New research: Spiritual connection with nature transcends politics, religion

Have you ever felt awestruck by a towering evergreen, waves crashing against rocks, or the vastness of a desert canyon?

You’re not alone. Across time and cultures, humans have felt a spiritual connection with nature.

New UBC research gives this connection a name—ecospirituality—and reveals it could help reduce polarization on environmental issues that threaten the planet.

Matthew Billet, the study’s first author and a UBC social psychology PhD student, joined UBC Media Relations for a Q&A about the concept of ‘ecospirituality’ and how it can reduce division.

Measuring ecospirituality

The researchers from UBC and Oxford Brookes University developed the world’s first questionnaire to measure ecospirituality.

They asked participants to indicate their level of agreement with eight statements, such as “I feel intense wonder toward nature,” or “There is a spiritual connection between human beings and the natural environment.”

A survey of more than 6,000 people in Canada, the U.S. and Singapore showed that ecospirituality doesn’t depend on political or religious orientation. Even atheists, who usually score low on spirituality measures, scored above the midpoint for ecospirituality.

Conservatives were approximately as ecospiritual as liberals. The researchers say this deserves further investigation, because ecospiritual people were also found to have more concern for the environment. Ecospirituality could be a pathway to better care for the environment regardless of one’s politics.

How can ecospirituality reduce division?


“If you have family or friends with different political views about environmental issues, try finding common ground by talking about the ways in which nature is sacred, awe-inspiring, and a place for spiritual refuge,” suggested the study’s first author Matthew Billet, who is pursuing a doctorate in social psychology at UBC.

Whether it be at the personal or policy level, this research shows the potential for shared ecospiritual beliefs and experiences to smooth difficult conversations between people of different religious and political orientations.

Dr. Adam Baimel (psychology alumnus), Sakshi Sahakari, Dr. Mark Schaller, and Dr. Ara Norenzayan are also co-authors of the study Ecospirituality: The psychology of moral concern for nature.