British Columbia

B.C. priest lands snowboarding PhD

An Anglican priest from Trail, B.C., has become the first person in the world to get a PhD in snowboarding.

Thesis examines connection between spirituality and snowboarding

'Soul riding' is when someone has a transcendent or spiritual experience while snowboarding. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

An Anglican priest from Trail, B.C., has become the first person in the world to get a PhD in snowboarding.

Neil Elliot, the minister at St. Andrew's Anglican Church, recently received his doctorate from Kingston University in London, England.

"The genesis was discovering this term 'soul-riding' in a discussion on the internet, and that discussion going into how people have had transcending experiences while riding and discovering I've had that experience as well I just hadn't recognized it," he said.

Elliot interviewed dozens of snowboarders from the United Kingdom and Canada, delving into the spirituality of snowboarding.

"Soul-riding starts with riding powder, it starts with finding some kind of almost transcendent experience in riding powder and in the whole of your life, so soul-riding is about being completely focused, being completely in the moment, you might say."

Elliot said it's clear spirituality and snowboarding do intersect.

"[It's] about snowboarders who discovered that … snowboarding was their spirituality. I had a lot of people who said, 'Snowboarding is my religion.'"

'New model for spirituality'

While Elliot's thesis doesn't draw any definite conclusions, he says it offers a new point of view.

Neil Elliot is the first person in the world to get a PhD in snowboarding. ((St. Andrews Anglican Church))

"What my thesis does is give a new model for spirituality, saying that spirituality is a way of looking at the world and a way of looking at the world that includes there being something more than just the material," he said.

"My thesis goes on to say that there's three dimensions to that. There's the experiences that we have, there's the context that we're in and then there's what's going on really inside us, who we are."

Elliot, who already has a master's degree in theology and Islamic studies, is the first to admit his love of snowboarding drove him to get the PhD and a job in the B.C. mountains. But he insists his thesis is serious.

"My PhD is about spirituality and snowboarding. It's rooted in the sociology of religion and in … this debate that's going on about whether somebody is religious or spiritual. A lot of people say, 'I'm not religious — I'm spiritual' and I'm trying to find out what that actually means," he said.

"The spirituality of snowboarding is looking at what does it mean to be spiritual in today's world."

Elliot said his colleagues and congregation support his unorthodox PhD, and love of both the board and cloth.

"They understand that this is a light on what we're all struggling with: how do we encourage people to come into the church? How do we encourage people to see religion and spirituality as working together, rather than being different things?"

With files from the CBC's Bob Keating