Ten Semantic Components of “Spirituality”

In order to more closely or more deeply assess our respondents' understandings of "spirituality," we have invited them to write down their subjective definitions in free entries in the questionnaire. 1039 respondents in the US and 727 in Germany have accepted this invitation. Thus, we have a large number of entries, which range from a few words to two or three sentences. This rich data base opens a new perspective on the semantics of "spirituality." How did we analyze these data? One of the two avenues we have taken is a detailed procedure of coding meaningful units in all entries for "spirituality" – which resulted in 44 categories (and 44 variables in our data base). The procedure then was reducing these 44 categories by means of principal component analysis. This resulted in the ten dimensions that you see in the figure and that are detailed below. A second principal component analyses has allowed to identify three dimension – which are visualized as the three axes in the figure.

“Spirituality,” for our research participants, has a variety of meanings, sometimes contradictory meanings. The ten components of “spirituality” could be described in more detail and as close as possible to the wording of our research participants:

Components from Primary PCA Interpretation of Components in Second-order PCA


Ethics, Holding and everyday acting according to values and morality in relation to humanity [Ethics, Values]


Intuition of something or some being(s) that are unspecified, but higher than and beyond oneself [Something Beyond]


Inner search for (higher) self, meaning, peace and enlightenment


Experience of truth, purpose and wisdom beyond rational understanding [Existential Truth]

Mystical transcending (toward higher self and beyond oneself) vs. humanistic transcending

[Mystical vs. Humanistic Transcending]


Part of religion, Christian beliefs


Esotericism, Awareness of a non-material, invisible world, supernatural energies and beings (spirits etc.)


Belief in higher power(s), higher beings (deities, gods)


(All)Connectedness and harmony with the universe, nature and the whole

Symbolization of transcendence: theistic vs. non-theistic (in terms of esotericism and all-connectedness)

[Theistic vs. Non-theistic Transcendence]


Opposition to religion, dogmatic rules, and traditions


Individual religious praxis, meditation, prayer, worship

Individual “lived” religion vs. dogmatism

For more details, see: Eisenmann, C., Klein, C., Swhajor-Biesemann, A., Drexelius, U., Streib, H., & Keller, B. (2016). Dimensions of "Spirituality:" The Semantics of Subjective Definitions. In H. Streib & R. W. Hood (Eds.), Semantics and Psychology of "Spirituality". A Cross-cultural Analysis (pp. 125-151). Cham, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

Publications / Articles


Streib, H. & Hood, R. W. (Eds.) (2016). Semantics and Psychology of "Spirituality". A Cross-cultural Analysis. Cham, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer International Publishing Switzerland.


Streib, H. & Keller, B. (2015). Was bedeutet Spiritualität? Befunde, Analysen und Fallstudien aus Deutschland. Research in Contemporary Religion (RCR) - Band 20, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Keller, B. & Streib, H. (2013) Faith Development, Religious Styles and Biographical Narratives: Methodological Perspectives. Journal of Empirical Theology 26, 1-21.

Keller, Barbara, Klein, Constantin, Anne, Swhajor, Christopher F., Silver, Ralph W., Hood, and Streib, Heinz. "The Semantics of 'Spirituality' and Related Self-identifications: A Comparative Study in Germany and the USA". Archive for the Psychology of Religion. (PDF)

Streib, Heinz & Hood, Ralph W. (2011). “"Spirituality" as Privatized Experience-Oriented Religion: Empirical and Conceptual Perspectives”. Implicit Religion 14.4: 433 - 453. (PDF)

Streib, H. (2008). More Spiritual than Religious: Changes in the Religious Field Require New Approaches (PDF)