Mother Nature and the Spiritual Side: Do Lovely Weather and Scenery Matter?

  • Nature and religion
  • rature and religion2
    Baylor sociologist Todd Ferguson, Ph.D. (Blake Kent photo)
May 31, 2016

June is Great Outdoors Month, and nature may serve as ‘a conduit to the sacred,’ Baylor study finds

Follow us on Twitter:@BaylorUMedia

Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (June 1, 2016) — June is national Great Outdoors Month, and that may have religious implications as people spend more time outside — in particular if they live in or visit an area with beautiful weather and scenery.

United States counties with more pleasant weather and such attractions as mountains and waterfronts also have lower rates of membership and affiliation with religious organizations, according to a Baylor University study.

Nature can serve as “a conduit to the sacred, just like traditional religious congregations,” said lead author Todd W. Ferguson, Ph.D., a lecturer of sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“We’re not claiming that residents in areas richer with natural amenities are more likely to create a ‘Church of nature,’” he said. But if one feels connected with the sacred while hiking or swimming, that individual may feel spiritual needs are being met.

For others, nature may enhance what they already find in membership or identification with a religious organization. And many traditional religious groups are likely to encourage people to use the environment for spiritual expression, Ferguson said.

The study was published in the journal Sociology of Religion in August 2015. Researchers analyzed data from the Religious Congregations and Membership Study, United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Census Bureau, examining cross-sectional differences in religious adherence rates among 3,107 counties. Adherence was defined as membership in religious organizations; or such actions as baptism, confirmation and regular attendance at services.

June is designated as Great Outdoors Month each year through a presidential proclamation and highlights outdoor recreation; the shared resources of national parks, lands, and waters; and the health, economic and environmental importance of the outdoors.

*Co-researcher was Baylor alumnus Jeffrey Tamburello, Ph.D., a sociologist with the U.S. Census Bureau.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?