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The Wilderness Experience and Spiritual Transcendence

by Ben Zequeira-Russell
Fuller Theological Seminary


Spiritual growth has long been considered a benefit of traveling in the wilderness, yet this assumption has never been empirically measured. The spiritual domains of spiritual experience, meaning, and social support are utilized to examine the influence of a wilderness experience on spirituality. A group of 8 to 10 college age adults will participate in a backcountry backpacking trip in Grand Canyon National Park. A case study design will be used to measure spirituality during a wilderness experience. Post-trip interviews will obtain qualitative information about participants' experience of spirituality in the wilderness. Spirituality measures will be administered before the trip, at the end of the trip, and two weeks following the trip. Spirituality will be measured by the Spiritual Transcendence Index and the Spiritual Assessment Inventory. Analysis of interviews, changes in spirituality scores, and responses to a questionnaire developed for this study will be examined for each participant along with group trends. Exploration of themes emerging from interviews are hypothesized to produce themes relating to the direct experience of nature and interpersonal experience. It is hypothesized that the individuals who report in the interview that "bon-a-fide wilderness" is important to their spirituality on the backpacking trip will have higher scores on the Spiritual Transcendence Index and the Awareness sub-scale of the Spiritual Assessment Inventory. A correlation between importance of interpersonal aspects of the backpacking trip as measured by the interview and higher scores on Quality of Relationship sub-scales of the Spiritual Assessment Inventory is also hypothesized. Finally, it is hypothesized that participants who report that spirituality was an important aspect of the trip will tend to have higher spirituality scores at the end of the trip as compared to before and two weeks following the trip.

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