About the discipline
Geography and geology are interesting when looked at through the lens of religion because of the ways these two fields have been used over time both to disprove religion and to make religion manifest. They highlight the role of physical and environmental circumstances in developing religious beliefs and views of the order of the world.
Geology and theology: Today, geologists are accustomed to the idea of changes in the Earth over time, but the idea of the Earth with a long history of development and activity is relatively new. For centuries, those who observed geological formations often assumed such changes – in movement, shape or form – were part of a natural order ruled by a supreme being. Many believed the Earth was relatively young in age and considered the creation account in Genesis (in which God created the world in six days) to be a factual historic record. In the 1600s, scientists and Christian thinkers began actively trying to understand Earth’s narrative and to develop theories about it and how it meshed with biblical records of creation. Many tried to find ways that the two accounts would align by showing that God set natural forces in motion, that God intervened in otherwise “inexplicable” events, or that geological events supported the Genesis account. In the process they developed new theological and scientific ideas.
Multiple theories: Geologists argued over whether there were permanent and reliable laws of nature, whether God intervened with inexplicable events, whether science supported an active God, whether God was inactive but set principles in motion, whether there was divine purpose, and whether there could be both God and inexplicable events. Some set days of creation of the Earth at the Bible’s six days, other posed the idea the Earth could be at least 75,000 years old. Along the way, they developed geological theories of the earth’s history of formation and epochs; mechanically caused events accounting for present geological manifestations; and fieldwork and fossil analysis. Some came to new understanding of a physical world that continued to change based on geological principles. The new theories rocked a culture based on the inerrant record of a faith based on God’s active role in history. The creationist perspective on geological phenomenon ascribes development of geological features such as fossils, fossil fuels, sedimentary layers and undersea canyons to the great flood described in the Bible and its aftermath. Mounting evidence for different ages of sedimentary rocks and fossils eventually convinced most geologists that a single large-scale flood would not explain the evidence. The evolution of these theories showed how humans sought to understand their place in relation to the physical and spiritual worlds.
Common themes: Flood stories from around the world are also symbolic of the ways humans over time have blended their religious beliefs and experience of the physical world. Probably the most familiar is the biblical story in Genesis of God’s decision to bring a flood to wipe out mankind’s corruption and violence. God told Noah, deemed the only man on Earth worthy of saving, to build an ark and load his wife, sons, their wives, animals, food and seedlings so mankind and earth could begin again. According to the account, next came 40 days of rain from “the floodgates of the heavens,” and waters from the “springs of the great deep.” Floodwaters covered the earth for 40 to 150 days. The ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat, eventually the land dried, and Noah and his family set forth to start anew. Very similar flood myths are found in Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian, Greek, Germanic, Irish, Inca, Maya, American Indian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Polynesian cultures. Many involve landing a vessel on a mountain. Greek versions have the survivors landing on Parnassus, Mouth Othrys, the peak of Phouka (Nemea) or Mount Gerania. The Indian version, told in early Hindu texts, tells of Manu, who was warned by a fish (believed to be the first incarnation of the god Vishnu) that a deluge would occur and destroy all life. Manu built a boat that, pulled by the fish, landed on a mountaintop, allowing him to re-establish life on earth.
Stories such as the flood myths show religious faith based on belief that a God or gods control physical activity on earth. Symbolism is also attached to the geographical object of a mountain.
Symbolism and meaning: In China, Buddhists and Confucians regard mountains as holy places, and they are a favored place for temples, shrines and monasteries. In Shinto, a prehistoric Japanese religious tradition still practiced today, the holiest structures are traditionally near natural features such as waterfalls, forests, mountains or caves. According to tradition, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received his first revelation in a cave in the mountain of Hira. In another tradition, he was asked to give proof of his teaching and ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not come, Muhammad praised God’s mercy, for had he obeyed, the mountain would have fallen on Muhammad and his followers. Muhammad then announced he would go to the mountain to thank God for his mercy. In Christian scripture, mountains represent coming close to God. After becoming lost in the desert, the Israelites camped around Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the commandments. The Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus coming out of the desert to go up a mountain and deliver the Sermon on the Mount. One of the holiest sites of the Greek Orthodox Church is Mount Athos, which is covered in monasteries. The idea of sacred space is important to many religions, including pilgrimages to holy sites and imbuing physical locations or features with spiritual meaning. These are a few examples of how shared landscapes and stores create symbolic language that connects people both to history and the world around them. Religious beliefs are used to both explain physical phenomenon and to derive meaning from physical phenomenon.
Geography and religion: Geography studies the Earth’s features and the distribution of life on the earth, including human life and the effects of human activity. Studying religion as a human activity adds a deeper understanding of the relationship among people and with the Earth. Researchers can look at how religion develops, its importance in shaping beliefs, behavior, culture and politics, and how and where it spreads – shaping the world in which we live. Many religious movements are influenced by the geography in which they developed, and they in turn influence geography by their movement. Religion can spread through forced or chosen migration, colonization, evangelism, missionaries, conversion, trade, and persecution. Whether a faith is evangelistic or not affects how far it spreads. Religious differences can also effect changes in political balance of power, national boundaries and national identity.
Geography and population: Mapping religious populations can give a visual idea of concentrations of faiths around the world and in the United States. Statistics about where faiths are concentrated and percentages living in a certain area can help researchers, social services, schools and the government, and religious organizations. A snapshot of world religious affiliations shows that about a third of people on the planet categorize themselves as Christian, concentrated in the Americas; Pacific-island region of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, the Malay Archipelago; and Europe, with smaller concentrations in Africa and Asia. A majority of Muslims are found in Asia, with most of the rest in Africa. Buddhism and Hinduism are mainly concentrated in Asia, while Judaism is dispersed around the world. By continent, the Americas are vastly Christian; Africa is about evenly split between Christian and Muslim as dominant religions; and Asia is home to large groups of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. In the United States, 40 percent of Jews and 30 percent of Muslims are concentrated in the mid-Atlantic states. The highest percentage of Jewish, Muslim, Eastern religions and new religious movements is found in New York. Forty percent of adults in New England self-identify as Catholic. Nearly two-thirds of Baptists are found in the south. The Midwest has above-average numbers of mainline Christians, compared to the rest of the country. These figures are important when weighing the needs and desires of specific populations.
Challenges today: Collecting reliable statistics about religion can be difficult. Some agencies are not allowed to ask for religious information and sources of information can be inconsistent due to varying survey questions, participation and data collection (see “Statistics” section). However, as religious conflict, human rights issues, poverty, religious pluralism, and international travel and commerce become increasingly global issues, the importance of understanding religious demographics becomes ever more critical. Researchers may look at where religions are strongest and why, how religious groups and new religions spread geographically, and what factors influence the movement. They can also study how religion defines a region, culturally and politically, and what effect religion has on the physical landscape.
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- “Faith and suburbia: Secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbs” by C. Dwyer, D. Gilbert, B. Shaw. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2012.
- “Geography of Religion: Where God Lives, Where Pilgrims Walk.” Christian Century, 2006.
- “Jewish communities and city growth in preindustrial Europe” by Noel D. Johnson and Mark Koyama. Journal of Development Economics. 127 (2017): 339-354.
- “Making Mountains Out of Molehills in the Bronze Age Aegean: Visibility, Ritual Kits, and the Idea of a Peak Sanctuary” by Camilla Briault, World Archaeology. 39, no. 1 (2007): 122-41.
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- “Theography” by Callum Sutherland. Progress in Human Geography. 41 no. 3 (2017): 321-337.
- “The place of spirit” by Nadia Bartolini, Robert Chris, Sara MacKian and Steve Pile. Progress in Human Geography. 41 no. 3 (2017): 338-354.
- “Toward a Geography of ‘Religion’: Mapping the Distribution of an Unstable Signifier.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 96, Number 1, pp. 169-175(7). Routledge, 2006.
- “Transitions to religious adulthood: relational geographies of youth, religion and international volunteering” by P. Hopkins, N. Laurie, E. Olson and M. Baillie Smith. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 40 no. 3 (2015): 387-398.
- “Where is Mt. Sinai?” by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg. The Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2008.
- Mapping Worlds: International Perspectives on Social and Cultural Geographies. Edited by Rob Kitchin. Routledge; 1 edition, 2007.
- Moral Geography: Maps, Missionaries, and the American Frontier. Amy DeRogatis. Columbia University Press, 2003.
- Where the Buddha Walked. A Companion to the Buddhist Places of India. Rana P.B. Singh, 2003. Indica Books, Varanasi. 2nd ed. 2009.
- Geography of Religion: Where God Lives, Where Pilgrims Walk. John Esposito, Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. National Geographic, 2004.
- Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation & the Flood by Andrew A. Snelling. Institute for Creation Research, 2009.
- Mapping the Sacred. Jamie S. Scott and Paul Simpson-Housley. Rodopi, 2001.
- The Bible, Genesis & Geology: Rightly-Dividing Geology and the Book of Genesisby Gaines R. Johnson, Marti Rieske and Fred DeRuvo. CreateSpace, 2010.
- The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences. Edward Hitchcock. Boston: Philips, Sampson, and Co., 1852.
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- The religion of geology and its connected sciences. Michigan Historical Reprint Series Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2006.
- Geology and Revelation: or, the Ancient History of the Earth, Considered in the Light of Geological Facts and Revealed Religion. Gerald Molloy. London: Burns, Oates, and Co., 1873.
- Religion and Place: Landscape, Politics and Piety. Eds. Peter Hopkins, Lily Kong and Elizabeth Olson. Springer, 2012.
- “A Case Study in the Geography of Religion and Political Voting in Postwar Detroit” by Judith Stepan-Norris and Caleb Southworth. Social Science History, 31(3):343-380, Duke University Press, 2007.
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Codes of ethics
- Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists – Mission/Values
- Geographical Association – Mission
- International Cartographic Association – Mission
- Geological Society of America – Goals & Objectives
- U.S. Geological Survey – Ethics Rules for Scientists Emeriti
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Corps Values
- Social Science History
- Progress in Human Geography
- National Geographical Journal of India
- World Archaeology
- Maps of War
- Maps of War (History of Religion)
- Religion Geography Statistics (Adherents.com)
- “Ancient Views of Religion Affected by Geography: The Gods and the Afterlife Reflected Natural Environments” by Michael Streich, Jan 26, 2009
- American Ethnic Geography, A Cultural Geography of the United States and Canada. Map Gallery of Religion in the United States
- James Hutton: Theology & Geology
- History and Future of the Relationship Between the Geosciences and Religion: Litigation, Education, Reconciliation?