The Spiritual Turn and the Decline of Tradition: The Spread of Post-Christian Spirituality in 14 Western Countries, 1981–2000


should be addressed to Dick Houtman, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:


This article uses data from the World Values Survey to study the spread of post-Christian spirituality (“New Age”) in 14 Western countries (1981–2000, N = 61,352). It demonstrates that this type of spirituality, characterized by a sacralization of the self, has become more widespread during the period 1981–2000 in most of these countries. It has advanced farthest in France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden. This spiritual turn proves a byproduct of the decline of traditional moral values and hence driven by cohort replacement. Spirituality's popularity among the well educated also emerges from the latter's low levels of traditionalism. These findings confirm the theory of detraditionalization, according to which a weakening of the grip of tradition on individual selves stimulates a spiritual turn to the deeper layers of the self.