore wrote on the concept of “domination” during the time of COVID-19 and ecological crisis for World Environment Day 2020.

Doctrine of Discovery Film Screenings with Q & A

The Center for Earth Ethics prioritizes studying and understanding the Doctrine of Discovery and its enduring consequences. We offer screenings of “Unmasking the Domination Code” with Q&A guided by CEE team members and special guests for Union Theological Seminary and at public events.

Please inquire if you would like to request a presentation for your community or congregation.


Understanding the history of the Doctrine of Discovery has become an important part of understanding how humanity has arrived at our current intersecting crises of environmental, racial and social injustice. It can also provide clues on steps we can take to build a more equitable future. Learn more about about the Doctrine of Discovery in our reflections and resources. We also acknowledge the work of the American Indian Law Alliance for their extraordinary work in education and convening on this subject and are grateful for their important insight. 


Welcome to “Akin”!

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