Nature as Symbolic
In Chapter five of his book Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development, Stephen R. Kellert discusses "Nature as Metaphor". Here he focuses on the symbolic meaning of nature stating, "all expressions of biophilia offer analogous opportunities for image, metaphor, and symbol"(p. 69) but that these come form "realistic experience of the natural world....The symbolic expression of biophilia, by contrast, brings nature into ourselves and transforms it into something distinctly different. The natural world as symbol and myth originates in the human mind and thinking process" (p.69-70).
For my project I chose to view the expression of "nature as metaphor" as reference to the relationship between nature and human spirituality/religion. How various religions or spiritualities view nature and how they treat it accordingly. Originally I had planned to investigate the five major world religions Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism as well some smaller religions/spiritualities and I would still like to do that through my thematic sequence. But, in the interest of time, I am focusing mainly on pagan spirituality, particularly Wicca. I also compare Wiccan views with some fundamental Christian views.
I did a great deal of on-line research looking for sites dealing with the relationships among nature, spirituality, science and religion. All of the pages that came up from the search for "nature and spirituality" were "pagan" or "Wiccan" sites. From these sites I was able to compile a set of definitions about nature religions, Wicca, and paganism. The following are taken from "A Guide to Nature Spirituality Terms" by Selena Fox, a licensed Wiccan Priestess.
Nature Religions - religions that include an honoring of the Divine as immanent in Nature. May be pre-modern, modern, or post-modern in philosophical orientation. Usually polytheistic, animistic, and pantheistic. Include traditional ways of various native peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, Polynesia, Europe, and elsewhere; religions of ancient Pagan cultures such as Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Minoan, Assyrian, Celtic, Teutonic, and others; contemporary Paganism.
Pagan - pertains to a Nature religion or a practitioner of and ancient and/or contemporary Nature religion; also used to refer to a nature Spirituality, Earth-centered Spirituality, and/or Goddess Spirituality group or practitioner
Wiccan Spirituality - contemporary paths rooted in one or more Nature folk religions of old Europe. Also known as the Old Religion, the Craft, Wicca, Wicce, Ways of the Wise, NeoPagan Witchcraft, and Benevolent Witchcraft.
Witch - Some Wiccan practitioners use the word "Witch" for themselves in connection with their spirituality to bring back its pre-inquisition use in Europe as a term of honor and respect meaning "medicine person/medicine worker", "shaman/shamanic practitioner," "wise woman/man," "priestess/priest of the Old Religion." Other Wiccans refuse to use the word "Witch" because of later negative definitions of the word which led to its use as a tool of Pagan Genocide and religious oppression in Europe and North America for hundreds of years. During the "Burning Times" of the Middle Ages, bigots in power changed its definition, making it a term linked with evil, and used it as a brand to mark and exterminate folk healers, those who refused to convert to state-sanctioned forms of Christianity, political rivals, and others. Contemporary usage of the word "Witch" by non-Wiccans is diverse but in recent years has been changing in academia and elsewhere to reflect the growing public awareness and understanding of Wiccan Spirituality's reclaiming of the word.
Another page I found highly useful surfaced in my search for "religion and science". The "Religion and Science Glossary" was complied by a group of graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania in attempt to show that science and religion do not need to be mutually exclusive. The terms were taken from books they had studied over the semester and the glossary was created because, "a bridge discussion between science and religion requires some familiarity with scientific, religious, and philosophic language."
They included several clear, concise definitions as well as information on views of nature throughout history. Some of the definitions they included were:
Science - the empirical study of the order of nature
Theology - critical reflection on the life and thought of the religious community.
Epistemology - analysis of the characteristics of inquiry and knowledge; theory of knowledge; the division of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge.
Holistic thinking - idea that reality is made up of organic or unified wholes that are greater than the simple sum of their parts.
Mysticism - spiritual discipline aiming at direst union or communion with ultimate reality or God through deep meditation.
Evolution - the development of a species from its original to present state; the theory that all species developed from earlier forms.
Natural theology - the claim that theistic conclusion can be drawn directly from evolutionary evidence.
Theology of Nature - based primarily on religious experience and the life of religious community, bet which includes some reformulation of tradition doctrines in the light of science.
Evolutionary naturalism - the religious philosophy best suited for a scientific culture; nature is the functional equivalent of the traditional God, and it should be the object of our worship and obedience.
Classical theism - God is Lord and King, ruling both history and nature to effect intended purposes.
The following are the three different views of nature that have been held in the highest regard my human kind at different points throughout history.
The medieval view of nature - influenced by Plato, Aristotle, and scripture
1. There is change within nature, but the basic forms are thought to be immutable.
2. Nature is purposeful in that every creature expresses its divine purpose and its own goals.
3. The components of nature are separate mental and material substances. A substance is independent and externally related requiring nothing but itself and God in order to exist.
4. Each lower form serves the higher form (God/man/woman/animal/plant). This theory contends that all creatures are made for the benefit of humanity
5. Dualism exists between soul and body, immaterial spirit and transitory matter and the perfect eternal form and the imperfect embodiment in the material world. The purpose of the material world is to serve the spiritual, and the goal of this life is to prepare for the next
6. In summary, nature is viewed as a Kingdom, an ordered society with a sovereign Lord.
The Newtonian view.
1. The unchanging components of nature could rearrange but the basic forms are still fixed.
2. Nature is deterministic rather than teleological. Mechanical causes, not purposes, determine all natural events.
3. Nature is atomistic in taking separate particles rather than substances to be the basic reality of nature.
4. Nature is reductionistic and mechanical rather than hierarchical.
5. Dualism of mind and body exists, but God and human minds are the great exceptions in a mechanistic world. Humanity is an all-encompassing machine whose operation can be explained without reference to God.
6. In summary, the image of nature is a machine.
The new view of nature.
1. Nature's basic forms have changed radically and new types of phenomenon have appeared at successive levels in matter, life, mind and culture.
2. There is a complex combination of law and chance. Nature is characterized by structure and openness. The future cannot be predicted in detail from the past in principle or in practice.
3. Reality is constituted by events and relationships rather than by separate substances or separate particles.
4. Distinctive holistic concepts are used to explain the higher-level activities of a system, from organisms to ecosystems.
5. Humans have capacities not found elsewhere is nature, but humans are products of evolution and parts of an interdependent natural order. Other creatures are valuable in themselves and humanity is an integral part of nature. The human is a psychosomatic unity.
6. In summary, the image of nature is a community of interdependent beings.
The last new of nature, "the new view" intrigued me the most. I decided to conduct a survey to determine if people agreed with the "new view" of nature. Incidentally, the new view of nature states beliefs that Wiccans and other pagans follow and according to Selena Fox, the beliefs of modern pagans are rooted in age-old spiritualities. To pagans, these ideas are nothing new.
The idea behind my survey was to determine how people related to nature through their spirituality and if that relationship had any bearing on where they placed human's in relationship to nature in their personal views. I assumed that either persons' religion or the impact of nature in their spiritual lives would influence their views on the place of humankind within nature. I also wanted to see if the impact of nature on one's spirituality was in anyway related to the impact of their spirituality on their lives, assuming this time, that the more religious/spiritual a person considers themselves, the closer the connection with nature is, supporting the "new view" of nature.
Finally, I decided I would also look at gender to see if it had any bearing on the subject's responses to questions concerning religion, spirituality, nature, and the role of human beings in relationship to nature.
Improving on my methods would be very easy. For starters, I strongly discourage putting things off until the last minute. It makes the process so much more difficult and stressful.
To acquire empirical data for my study on relationships between nature and spirituality/religion I conducted a short survey. In order to make certain a) I got enough results to obtain valid data and b) I got all the surveys, back I typed up fifty copies of the survey, made it very short, and kept pens and pencils with me. I gave the surveys to people and waited around until they finished filling them out. I surveyed twenty-five men and twenty-five women; I wanted to be certain I had both genders equally represented for my survey.
To acquire subjects for my survey I passed the survey out in the dining hall, I walked around the dorms, and I stopped people on the streets. Unless I specifically needed a male or a female to fill out a survey, i.e. not enough had yet; there was no method to my selection of people. I just grabbed any random person who was available and willing to take the survey. The fact that filling out the survey took less than a minute made it much easy to find willing participants.
As I mentioned, I surveyed twenty-five men and twenty-five women. All participants were undergraduate students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Most of the students were Western or Architecture majors, though there were a few foreign exchange students as well.
The questions consisted of the following:
1. Are you a male or a female?
2. What religion do you affiliate yourself with?
Christianity Hinduism Judaism Buddhism
Islam None Other: __________
3. Is your religion/spirituality a big part of your life?
Definitely somewhat not at all
4. Does nature play a part in your personal spirituality?
Definitely somewhat not at all
5. Do you think most religions place humankind above, below, or a part of nature?
Above below an equal part of don't know
6. How do you think humans relate to nature? Humans are:
Above below an equal part of
After obtaining the data from this survey I then entered all the results into a table through the use of Microsoft Excel. Please never, never, never, encourage students to use Cricket graph. No one knows how to use it and I wasted an hour trying to figure it out when it only took twenty minutes to do everything with Excel.
I first entered all the data for females and then all the data for the males into one table. I labeled the columns "Gender", "Religious Affiliation", "Impact of Religion", "Impact of Nature", "Religion's Placement", and "Personal View". Then I sorted the columns in ascending order by Religious Affiliation (see attached table "Survey Results"). This process keeps the data in the rows intact, but moves all rows around to alphabetize a particular column.
I then opened up Statview and proceeded to enter the data from my data table into a New View. I labeled the columns in Statview with the same titles I had used for Excel. Once all the data was entered I realized that it was all categorical and, in order, to acquire a P-value, I had to create contingency tables to find the Chi-squared P-value.
I first created tables comparing the subjects gender to their chosen religion/spirituality, the impact of that religion/spirituality on their lives, the impact of nature on that religion/spirituality, how they thought most major religions placed human in regards to nature, and how they, themselves placed humans in relationship to nature. I
wanted to determine a subjects gender had any bearing on their response.
The next four tables I created compared religious affiliation with the remaining four categories. This was done to determine whether or not a persons chosen religion influenced any of their other responses. I then compared the responses given for question three, the impact of religion/spirituality in one's life, to the responses from question four, the impact of nature on one's religion/spirituality. The final two contingency tables I created compared both the impact of religion/spirituality in one's life and the impact of nature on one's religion/spirituality to the subject's personal views about nature.
The resulting tables (see attached contingency tables) were then analyzed to determine what, if any, bearing the variables of the survey had on each other.
After the survey was completed I compiled the results of all fifty subjects. As I mentioned before, I surveyed twenty-five males and twenty-five females. Nine females and sixteen males identified themselves as being affiliated with Christianity accounting for fifty percent of the population. Of the remaining fifty percent, six percent affiliated themselves with Judaism, twenty-four percent chose "other", and twenty percent did not affiliate themselves with any religion at all. No one selected Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism as their religion of choice leaving these unaccounted for.
As a side note, those who selected "other" were given the option of writing in the religion/spirituality they did affiliate themselves with. These answers included Taoism, Unitarian-Universalist, Foundationalism, Paganism, Fairies, and "my own".
When I entered gender and religious affiliation into a contingency table through Statview I received a P-value of .2380. In other words, there is really no connection between ones gender and one religious preference. Though I find it interesting to note among the people I surveyed, far more males than females affiliated themselves with an organized religion and more females chose "none" or "other". Gender also did not affect the responses given to question 3, the role religion/spirituality plays in one's life ( P-value, .1311), question 4, the role, of nature in one's religion/spirituality (P-value .6679), question 5, how they assumed most religion's view nature (P-value .0697), or question 6, how they themselves viewed humans in relation to nature (P-value .5329).
When I compared religious affiliation to the other categories I could see much clearer relationships. When comparing religious affiliation with the impact of religion on one's life I received a P-value of .0302 making this a significant comparison. Likewise, when I compared religious affiliation to the impact of nature on one's religion I received a P-value of .0487. Religious affiliation, however did not influence their assumptions of how most religions placed humans in relation to nature (P-value .5607) or how they themselves placed humans in relation to nature (p-value .6054).
By far the most significant comparison was between the impact of religion/spirituality in one's life and the impact of nature on one's religion/spirituality. This comparison resulted in a P-value of .0026. If the subject had stated that their religion/spirituality was a big part of their life, they were very likely to state that nature was a big part of that spirituality. Likewise, if their religion was not a big part of their life, they stated that nature was not a big part of their spirituality.
The final two tables I created looked at the impact of religion and the impact of nature in comparison to the subjects' personal views of humankind in relation to nature. The correlation between the impact of religion and personal views resulted in a P-value of .7704 and the correlation between the impact of nature and personal views resulted in a P-value of .7464. Neither of these comparisons is significant.
After analyzing the results of the contingency tables I determined that gender had no influence on religious affiliation or any other aspect of the survey. I had thought that women would be more inclined to list affiliation with an organized religion, possibly because of a sub-conscious belief or memory of hearing "a suitor must agree with the father in politicos and the mother in religion" a statement which infers spirituality is a female thing. It's horrible, I know.
Religious affiliation did have a significant influence on the impact of religion in one's life. Only 12% of people listing affiliation with some religion stated that religion was not at least some part of their life. Likewise only 12% of those affiliated with a religion said that nature had no role in their spirituality. For the rest, nature did play at least some role in their spirituality.
My original hypothesis about the relationship between the impact of nature on one's life and how they viewed humans in regards to nature was not supported by the data. The really wasn't any relation between the religion the subjects affiliated themselves with and the way they personally viewed human's place in nature. Nor was there any relation between the impact of nature on their spiritual lives and their views of humans and nature.
However, by far the most significant comparison was between the impact of religion/spirituality on one's life and the impact of nature on that religion/spirituality. The more important a person's religion/spirituality was to them, the greater impact nature had on that religion/spirituality. I feel this supports the new view of nature and my hypothesis.
As I mentioned before, the greatest difficulties with this project were the result of my own procrastination. I also would not recommend doing a project like this alone.
Other factors that may have affected the results of my survey include my sample size and the people I survey. Fifty people is a relatively small sample size and Western Campus is not an accurate representation of the population at Miami University anymore than Miami University is an accurate selection of the population of the rest of the world. If I were to conduct this survey again, I would like to do so on a much larger scale, possibly creating a web site to acquire data from around the globe.
I enjoyed the research for this project, acquiring a greater understanding of views about the relationship between nature and religion/spirituality that are similar or different from my own. The concept for this project is definitely one I would like to expand upon for my thematic sequence.
Chang, Tommy, Eugenia Ho, Kiern Khan, and Jeffery Robertson. "Religion and Science
Fox, Selena. "A Guide to Nature Spirituality Terms" http://www.ciclesanctuary.org/aboutpagan/Guide2NaSpiTerms.html
Kellert, Stephen R. Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997
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IMPORTANT: For each Research Response, make sure the title of the response is different than previous titles shown above!