Publicity materials about nature often have religious overtones. The state and nature management organizations should be aware of the expectations they are generating. That is Peter Jansen’s message in his thesis Framing nature, for which he is due to obtain his PhD on 14 June. His supervisor is Henk Jochemsen, professor holding an endowed chair in Christian Philosophy.
© Natuurmonumenten A poster in which the nature conservation foundation Natuurmonumenten encourages parents to come and experience nature with their children.
Jansen says a religious subtext plays a role in communication materials about new ‘wilderness’. He is not talking about explicit references to religion or a personal God. ‘I mean a religious experience in the broadest sense of the term. An experience that takes people beyond what you can comprehend rationally. A reference to a deeper layer that you are tapping into. Feeling a connection with something bigger than yourself that people experience as “sacred”.’
Such experiences are often promised in publicity materials about new nature. That can mislead visitors, as Jansen found out in his research on Tiengemeten in Zuid-Holland, an agricultural island that has been returned to nature. The publicity material talks of ‘an escape from everyday life’, for instance. ‘Nature is presented as a better world. It promises you that you will rediscover yourself and feel born again when you come back.’ But visitors don’t get that feeling when they are there. And they find that disappointing.
Jansen’s advice is to be more neutral in the publicity about nature and avoid ‘weighty words’. ‘Adjust your communication to match the actual experience that awaits visitors.’
Peter Jansen defends his thesis on the 14th of July 2017 in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. Start at 16:00.