Mother Nature and the Spiritual Side: Do Lovely Weather and Scenery Matter?May 31, 2016
June is Great Outdoors Month, and nature may serve as ‘a conduit to the sacred,’ Baylor study finds
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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.
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