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Toward an Understanding and Definition of Wilderness Spirituality

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There is an increasing body of Western literature lamenting the loss of spiritual relationships and connection with the Earth, and numerous studies of wilderness spirituality. But what is wilderness spirituality? Do expert perceptions differ from public views of the meaning of the term? This paper explores these questions. Despite spirituality being an abstract topic, and spiritual values hard to define and measure, numerous authors have suggested definitions of nature-based and wilderness spirituality. A content analysis of a random sample of the general population in a preliminary study in Tasmania on wilderness spirituality meanings was compared to definitions supplied by experts on the topic. Strong commonalities between the two groups were the citation of words expressing connection and interrelationship, portrayals of transcending the self, and the quality of compassion. Weak commonalties were terms such as 'peace' and 'harmony', 'respect', 'joy', 'elation', 'happiness', 'sacredness' and 'reverence'. Disparate elements were found to be a sense of awe and wonder, religiosity, humbleness, and altered states of consciousness. The defining characteristics of wilderness spirituality were found to be a feeling of connection and interrelationship with other people and nature; a heightened sense of awareness and elevated consciousness beyond the everyday and corporeal world; and cognitive and affective dimensions of human understandings embracing peace, tranquillity, harmony, happiness, awe, wonder, and humility. A religious meaning and explanation may be present.
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Keywords: Nature-based spirituality; Tasmania; content analysis; spiritual landscapes; wilderness; wilderness spirituality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Tasmania, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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