Outdoor Education R&E Center

Spirituality & Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
05 Nov 2006

What's new?

Wilderness Spirituality

Nature philosophers and spiritualists have long claimed, as have indigenous cultures that spirituality and nature connectedness are, ultimately, the one and the same. --> Go to Wilderness, Environment, Nature, & Ecopsychology.

Group Spirituality

Groups of people, together, have different experiences than a person would alone.  There are times when the unity of people being together manifests in a new level of spiritual connectedness to self, others, and beyond (e.g. in a place of worship).  In outdoor education programs, a group lives very closely together and through their growing sense of interconnectedness a heightened state of personal well-being and spiritual connectedness can emerge. --> Go to Group Processes.

Denominational Spirituality

Two broad types to consider:

  1. There are a large number of Christian & Jewish outdoor education and camping programs in the USA and around the world.  In the early days of Outward Bound there was flag saluting and morning prayers.  Many of the school-based outdoor education and retreat programs are run by private, Christian-based schools, and so on.  There is a strong history of connectedness between outdoor education and the Judeo-Christian faiths.
  2. What non-Christian, denominational outdoor education programs are out there?

Indigenous Spirituality

Indigenous spirituality could be considered a non-Christian denominational spirituality, but it should be considered in its own right.  The rapid loss of indigenous peoples and cultures is a major issue in the modern world, particularly because those cultures had accumulated extensive wisdom about sustainable living.  Critical to their knowledge was their indigenous spirituality, which was intimately connected with nature.  It may be that in outdoor education some new reconstruction of early forms of indigenous knowledge and spirituality could be developed.  The idea is not necessarily to reinstitute old ways (neigh impossible) but rather to build new indigenous sub-cultures that could mine the wilderness for wisdom rather than for its material value.  In many ways outdoor education already is an artificial replacement (shot-in-the-arm) for the loss of indigenous culture.  --> Go to Indigenous Knowledge & Outdoor Education.

Amazing Event (planned) Spirituality

Spirituality has elements of predictability.  In particular, sweat lodges, drumming, singing, night hikes, sun-rises, ceremonies, extreme tasks/tests, storytelling, and so on, are all known events that can be planned with the intention of getting people connected with the numinous.

Extreme Task Spirituality

The origins of outdoor education can be traced back through history and connected with early experiences in which deep spiritual insight was accessed via the doorway of extreme tasks.  Extreme tasks can serve to break down human identity (which is a protective, survival feature) and reveal deeper inner and outer realms.  This is the basis, for example, of rites of passage, a concept that several have linked to outdoor education.

Spontaneous (unplanned) Spiritual Experiences

Often the most memorable or impactful part of outdoor education program is unplanned.  A spontaneous moment in nature, possibly watching an animal, experiencing a weather change can provoke an unplanned spiritual experience.  Also, one unique individual in a group, be they a group member or a leader, can catalyze unplanned spiritual experiences.