Ecospirituality is the alternative to the instrumental exploitation of nature, according to research. It has nothing to do with religions, politics or environmentalism: it expresses amazement at nature, considered something sacred that must be respected, and assumes citizen commitments by voting for environmentally responsible parties.
Research from the University of British Columbia, in Canada, has discovered that moral concern for nature illuminates what it calls eco-spirituality.It defines ecospirituality as the appreciation and experimentation of the spiritual qualities that are present in nature.
Ecospirituality understood in this way emphasizes the connection with nature, either by virtue of our dependence on it, or as the connection that each person can experience when contemplating a sunset, a butterfly or the beauty of the sea.
At the same time, ecospirituality attributes anthropomorphic qualities to nature that facilitate the evaluation of nature as a social entity with which one can have a connection.
Present in society
This is not something merely abstract: there are already legal regulations at a global level that recognize or grant nature or certain ecosystems the status of legal entity, in order to protect and conserve them, considering the planet, already as a living being, or as a heritage that must be respected.
Both approaches, both the connection with nature and what we can think about it, do not necessarily lead to a kind of spirituality, the authors of the new research recognize, but their main contribution consists, precisely, in having discovered that ecospirituality can be measured and that it is much more present in society than one might generally think.
They assume that a kind of eco-spirituality is part of ancient human traditions, and cite as an example the conceptions of indigenous animists, such as the belief of the Kutenai Amerindian tribe of North America, that the Spirit of the Grizzly Bear resides in the Rocky Mountains.
Also citing as examples the groves considered sacred in some Hindu traditions, or the outdoor experience of holiness and spiritual renewal invoked by American transcendentalists who influenced the environmental movement.
This research has delved into the study of the connection with nature that many cultures have experienced over time as something essentially spiritual, a field of knowledge that until now had been little analyzed.
More specifically, it investigated the relationship between ecospirituality and moral concern for nature, considering that, if the environmental crisis of our time is in part a consequence of our conception of nature as an instrumental good, it is increasingly important to explore alternative conceptions that contribute to its conservation.
To investigate this relationship between the growing concern for nature and ecospirituality, the authors of this study, of which Matthew Billet is the first author, developed and validated a system to measure the ecospirituality index present in the population, either consciously or unconscious.
This measure of ecospirituality is not committed to any cultural or religious tradition and its purpose is to reflect the psychological core that is present in people when they think, reason and experience the spiritual (non-material) qualities of nature.
Questionnaire to 6,000 people
The measure of ecospirituality is based on a questionnaire administered to 6,000 people in Canada, the United States and Singapore, who were asked whether they agreed with eight statements such as, for example, “I feel an intense wonder toward nature” or “there is a spiritual connection between human beings and the natural environment”.
This questionnaire allowed us to establish that ecospirituality is closely related to spirituality, pro-environmental attitudes and the environmental identity of people, regardless of their origin or culture.
It also established that ecospirituality does not have much to do with religious beliefs or environmentalist behaviors and that it has nothing to do (it is practically not present) with consumerist people, their political ideologies or their preferences regarding certain environmental political options.
Furthermore, ecospirituality manifests itself clearly in people who are naturally kind and sociable, and emerges deeply related to identification as a woman.This means that ecospirituality is a way of being that is widely present in today’s society, regardless of people’s attitudes or environmental identities, that is, it is not something exclusive or essential to environmentalism, for example.
Also that ecospirituality is rather something implicit in ethics that leads people to assume that nature is something sacred that must be respected, as well as to establish an ethical code of conduct in their relationship with nature.
This behavior is already reflected in decisions that involve compensation between nature and the economy (such as carbon credits), as well as in the citizen commitment to vote for political parties that assume the protection and preservation of nature in their programs.