Jim West brings to our attention the story of what is allegedly the world's most absurd Phd.

No, despite what you are thinking, it wasn't awarded by Ambassador College.

An Anglican priest in British Columbia has earned a doctorate for his research into the spirituality of snowboarding.  A chap by the name of Rev. Neil Elliot of St. Andrews Anglican Church in Trail, B.C. "began his studies 10 years ago in England, pulling together a love of snowboarding, an interest in spirituality and a desire to understand the relationship between spirituality and religion. It was the word 'soulriding' that first captured his attention more than a dozen years ago, while he was living in England and snowboarding in the Alps in Europe. The term made him wonder if there was a spiritual dimension to carving a path down a mountain." 

I've gone skiing in the Alps - at Mont Blanc - but not snowboarding. My epiphany there, if any, probably came out of the thin air, ice cold, rarefied altitude.  Continuing:

Elliot began his studies at the University of Central England in Birmingham, but his research brought him to the B.C. Interior in 2003-04, where he fell in love with Red Mountain in the Kootenays. When an Anglican bishop in the area offered him a job in nearby Trail, he and his wife were thrilled. "We love, love being here. It's the most wonderful spot.” Following the move to Canada, he had to transfer his studies to Kingston University London, which is the institution that recently awarded him his doctorate.

Neil Elliot has published a helpful shorthand summary of his research.
The issue at the heart of this research can be expressed in the question "It's special, but is it spiritual?",   from the interview with WA.  What is it that makes snowboarding a spiritual experience for many of its participants?  If it is spiritual for some, why is it not spiritual for others?  This thesis has developed and explored a model of spirituality which helps to understand the answers to these questions.  This model identifies the significance of context as the third dimension of spirituality alongside experience and identity.  The model locates spirituality as a subjective frame of reality. In this chapter I will first summarize the argument I have made in this thesis, and consider whether the model is effective. I will comment on issues of constructionism and circularity within the thesis. I will then clarify how this thesis contributes to the sociology of religion.  Finally, I will suggest areas of further research on the model of spirituality I have presented here.
And from this model frame what conclusions does he draw? 

What he learned from his research is that context and location largely determine whether an experience is spiritual. For example, he said, many people describe their experiences with nature as spiritual, but few would use the same term in reference to a night of fun at a club downtown. "It may be the same kind of experience, but they don't frame it as spiritual because of the context." 
His research contains bad news and good news for organized religion. "One thing that was very clear in the research that I did is that people didn't see any necessity to include God or any kind of structure in their understanding of spirituality. In fact, a number of people said it's about spirituality; it's not about God. That's quite challenging, coming from an institutional church which very much sees God as key in spirituality." 
His work also brought him to the conclusion that people want community but they don't want institutions, rules and regulations. Although he insists churches are communities, they are often viewed as inflexible institutions and that's what drives people away.
Neil's latest sermon.  


Anonymous said...

I don't know. Seems the man came to some very valid observations about religion vs. spirituality.

Organized religion (an oxymoron if ever there was one) trys to set the free flow of knowing and learning in stone. That is what kills the spirit. It becomes the classic pray, pay, obey and stay format that we all know so well.

Religion is not real. What others pour into your head is not real. Spirituality comes from within and the best church on earth can be in the Mtns or sitting on a rock in the midst of a river alone or with someone you share your thoughts and mind with.

Maybe it's just me....


Douglas Becker said...

Of the 208 or so bones in the human body, two of them in the middle ear have never been known to have been broken in a snowboarding accident. If snowboarding is so spiritual, it certainly is an excellent way to meet your Maker.

This all begs the question of just how many more of these PhDs might be available to those in the pursuit of academic excellence? It wouldn't seem that much more could be added to the body of objective knowledge here as a... scientific? sociological? eschatological? study. Is it a one shot wonder?

Other ministers need take note: This is an expensive religious pursuit, only for the seriously dedicated spiritual snowboarder! For the poor missionary ministering to the needs of even poorer Equatorial African parishoners in remote villages, mostly untouched by civilization, as a work of humble humanity, this sort of endeavor may forever be out of the reach of those whose first love is taking care of the spiritual needs of the very needy.

One would suppose that the vistas will open for the humble servants of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven, where, darn it all, there will be plenty of snow in the mountain of God where everyone can go snowboarding, whether they have a PhD or not.

Anonymous said...

It may be an expensive pursuit, but if you were acquainted with the region where his ministry is located, you would see that his work makes sense. Moreover, this area welcomes and supports spiritual seekers looking outside organized religion for their spirituality. Elliot's theories may be an effective way for the church to reach out.

Vancouver, BC