Archetypal-Imaginal Landscapes

GEOGRAPHER PETER BISHOP’S archetypal-imaginal methodological approach to landscape continues in this radically different postmodern spiritual direction. In 1989 Bishop explored the complex relationship between geography, imagination and spirituality in the encounter between travellers and Tibet. He aimed to “examine the phenomenology of a sacred place in the process of its creation, fulfillment and subsequent decline”, and he was especially concerned with “the relationship between interior phenomenology of a sacred place and the wider context outside its boundaries. It is therefore less of a historical narrative than an in-depth analysis of inner meanings”. Travel texts are seen as psychological documents. They reveal significant aspects of the “fantasy-making process of a culture and of its unconscious”, thus:

“While the study is methodologically based in archetypal psychology, it also draws widely from such disciplines as humanistic geography and French deconstructionism… It is therefore an attempt to develop an imaginal approach to cultural analysis, one that traces the movement and transformation of images whilst simultaneously leading them back to their root- metaphors”.

THE IDEA OF SACRED LANDSCAPES in which the mythic or archetypal is stressed, are part of a tradition, as Bishop acknowledges.

THE MYTHIC AND THE ARCHETYPAL are inherent in the writings of French philosopher, theologian and translator, Henry Corbin (1903-1978); French philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Gilbert Durand (1921-2012); Romanian born historian and philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986); psychiatrist and philosopher of religion Carl Jung (1875-1961); archetypal psychologist and philosopher James Hillman (1926-2011); philosopher of phenomenology, landscape, place and space, Edward Casey; and anthropologist and psychologist John Willoughby Layard (1891-1974).

In particular, phenomenology, perception and experience of landscape and place have also been investigated by German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976); French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) and American geographers Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Relph and David Lowenthal. The social context of sacred landscape and the social context of the perceptions of landscape have been studied by many of these authors.

Valuable insights for this approach have also been drawn from extensive studies by anthropologists studying primal spirituality; for example Australian Aboriginal sacred sites and sacred journeys.

AN ARCHETYPAL-IMAGINAL ANALYSIS must be distinguished clearly from a philosophical analysis. Bishop has argued “The former is less concerned with logical or epistemological differences … than with their archetypal and metaphorical relationships. A theoretical consistency is less important than an imaginal one”. In this view the underlining image or metaphor is fundamental. The aim is not to achieve a theoretical reconciliation but to open up a field of ideas that has both the width and the capacity to endure contradictions. Bishop suggests that:

“imaginal analysis must bear in mind the dominant root-metaphors of any theory that it uses to craft the imaginal material. A polytheistic approach does not exclude any perspective on the grounds of theoretical incompatibility, but instead tries to relate theories through their common grounding in imaginal reality”.

LISTENING TO THE ROOT-METAPHORS of theories relieves them of their literalness; it “allows space for the material; the textual images to speak pluralistically” and so analysis then becomes a matter of image-work, a crafting of images. The theories do not stand in a privileged position above the primary material, but take their place as imaginal texts alongside the travel accounts and other historical documents.

FOR BISHOP, ‘GEOGRAPHY OF RELIGION’ becomes a ‘geography of spirituality or soul’. He sees his study as a contribution towards “the return of the soul to the world, to an anima mundi psychology. The world presents itself in its images”.



1 Peter Bishop, The Myth of Shangri-La – Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape (University of California Press, 1989).

2 Ibid, vii.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid, 9.

5 Ibid, 18.

6 Ibid, 18. Bishop states that “the aim is not to achieve a theoretical reconciliation but to open up a field of ideas that has both the width and the capacity to endure contradictions”.

7 Ibid, 19.

8 Ibid, 251.


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