Can a beautiful landscape compete with religious worship?
A Baylor University study, published in the journal Sociology of Religion, found that U.S. counties with nicer weather and prettier natural surroundings see lower rates of religious affiliation. The study authors suggest that, yes, people tend to use nature as a spiritual resource, making it a competitor with organized religious institutions.
Sociology doctoral candidate Todd Ferguson, who co-authored the study, noticed the correlation between natural scenery and lower religious adherence while looking at a map of regional variations in natural amenities. He saw that it was “almost a mirror image” of another map, one that showed varying levels of religiosity in the U.S.
“People continually bring up this idea of nature-based spiritual fulfillment — whether it’s people who are hiking, surfing, backpacking — in other people’s work,” said Ferguson. “We were trying to see, if this is happening at the individual level, maybe it’s actually affecting large regions like counties.”
Using a U.S. Department of Agriculture scale for natural amenities and data from the Religious Congregations and Membership Study and the U.S. Census Bureau, Ferguson and his colleague Jeffrey Tamburello ultimately confirmed their hypothesis, examining religious adherence rates across 3,107 counties using the county-level rates per 1,000 people. The study included members of religious institutions as well as an estimated number of participants who are not officially members.
Counties in regions such as the Pacific Northwest with more natural amenities — mountains, bodies of water, forests, warm weather — had lower percentages of people belonging to traditional…
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