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Spiritual and Religious Values

Many ecosystems, processes and/or components are of special significance to groups of people.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services


What are spiritual and religious values and how are they derived?

White Rock at Redbank Plains has special significance to both Traditional Owners and other local residents.

Mounds of discarded shells ('middens') mark past Aboriginal eating and ceremonial sites.

Natural resource planning, management and action can be guided by holistic traditional (Aboriginal) knowledge and values: the spiritual and respectful attitudes to 'country' of the Traditional Owners are a key to the recovery of significant values. Traditional society was founded on respect for the environment. Traditional people recognised their dependence on the ecosystem. Their dependence on, respect for and awe of their environment governed their lifestyles when the environment changed. Totemic species and relationships traditionally provided an important opportunity for the motivation and management of biodiversity conservation.

Ecosystems are a source of spiritual inspiration and religious experience to many people. Should we come to face rapid environmental change and consequent social dislocation, spiritual and religious values adapted to that situation could be profound motivators of adaptive social change and innovation. Where the current challenges to ecosystem serivces are understood the experience may be a dynamic factor in the motivation of more positive community attitudes to natural and cultural resource management and to preventing climate change.

An indivduals spiritual and religious values towards species or ecosystems is significantly personal and dependant on many factors (e.g. culture, religion, landscape features and sense of place). There is evidence that immersion in wilderness, especially with some times of solitude, is capable of inducing epiphanous spiritual experience. This experience is described by Fredrickson and Anderson as: "… an intense and pressing recognition of one's insignificance in the larger cosmos and a heightened recognition of the inter-relatedness of all life-forms, ultimately leading to feelings of peace and humility". The origin of spiritual experience of this kind is linked to engagement of the individual in reflection. 

Reports from the SEQ Traditional Owners Alliance describe how traditional people related directly to the 'country', in its holistic complexity. Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to providing spiritual and religous values (relative to other ecosystem functions). Whilst many ecosystem functions such as water regulation, supporting habitats, food, raw materials, water supply and genetic resources (or other landscape features) may be a remarked element of a particular setting, no one element is responsible for the experience. These ecosystem functions are important to maintaining ecosystems that provide important places for people to experience spiritual and religious connections. Climate regulation plays a significant role in maintaining and self regulating ecosystems whilst also contributing directly to a persons experience. Many products from ecosystems are also important for expressing spiritual and religious values and may have totemic significance.

There is also ample evidence that ancient cultural places are frequently the setting of epiphanous spiritual experience. There are numerous such places in SEQ - traces of the ancient Aboriginal culture that existed here and pre-dated evidence of modern humans in Britain, Europe, northern Asia, North and South America and Oceania. Maintaining the extent and variety of natural features and landscapes (opportunity) is important to conserving this ecosystem service.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Spiritual and Religious Values.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity


ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE spiritual and religious values?

Dugongs and turtles are culturally, spiritually and economically significant to Indigenous people in Queensland.

No human inputs are required to facilitate the service spiritual and religious values, it is directly derived from ecosystems as a whole or from specific aspects of ecosystems (e.g. species). The ability to promote spiritual and religious experiences however in SEQ is closely related to the ability to promote engagement in outdoor activities, especially in wilderness and other natural settings and in places of traditional cultural heritage significance.

The distinction between spiritual and religious experience and more objective knowledge systems is important. Both represent ways of knowing but neither is alone enough to motivate and inform human behaviour. Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. Another view is that spirituality can leap ahead of science because science is limited by the demands of experimentation and measurement, while spirituality, like imagination, is immeasurable and knows no bounds. Maintaining the service Knowledge Systems are important to the provision of this service.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

One barrier of great concern in relation to significant cultural heritage places is limited resources for their conservation. Resources are required to protect these places from development, erosion, traffic, fire and vandalism. Threats of this nature provide barriers to current and future generations receiving this service. Many spiritual and religious sites are not officially recorded and cultural group organisations usually lack the resources to engage in comprehensive, pro-active site protection. There is at this stage limited opportunity for tour opportunities to places of traditional Aboriginal cultural heritage significance in SEQ. It is appropriate that such tours be undertaken with the Traditional Owner group for the specific area. 

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Food contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            



Indicators for this ecosystem service (because of the essentially private nature of experience) are likely to be indirect. They might include the availability of organised recreational trekking and water travel opportunities in natural settings, primarily in national parks and in marine, riverine and lacustrine settings. They might also include organised interpretive tour opportunities and conservation indicators in relation to traditional Aboriginal cultural heritage places.


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

There are no organisations, agencies or legislation designed to manage the ecosystem service spiritual and religious values. For more informtion on state and national parks with cultural heritage contact the Australian Government or the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. SEQ Catchments can assist with connecting people to Indigenous groups in the SEQ region.