Religious Interpretations of Disaster

Authored by: David Chester , Angus M. Duncan , Heather Sangster

The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415590655
eBook ISBN: 9780203844236
Adobe ISBN: 9781136918698


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Clinical psychology notes that people often appeal to deities when coping with severe stress, and this is also observed amongst those who are faced with disasters associated with natural hazards (Chester and Duncan 2009). Religious reactions to disasters are found within most traditions of faith, across societies located in different parts of the world and over the long span of human history. In some cases it is possible to extend the time-scale and interpret archaeological evidence to show how prehistoric societies used theistic frames of reference to make sense of the suffering triggered by natural events. Effigies found on the slopes of Popocatéptl volcano have been interpreted as evidence of the propitiation of divine wrath by the society that once inhabited this part of Mexico, while at Pylos in ancient Greece there are indications that the god Poseidon, who was believed to be the cause of earthquakes, was worshipped as early as the Mycenaean era: ca.1600 to ca.1100 BCE. For archaeological sites evidence of human reactions to disasters is usually either lacking or can be interpreted ambiguously. A wall painting (ca. 6200 BCE) at the town of Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia (Turkey) is, for instance, the oldest known example of the artistic depiction of a volcano. It shows a volcano located close to a town which could imply disquiet among the population about future eruptions, or may simply ‘reflect the aesthetic sensibility of the artist’ (Chester and Duncan 2008: 203).

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