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Cultural Understanding of Soils

The importance of cultural diversity and of the inner world

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  • © 2023


  • Inter- and transdisciplinary approach to the understanding of soil
  • Fills a cultural gap between soil and soil science that spans natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities
  • Curated researches and opinions on soil and societal connections, philosophy, and ethics

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About this book

Cultural understandings of soil are diverse and often ambiguous. Cultural framing of soils is common worldwide and is highly consequential. The implications of what place the earth has in people's world view and everyday life can be in line with or in conflict with natural conditions, with scientific views, or with agricultural practices. The main assumption underlying this work is that soil is inescapably perceived in a cultural context by any human. This gives emergence to different significant webs of meaning influenced by religious, spiritual, or secular myths, and by a wide range of beliefs, values and ideas that people hold in all societies. These patterns and their dynamics inform the human-soil relationship and how soils are cared for, protected, or degraded.

Therefore, there is need to deal inter-culturally with different sources and types of knowledge and experience regarding soil; a need to cultivate soil awareness and situationally appropriate care through inter- andintra-cultural dialogues and learning. This project focuses on the human and intangible dimensions of soil.

To serve this aim, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) founded a working group on Cultural Patterns of Soil Understanding that has resulted in this book, which presents studies from almost all continents, written by soil scientists and experts from other disciplines. A major objective of this project is to promote intercultural literacy that gives readers the opportunity to appreciate soil across disciplinary and cultural boundaries in an increasingly globalized world. . .


Table of contents (26 chapters)

  1. Introduction to Cultural Soil Dimensions

  2. World Cultures: Religious, Spiritual and Other Worldviews on Soils

Editors and Affiliations

  • Freelance Scientist Office for Soil Communications, Überlingen, Germany

    Nikola Patzel

  • Soil, Water, and Ecosystem Sciences Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA

    Sabine Grunwald

  • College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA

    Eric C. Brevik

  • UMR Eco & Sols, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Montpellier, France

    Christian Feller

About the editors

Dr. Nikola Patzel got degrees in environmental science, depth psychology, and received his doctorate in 2002 at the ETH Zurich (Switzerland) for research on “Soil Science and the Unconscious”. After 10 years of research on that, he published in 2015 a book on "Symbols in Agriculture". He works in research and consulting on nature relationships and soil communication, and gives courses on soil for farmers, which integrate scientific, cultural, and psychological aspects. Patzel chairs the working group on "Cultural Patterns of Soil Understanding" in the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) and is head of Commission VIII "Soil in Education and Society" at the German Soil Science Society (DBG).


Dr. Eric Brevik is the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Life, and Physical Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He has also taught courses in geology and soil science at Dickinson State University (DSU) and Valdosta State University, coordinated the DSU Environmental Science degree program, and advised student research. Dr. Brevik’s research interests include combining information from soil science and geology, soil genesis, and the impact of humans on soil properties and processes, as well as soil science history, education, and links between soil science and culture. He is an active member of the European Geoscience Union, International Union of Soil Sciences, and Soil Science Society of America.


Dr. Sabine Grunwald earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from Giessen University, Germany and is Professor in the Soil, Water and Ecosystem Science Department at the University of Florida (UF), Gainesville, Florida, USA. She has research expertise in soil-ecosystem modeling, AI machine learning and deep learning, soil carbon quantification and modeling, pedometrics, digital soil mapping, soil health, soil proximal sensing and remote sensing, environmental quality assessment, and geospatial analysis. She has published over 213 peer-reviewed publications, is a highly cited researcher, and is actively engaged in the national and global soil science community. She also earned a Ph.D. in Integral and Transpersonal Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA. Dr. Grunwald has served as the Director of the University of Florida Mindfulness Program since 2015 and teaches mindfulness meditation sessions and workshops. She is also a trained Embodied Life Coach providing services in ontological coaching to foster wellness, health and wellbeing and connect people to nature and the environment.


Dr. Christian Feller is an Emeritus Soil Scientist and the former Director of Research at the “Institut de Recherche pour le Développement” (IRD) in Montpellier, France. He earned his MS (1969) and PhD degrees in organic chemistry (1972) from the Sorbonne University (Faculty of Sciences) in Paris, and his Doctorate of Science (1994) in Soil Science from the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg. His research focuses on soil organic matter studies applied to soil fertility and environmental services—in particular, the impact of agroecological practices on soil-plant carbon sequestration in tropical and subtropical areas; he has worked extensively in Senegal, French West Indies (Martinique), Brazil, and most recently, Madagascar. Christian is a member of the French Academy of Agriculture, and was the first recipient of the Soil Science Society of America’s Nyle C. Brady Frontiers of Soil Science Lectureship in 2006. He served as Chair (2014−2018) of the Division 4 on The Role of Soils in Sustaining Society and the Environment of the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Cultural Understanding of Soils

  • Book Subtitle: The importance of cultural diversity and of the inner world

  • Editors: Nikola Patzel, Sabine Grunwald, Eric C. Brevik, Christian Feller

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Springer Cham

  • eBook Packages: Literature, Cultural and Media Studies, Literature, Cultural and Media Studies (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-13168-4Published: 23 September 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-13171-4Due: 24 October 2023

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-13169-1Published: 22 September 2023

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIV, 548

  • Number of Illustrations: 29 b/w illustrations, 91 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Agriculture, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Anthropology

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