Date of Award

Fall 2016

Degree Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Religion, MA


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Tammi J. Schneider

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jenny Rose

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Ashley R. Sanders

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2016 Edward N Surman


Comparative Religion, Ecopsychology, Judaism, Mobile Pastoralism, Monotheism, Zoroastrianism

Subject Categories

Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Digital Humanities | Environmental Studies | History of Religion | Near Eastern Languages and Societies


Despite the wealth of scholarship concerning the origins of religious beliefs, practices, and cultures, there has been little consideration of the impact of ecological landscapes on the development of ancient religions. Although the influence of the natural environment is considered among the variables in explaining the development of various economic, political, and other social systems throughout history, there is a specific gap concerning its impact on the origins of religious systems. The argument which is taken up in this writing is the correlation between agriculturally marginal landscape and the development of monotheism. Specifically that the religions of the ancient Iranians and Israelites were shaped, in part, by the ecological landscapes in which they developed. Using comparative case studies (primarily: Judaism, Zoroastrianism; and including the religions: Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Kikuyu, Maasai, and Lakota) and a dataset of temple sites of the greater Near East through the Iron Age, which are in established archaeological record, digitally mapped in ArcGIS, this argument takes up an examination of the apparent interconnection between mobile societies, monotheism, and a respective lack of temple building culture. Although the primary subjects of the argument are very ancient religious societies, this research is eminently relevant to modern humans because we continue to be affected by natural and built environments. Our modern minds and bodies are shaped, partly, in pragmatic response to spaces in which we develop individually and collectively. This writing is one call for more work to be done to understand the effects of our environments on our minds and ways of thinking. This call for scholarship – for understanding – comes, not accidentally, at a time when the implications of human psychological responses to the environment are particularly unsettling. As the tide of human-caused climate change begins to flood our societies and world, how too might the currents of an unraveling biosphere affect our minds? If the development of a mobile deity and mobile society was the pragmatic response of a people to agriculturally marginal landscapes, what economic, social, and religious constructs might be borne of ecological devastation?


An enhanced and dynamic web-based Scalar version of this thesis is available here.