Range of psychological and sociological constructs that can be used for interpreting change in spirituality

Click for audio file explaining the table

NOTE:  There is no need to follow up the material in this page in any detail.  It is just to alert you to the extensive range of constructs that have been used to try to understand how and why there has been such extensive change from traditional religious societies to comparatively secular, individualistic, consumerist lifestyles.  The recommended way of interpreting the change is outlined in the main text.

All of these constructs have some explanatory power and are useful for interpreting change in spirituality;  but none by themselves seems to provide an adequate interpretation because change in spirituality is multidimensional.  The change is mediated by a complex tapestry of influences that plays out differently for individuals. 

The table signposts the different constructs without attempting to analyse them in any detail.  Only a few references are noted as examples;  and a number of them touch on the application of the construct to spirituality.

Psychological/Sociological constructs

Notes on the focus of the constructs


Constructs related to religion & change



Measure of religious behaviour such as attendance at church/synagogue etc., frequency of prayer, engagement in a local community of faith.

Glock & Stark, (1965);  Flynn (1985, 1993);  Smith & Denton (2005).

Churched / unchurched

Churched – means familiarity with religious culture and engaged in a parish.

Unchurched – means a lack of religious culture and no connection with a parish.

Fuller (2001)Tinsey (2002);  Sullivan (2003).


Decline in the prominence of religion in personal, social and political life;  less reference to the idea of god in spirituality.

Mascall (1965)Bonhoeffer (1966):  Fenn (2001);  Norman (2002);  Wright (2004);  Crawford & Rossiter (1996, 2006).

Privatisation of religion

Religious beliefs increasingly becoming a private matter, like opinions;  decline in the social prominence of religion.

Baum (1970);  Crawford & Rossiter (2006).

Social reality of religion

People construct a view of what they think religion is; religious knowledge is socially constructed.

Berger and Luckmann (1966), Berger, (1969, 1973)

World views

A scheme of meaning through which people make sense of the world and life.  A collective world view may function like a religion.

Jackson (1997)Olthius (1985);  Naugle (2002).

Constructs related to social change


Social reality

Knowledge is constructed through social interaction;  leads to particular, contextual perceptions of what constitutes reality.

Berger and Luckmann (1966), Berger (1973).  Blumer (1969).

Cultural postmodernity

The cultural situation characterised by:- uncertainty about personal knowledge, which is socially constructed and contextual; disbelief in meta-narratives; extreme individualism; scepticism; existentialism,

Bauman (1997);  Bridger (2001);  Crawford & Rossiter (2006).


Emphasis on the individual, often at the expense of a community dimension;  emphasis on individual freedom.

Halman and de Moor (1993); Crawford & Rossiter (2006).

Schweitzer (2004, 2007).


Diversity of cultures and religions making a pluralistic society.

Jackson (2004);  Baum (2007).


Arises from the capacity to make multiple comparisons.  Tendency to see religions and world views as much the same in principle;  hence a decline in sense of religious uniqueness and in religious authority.

Baum (1987, 2007);  Crawford & Rossiter (2006)


Decline in the sense of family, religious and cultural traditions;  life lived more independently of cultural traditions.

Hermans (2004); Boeve (2007, 2011)


The value basis to a particular way of thinking, or of a cultural group.  The set of values that motivates and drives particular political groups.  Ideology may be somewhat covert.

Darder et al (2003); de Botton (2004)

Inter-cultural communication

The process of promoting mutual understanding and conversation between cultural groups.  Learning from different cultures.

Gallagher (1992);  English (1998).

Constructs related to institutional change



Decline in the prominence and power of social institutions – like religions.  Decrease in the power of certain bureaucracies.

Hermans (2004)


Social psychological constructs


Meaning and purpose

The thinking that helps individuals interpret their experience and the world.  It helps justify and motivate behaviour.  It can help give coherence to one's explanations of what is happening in the world.  Inner resources that are developed through interaction with cultural meanings.

Baumeister (1993); Crawford & Rossiter (2006)


How individuals draw on both cultural and inner resources for their self-understanding and self-expression.  May be multidimensional including moral, spiritual, religious, cultural, identity elements.

Taylor (1989); Crawford & Rossiter (2006)


The general feeling of wholesomeness in the individual's self-understanding and life.  Includes physical, social, spiritual and economic dimensions.

Eckersley et al (2005, 2006); Fisher (2000, 2001)


Capacity to function well as a person despite difficulties and problems.  Capacity to cope with setbacks in life.

Brown (2001);  Witham (2001).


The moral ‘fibre' of the individual.  The set of virtues that gives the individual moral integrity.  The values and commitments that help make a healthy, contributing citizen.

Bohlin (2005)Nucci & Narvaez (2008).


The moral qualities that are embedded in the individual like ‘habits' of mind and good behaviour.  Has a long history within thinking about religious virtues.

Swanton (2003); Koertge (2005).

Social cohesion

The ‘glue' of common values and ideas that can bind a community together despite multiculturalism and multifaith characteristics.

Grimmitt (2010); Schweitzer (2009).

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