UBC Graduate Research

Exploring the Essence of a Meaningful or Spiritual Connection to Nature : A Qualitative Study Using a Phenomenological Approach and Photo-Elicitation Techniques McClarty, Bridget A. E.


The intent of this study was to identify what it means to have a meaningful or spiritual connection to nature and the role of awe in such a connection. The study participants were recent graduates of Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management program. The study used a phenomenological approach and photo-elicitation methods. Participants provided photographs representing their connection to nature and semi-structured interviews were centred on the participants’ photographs. In compliance with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, an online platform (Zoom) was used to conduct, record, and transcribe interviews. Qualitative data were generated through interview transcripts, photographs, interviewer journaling, and follow-up emails. Thematic analysis of the data moved the research from the individual to the collective, revealing six prominent themes: connection to self, connection to others, well-being, presence, awe, and spiritual connection. The results indicated that connection with nature facilitates awe for the natural world, including feelings of gratitude, humility, and appreciation. The experience of awe may also help establish a connection to the natural world, and the universe at large. The research suggests that connection and awe can help eliminate a colonial approach to nature; instead, one may begin to identify as a small component of an inherently complex and interconnected Land. This research study supports that participants who have a pre-existing connection to nature likely experience awe, and although the emotion of awe can be experienced through various means, solo travel through nature facilitates a deep sense of presence. Spending time immersed in nature can facilitate feelings of connection to a universal energy. Ultimately, awe, spirituality, and connection to nature are interconnected in a dynamic relationship. This study’s results have stimulated many questions for future research avenues, and have practical implications and recommendations for educational programming and applied strategies for persevering through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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