Project Brief

In 2017 Cathrien started working on PhD research into spiritual values and Sustainable Forest Management at the Environmental Sciences Department / Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group of Wageningen University and Research. Her proposal was approved by the Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS) in September 2018. The first article will be published mid 2021 and the second and third articles are now in progress.

Problem Statement and Objective

The main objective of this project is to understand the nature, role and effects of spiritual values in the practice of forest management in order to contribute to better integration of human-nature relationships in sustainable forest management. In the Netherlands forest managers are facing  growing interest from the public in spiritual values of nature, often expressed in different wording. Indigenous forest managers worldwide are increasingly demanding explicit attention  for spiritual values to make forest and nature management truly sustainable. What does that mean in practice and when is that goal achieved? This question will be studied in the Netherlands and elsewhere (sites to be decided). Masters students are invited to contribute to this research for their thesis - click here for more info....

Research Questions
  1. How can spiritual values be conceptualised to study their articulation in forest management? 
  2. How are spiritual values articulated in forest management plans?
  3. How are spiritual values incorporated in forest management practices?

There are many definitions of ' spirituality'. This project adopts a "family resemblances approach" and views spiritual values non-judgementally as having all dimensions and characteristics commonly associated with spirituality without preferencing one trait in particular. Global forest policies, prompted by Indigenous Peoples organisations, stipulate attention for spiritual values as a criterion for sustainable forest management. Indigenous Forest Management is expanding in various parts of the world. In the Netherlands, public involvement in forest governance is increasing. In addition, public interest in spirituality has been increasing. These trends converge towards a growing demand for spiritual experiences in nature, which forest owners and managers try to meet. The conceptual framework centers around the forest management practice based on the Practice-Based Approach (PBA). The practice is constituted by interaction between actors, plans, interventions, and the forest. Spirituality is at the core of the emotional flow which helps to move these interactions. On the basis of this framework, forest management plans will be analysed, an inventory of practices will be made, and cases will be studied including on-site interviews with forest managers and stakeholders. 


The PhD dissertation will include 4 peer reviewed scientific papers, an introduction and overall discussion. The language will be in English.

Specification of the peer-reviewed papers (all titles are working titles):

Paper 1 has been written in order to answer RQ 1: De Pater, Catharina, Birgit Elands and Bas Verschuuren (iexpected by mid-2021). Spirituality in Forest Managament. A conceptual framework for empirical research'. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.  

This paper  will be published by mid-2021.

Paper 2 will be written in order to answer RQ 2: How are spiritual values incorporated (articulated and implemented) in forest management plans? 

Papers 3 and 4 will be written to answer RQ 3: How are spiritual values incorporated in forest management practices? 


The study will be carried out part-time, from 2017 - 2023.