Geography and Religion

Mark Altaweel


Geographers study religions and their development based on the role that geography intersects with other important social components within a human geographic approach.

Religions have been seen as developing due to environmental, landscape, and community relations and networks.[1]

People in Europe and East Asia say religion is not very important to them

Religious development, which includes the process of secularization, is seen to be oriented and individualized through spirituality developing within cultures embedded in specific geographies.[2]

While religious communities develop within geographies and landscapes, diaspora communities from different religions have been shown to commonly form as minorities who live near or next to each other in most countries the diaspora migrates to.

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Religious bonds are used to establish work and social networks for communities to adapt to new countries, where members from the same religion often use this connection to better adapt to their new societies.[3]

Religion is also studied within cultural geography, which studies how cultural processes spread. Two common models are used for understanding cultural spread, which include cultural diffusion and cultural region models where concepts of core and periphery of cultural ideas reflects areas where less or more presence of a given culture is present.

Buddhists and ‘nones’ are the least likely to live in two-parent families

For instance, convergence may form in a given region as minority cultures adapt to a dominant culture. Such perspectives applied to general cultural concepts have been extended to explain how religious change occurs, where religions spread or ideas converge in place.[4]

As religious identity often intermixes with other social forms of identity, human geographers also look at how identities might be expressed within religious communities. This includes sexual, social, economic, or national identities that at times create tensions within religious communities and movements.[5]


[1] For more on how geography affects religion, see:   Kong, L. (1990) Geography and religion: trends and prospects. Progress in Human Geography. [Online] 14 (3), 355–371. Available from: doi:10.1177/030913259001400302.

[2] For more on religious development and geography, see:  Tse, J.K.H. (2014) Grounded theologies: ‘Religion’ and the ‘secular’ in human geography. Progress in Human Geography. [Online] 38 (2), 201–220. Available from: doi:10.1177/0309132512475105.

[3] For more on how communities sharing a common faith form in diaspora locations, see:   Cara Aitchison, Peter Hopkins, & Mei-po Kwan (eds.) (2007) OCLC: ocm78893171. Geographies of Muslim identities: diaspora, gender and belonging. Re-materialising cultural geography. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT, Ashgate.

[4] For more on theoretical models used for cultural geography and religion, see:   Hall, C. & Johnston-Anumonwo, I. (2016) Perspectives on Cultural Geography in AP ® Human Geography. Journal of Geography. [Online] 115 (3), 106–111. Available from: doi:10.1080/00221341.2015.1101148.

[5] For more on the intermix of identities and religion, see:  Skelton, T. (2016) Identities and subjectivities. New York, NY, Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.