Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion

By Chris C. Park | Go to book overview

3

DISTRIBUTIONS

Spatial patterns of religion

Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference, which is, at least, half infidelity.

Edmund Burke, Letter to William Smith, 29 January 1795


INTRODUCTION

Spatial patterns have traditionally captured the geographical imagination, and the study of the distribution of religion at different scales is doubtless what most other disciplines expect geographers to be engaged in. It is the most logical link between geography and religion, lends itself most readily to geographical analysis and interpretation, and is an area largely neglected by other disciplines. Moreover, it is a long-established focus within geography. Recall (from Chapter 1, pp. 8-14) the great interest during the ‘golden era’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the distributions of different religions. It has continued to inspire geographical research and writing during the twentieth century. Many of the early publications on geography and religion, especially between about 1900 and I960 and particularly from the European schools, were largely descriptive and most of them laid great emphasis on describing distributions of religions. Classics include Fleure’s (1951) paper on The geographical distribution of the major religions’, Le Bras’s (1945) paper on religious geography, and Deffontaine’s (1948) Geographie et religions.

The field has evolved greatly since this descriptive phase, and it now encompasses detailed empirical studies of how religions spread and take root in new areas, how religions survive in different places, and how religion can exert powerful influences on the character of culture regions. We shall examine these topics further in the next two chapters. It is important, however, first to review what sort of work has been done on spatial patterns of religion, because—as well as being interesting in their own right—present-day distributions can give valuable clues about historical evolution and contemporary change. Analysis of patterns might also suggest factors that help to explain those patterns. It is also

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