‘Nature development also has a societal relevance’

15 June 2017

Religious elements play a role in the communication about nature. Words and images that appeal to meaningful experiences such as ‘rediscovering yourself’ in nature, or ‘hearing the silence’ or ‘experiencing the emptiness’ are examples of this. Nature development is not just important for ecological reasons but also has societal relevance concludes researcher Peter Jansen. He defended his doctoral thesis on 14 June at Wageningen University.

The largest (Mimosa) tree of Thailand in the province Kanchanaburi.The largest (Mimosa) tree of Thailand in the province Kanchanaburi. Image: Shutterstock.

‘Speaking about nature says more about our relationship with nature than it does about nature itself. Communication about nature is not neutral. That does not have to be the case either, but my doctoral thesis calls for more openness about this,’ says Jansen.

Jansen reveals that in the communication about nature, words and images portray nature as ‘the better world’ compared to everyday life. Although the communication about nature mainly originates from nature conservancy organisations, in a certain sense these organisations are responsible for implementing government policy as well. Jansen poses the question as to whether the government is aware of this and whether this is desirable from the viewpoint of assumed impartiality…

Religious connotation

Jansen: ‘In the communication about nature, the experiences that people have in nature lead to elements with a religious connotation. The research reveals that this is often not a reference to a personal God but a religious experience in the broadest sense of the word. An experience that brings people beyond their rational comprehension and results in them feeling touched. They feel connected to something bigger than themselves and experience something ‘holy’.´

In the study about the island Tiengemeten, the researcher compared the experiences of visitors with the communication from policy and communication professionals. This revealed the tension between what the professionals communicate and what the visitors experience. The professionals state that the public communication must elicit the feeling of ‘I want to be there and that is what I want to experience!’ However, the words and images used do not always agree with the experiences of visitors once they are at the place described. It is therefore important that the communication does not create unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, it shows that visitors, albeit often subconsciously, are looking for the experience that is conveyed in the communication, says Jansen.

More information

Peter Jansen (1977) completed his doctoral thesis ‘Framing nature. Searching for (implicit) religious elements in the communication about nature’ at Wageningen University. The research was carried out on behalf of the lectorate Journalism and Communication of Christelijke Hogeschool Ede in collaboration with the Stichting Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte and Wageningen University, with NWO funding from the Doctoral Grants for Teachers programme. The supervisor is professor H. Jochemsen (Wageningen University). The associate supervisors are professor J. Keulartz (Radboud University) and Dr J. van der Stoep (Christelijke Hogeschool Ede).

Peter Jansen is a lecturer for the courses Journalism and Communication at Christelijke Hogeschool Ede. He is also a councillor for the ChristenUnie in the municipality of Ede.

Source: Christelijke Hogeschool Ede