My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.
Tom Paine, The Rights of Man (1792)
The landscape is a manuscript on which is written the cultural history of the area, although some traces of the past are more enduring than others. This manuscript can be read, and its messages uncoded. Whilst there are many types of landscape on which religion has left a dominant and indelible imprint, which we might think of as specifically religious landscapes, the religious influence does not stop there. Evidence of the impact of religious beliefs and adherence can be found in a wide variety of landscapes, although it is often preserved in quite minor details.
In this chapter we examine how religion has affected landscape in the past, and continues to do so today. Examples drawn from a range of religions, cultures and continents show how the religious imprint can be discovered at different scales and in different parts of the landscape. Key themes include the impact of religion on architecture (especially on building styles), on settlement forms and functions, on farming practices, and on the overall physical appearance of the landscape.
This theme has traditionally attracted much geographical attention, partly because of the discipline’s enduring interest in landscape as a product of natural and cultural processes. Some would agree with Erich Isaac that the theme of religion and landscape is not simply a component of the geography of religion, it is the very core of the subject. Indeed, Isaac defines the geography of religion as
the study of the part played by the religious motive in man’s transformation of the landscape. It presumes the existence of a religious impulse in man which leads him to act upon his environment in a manner which responds secondarily, if at all, to any other need.