The importance of religion in shaping volcanic risk perception in Italy, with special reference to Vesuvius and Etna

David K. Chester, Angus M. Duncan, Chris Dibben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

With the exception of societies that are relatively untouched by modernism, the academic consensus holds that since the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment popular perception of divine responsibility for disasters has been progressively replaced by a perspective that views losses as resulting from the effects of extreme natural events upon vulnerable human populations. Nature is considered to be de-moralised. By means of examples of volcanic eruptions that have occurred over the past one hundred and fifty years and which transcend place, culture and faith tradition, the present authors have maintained a contrasting position, by arguing that religious perspectives are still important features of the ways in which people in many societies perceive volcanic eruptions. In the present paper it is argued that religious terms of reference have been and remain vital elements in the perceptions held by a significant proportion of the population in southern Italy when confronted by volcanic eruptions, particularly those that have occurred on Vesuvius and Etna. Within the context of what is termed popular Catholicism, the development of distinctive religious responses in pre-industrial times is first described. Next, through bibliographic research and social surveys, it is argued that the idiosyncratic religious character of disaster responses has been maintained following eruptions that have occurred during the past one hundred years, including the small number of eruptions of Etna that have taken place in the early years of the twenty-first century. The implications of these religious perceptions and behaviours are discussed within the context of emergency planning and the suggestion is made that they form part of a 'parallel practice' in response to volcanic threat, where actions to encourage the miraculous take place at the same time as more 'rationally' grounded protective measures such as evacuation. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-228
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2008

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • volcanic eruptions
  • southern Italy
  • religious perceptions
  • Vesuvius
  • Etna
  • disaster planning
  • 1928 ERUPTION
  • TOWN


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