Exploring evolving spiritual values of forests in Europe and Asia: a transition hypothesis toward re-spiritualizing forests

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The development of societies, including spiritual development, is closely connected to forests. The larger interrelations among changing societies, transforming forest landscapes, and evolving spiritual values related to forests have yet to be extensively considered. Addressing this research gap is important to avoid the neglect of spiritual values in forest policy and management. Our exploratory study investigates spiritual values of forests from European and Asian perspectives, assessing 13 countries. Based on expert knowledge from 18 interdisciplinary experts, we first define forest spiritual values (forest spirituality). We then elaborate on the idea that forest spirituality evolves as societies and landscapes change, and propose a transition hypothesis for forest spirituality. We identify indicators and drivers and portray four stages of such a transition using country-specific examples. We find that during a first stage (“nature is powerful”), forest spirituality is omnipresent through the abundance of sacred natural sites and practices of people who often directly depend on forests for their livelihoods. An alternative form of spirituality is observed in the second stage (“taming of nature”). Connected to increasing transformation of forest landscapes and intensifying land-use practices, “modern” religions guide human–nature interrelations. In a third stage (“rational management of nature”), forest spirituality is overshadowed by planned rational forest management transforming forests into commodities for the economy, often focusing on provisioning ecosystem services. During a fourth stage (“reconnecting with nature”), a revival of forest spirituality (re-spiritualization) can be observed due to factors such as urbanization and individualizing spirituality. Our core contribution is in showing the connections among changing forest perceptions, changing land-use governance and practices, and changing forest spirituality. Increasing the understanding of this relationship holds promise for supporting forest policy-making and management in addressing trade-offs between spiritual values and other aspects of forests.

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Roux, J.-L., A. A. Konczal, A. Bernasconi, S. A. Bhagwat, R. De Vreese, I. Doimo, V. Marini Govigli, J. Kašpar, R. Kohsaka, D. Pettenella, T. Plieninger, Z. Shakeri, S. Shibata, K. Stara, T. Takahashi, M. Torralba, L. Tyrväinen, G. Weiss, and G. Winkel. 2022. Exploring evolving spiritual values of forests in Europe and Asia: a transition hypothesis toward re-spiritualizing forests. Ecology and Society 27(4):20. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-13509-270420