Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography

Committee Chair

Trevor Harris.


This dissertation explores the role of scale in human geography through a study involving a critical realist investigation of the geography of religious adherence. Using the contributions of a critical realist framework of stratification, emergence, and pluralistic methodologies, religious adherence is studied at the scales of the individual adherent, the church, and within local associations of churches. Analysis was performed through a study of two denominational congregations and an independent congregation in Harrison County, West Virginia and used a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with religious adherents, pastors and local denominational leaders. The conceptual framework of this dissertation stands in contrast to traditional studies of the geography of religious adherence which rely on the quantification of denominationally collected attendance statistics aggregated to the scale of county boundaries and displayed as choropleth maps. Importantly, the traditional approach lacks the capacity to jump scale and is only valuable for making general assumptions at regional or national scales. Furthermore, these studies are embedded with the scaled problems associated with ecological fallacy and the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem.;This study demonstrates that the geography of religious adherence in Harrison County is emergent and irreducible. Emergent congregational and denominational powers and properties are facilitated through scaled structures and hierarchies, with mechanisms rooted in, but not reducible to, the scale of the adherent. Because questions pertaining to adherents, churches and church hierarchies are unique to the powers and mechanisms functioning at each stratum, methodological pluralism is required to understand a robust geography of religion. In contrast to traditional GOR studies, a critical realist approach has the capacity to reveal the scaled linkages and complex processes that operate between adherents, congregations and denominations. By incorporating ecclesiastical emergence into GOR, religionists gain a valuable tool to examine the substantial ways in which religion impacts social, economic and environmental life. This study also makes contributions to the broader debate about scale in human geography by suggesting that a framework of emergence provides a valuable contribution and addition to acknowledging and understanding the complex dimensions of scale.