Spirituality in Europe:
Value conflict and freedom of religious choices

Theories of religious individualization criticize secularization theory for disregarding the change of religious forms in Europe.

The project addressed two important questions: 1. How many people in Europe hold spiritual beliefs? Is spirituality a significant option for individuals’ religious choices? 2. Why do individuals adopt spiritual beliefs instead of traditional church religiosity or secular worldviews?

A clear answer can be given to the first question: spiritual beliefs are a significant option for individuals’ religious choices. About 8 per cent of the population in European countries from catholic and protestant tradition hold spiritual beliefs. However, there are important regional disparities. Whereas spiritual beliefs make up almost 20 per cent of the population in Estonia, about 10 to 15 percent are spiritual believers in most Western European countries. In traditionally catholic societies of Southern and Central Europe, spiritual beliefs are only of marginal importance.

Further analyses could show that individuals chose spiritual beliefs as the result of a value conflict between traditional church morality and self-expression values. The regression model shows that an emphasis on individualistic values increases the probability to choose spiritual beliefs. In addition, if individuals adhere to self-expression values, a religious socialization increases the probability of spirituality. The results also show that a critical attitude toward the (Christian) churches leads to the adoption of secular worldviews (particularly atheism) but not spirituality.

The conditions of religious choices strongly depend on the constitution of the social context. The multilevel model revealed that the emergence of spiritual beliefs is linked to the secularization of a society. If religious beliefs are not the reference for individuals worldviews anymore, the choice of alternative beliefs becomes possible because no social sanctions for deviant beliefs occur anymore. The development of spiritual beliefs increases pluralism in religious orientations in Europe. In addition the individualistic legacy of Protestantism fosters the development of spiritual beliefs.

Some important conlusions can be drawn from these results. Above all, sociology of religion (and particularly secularization theory) has to consider more systematically the role of spiritual beliefs for religious change in Europe. Especially, more quantitative studies on consequences of spiritual beliefs are needed. To enable colleagues to advance research on spirituality, I provide a dataset with the measurement model for spiritual beliefs in the download section. The classification can be added to 27 samples from the 2008/2010 wave of the European Values Study.

Relevant publications:

Spiritualität. Sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven auf ein umstrittenes Konzept. In: Analyse & Kritik (in Press).

Alternative Spiritualitäten. Neue Formen des Glaubens in Europa – Eine empirische Analyse. Frankfurt a.M./New York: Campus (2012).

Pluralismus religiöser Orientierungen in Europa. Ergebnisse aus der vierten Welle der Europäischen Wertestudie 2008/2009. In: Pollack, Detlef/Tucci, Ingrid/Ziebertz, Hans-Georg (Eds.): Religiöser Pluralismus im Fokus quantitativer Religionsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (2012), S. 75-105.