Review of Religious Research

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 503–518 | Cite as

Is ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ a Replacement for Religion or Just One Step on the Path Between Religion and Non-religion?

  • Joey MarshallEmail author
  • Daniel V. A. Olson
Research Note


We analyze survey data collected from six universities in the United States, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (n = 6571). Survey respondents were asked to self-identify as “spiritual and religious,” “spiritual but not religious,” “religious but not spiritual” or “not religious or spiritual.” Using a battery of items describing both religious and spiritual beliefs, we uncover which beliefs are most regularly shared by persons choosing each of the four self-identity labels. Even though American students are generally more religious than the Scandinavian students, we find that three of the four self-identity labels have quite similar meanings across cultural settings. Factor analyzing the belief items, we find two latent factors that we label as “religio-spirituality” and “anti-institutional spirituality.” However, when plotted in a two-dimensional space defined by these two latent factors, respondents in each of the four self-identity categories mostly align along a single continuum from “spiritual and religious” to “not spiritual or religious.” Nevertheless, the “spiritual but not religious” students stand out for their high scores on “anti-institutional spirituality.”


Spirituality Spiritual but not religious Scandinavia Europe 



The order of authorship is alphabetical, both are equal co-authors. We would like to acknowledge the work of Peter Lüchau, Peter Andersen, Peter Gudelach, Pål Ketil Botvar, Curt Dahlgren, and Ina Rosen who designed, collected, and shared the Scandinavian data. Joey Marshall’s contribution to this manuscript was conducted while on support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1333468.


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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