Monday, 7 March 2011


I love skiing though I haven’t been able to hit the slopes for a few years, but now I’ve discovered that I can snowboard and count it as work! The Vancouver Sun reports that an Anglican priest living in British Colombia has just completed his PhD on the spirituality of snowboarding.
snowboarderRev. Neil Elliot of St. Andrews Anglican Church in Trail 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.
"It's not a well-used term [and] it's kind of vague. I was interested in this term possibly as some kind of indicator of what was happening about spirituality. Was soulriding some kind of spirituality? Was it organized in some way? I had a whole bunch of questions about it," he said on Friday in an interview.
"It seemed to provide a very good excuse for me to do some field research -- and you have to remember, at that time I was in Birmingham, England, without a mountain in sight and feeling fairly itchy to get out for more than just a week or two to the mountains."
He 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."
On a more serious note Neil discovered during his research that though snowboarders where happy to talk about spirituality they didn’t see where God fitted into the picture.
"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."
One of Neil’s conclusions is that what people are seeking is community not institution, which raises the challenging question as to why church isn’t seen as community?
"We need to help people see that we're a community and not an institution," Elliot said. "Ironically, the challenges that we're facing in terms of finances and congregations are actually helping us to do that, because we haven't got the money to prop up the institutional stuff [any more]."
Interesting and thought provoking material which resonates with other research doing the rounds, particularly in the area of Fresh Expressions. A more detailed account of the background to Neil’s research can be found in this working paper and a summary of his conclusions here.

Thanks to fellow pilgrim Jenn Strawbridge for drawing my attention to the story. Time I think to firm up a research proposal on the spirituality of football with particular reference to Manchester United and the Theatre of Dreams. Suggestions for potential funding streams gratefully received.


Revsimmy said...

I think there's MUCH more research to be done on Neil Elliott's work!

Robert said...

I found the same thing when I was into climbing. There's plenty of spirituality thee if you look, particularly in mountaineering literature, but very little talk of God.