ArticlePDF Available


All rights reserved. Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the applicable copyright legislation, no part of this work may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the publisher. For permissions and other inquiries, please contact
The International Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Society Volume X, Number X, 2010
The International Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Society
in Society
Volume 1, Number 2
Spirituality and Religion in the Lives of New
Franco Vaccarino, Heather Kavan and Philip Gendall
First published in 2011 in Champaign, Illinois, USA
by Common Ground Publishing LLC
ISSN: 2152-7857
© 2011 (individual papers), the author(s)
© 2011 (selection and editorial matter) Common Ground
All rights reserved. Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of study, research, criticism
or review as permitted under the applicable copyright legislation, no part of this work may
be reproduced by any process without written permission from the publisher. For
permissions and other inquiries, please contact
peer-reviewed, supported by rigorous processes of criterion-referenced article ranking
and qualitative commentary, ensuring that only intellectual work of the greatest
substance and highest significance is published.
Typeset in Common Ground Markup Language using CGPublisher multichannel
typesetting system
Spirituality and Religion in the Lives of New Zealanders
Franco Vaccarino, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
Heather Kavan, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
Philip Gendall, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
Abstract: New Zealand is a multi-faith country that is becoming increasingly secular, with the mainline
Protestant churches losing tens of thousands of adherents each census. The purpose of this study is to
get a clearer understanding of New Zealand’s secularisation process. The International Social Survey
Programme (ISSP) questionnaire was used to capture the religious landscape. A random selection of
2040 New Zealand adults yielded 1027 valid responses, and the data were weighted for age and gender.
The results showed a decline in adherence to religious institutions, coinciding with a reduced faith in
the traditional monotheistic view of God. However, reports of religious experience increased. Addi-
tionally, 30.5% agreed with the statement, “I don’t follow a religion, but am a spiritual person interested
in the sacred/supernatural.” The results draw attention to the ineffectiveness of census results and
church attendance surveys as a measure of how religious a population is.
Keywords: Secularisation, Christianity, Multi-faith, International Social Survey Programme, Beliefs,
Religious Experience
ALL THROUGH HISTORY people have been looking for ways to connect with
something beyond themselves. The search has generated many paths, from individual
ways of nding personal meaning to inherited institutional dogmas and practices.
Since the 1970s social scientists have observed that most Western nations have
experienced a process of secularisation, in which people are increasingly less likely to belong
to religious institutions, even though they may still have religious beliefs (e.g. Davie, 1990;
Martin, 1979; Taylor, 2007). Coupled with this, historians such as Callum Brown have noted
a ‘spiritual revolution’, characterised by growing numbers of people refashioning religion
as spiritual experience, without the need for a central authority (2006).
This study aims to capture the religious landscape of New Zealand in the light of these
trends. Specically, we present the results of the International Social Survey Programme
(ISSP) survey of New Zealanders’ religion. The ISSP was founded in 1984 by research or-
ganisations from Germany, the United States,England and Australia to gather cross-national
data on topics important to social scientists. Today the programme involves academic insti-
tutions in 43 countries in an annual survey of economic and social policy issues. A different
topic is addressed each year in a seven-year cycle, and one of these topics is religion.
In line with the ISSP survey, we are using the word ‘religion’ in its broadest sense to refer
to beliefs, practices and experiences that involve a framework of meaning that is beyond the
everyday empirical world. This framework usually involves a form of divine or supernatural
power. In contrast, we are using the term secularisation in a narrow sense to refer to a decline
The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society
Volume 1, Number 2, 2011,, ISSN 2152-7857
© Common Ground, Franco Vaccarino,Heather Kavan, Philip Gendall, All Rights Reserved, Permissions:
in adherence to religious institutions, rather than in the broader sense of a decline in religi-
osity. This distinction is necessary to incorporate Brown’s observation that a spiritual revolu-
tion has occurred during secularisation.
Religion in New Zealand
New Zealand has no ofcial religion. Nevertheless the country is infused with the Judaeo-
Christian inuence of the European settlers who arrived in the nineteenth century, and the
most recent census in 2006 showed that 49.5% of New Zealanders describe themselves as
Christian (Statistics New Zealand, 2006).1The total population at the time of the census was
just over 4 million.
While children today are far less likely than they were in the last century to be born into
religious families and to attend Sunday school, several traditions from New Zealand’s
Christian past continue to be observed in the broader culture. Examples include the national
anthem calling on God to defend the country, the traditional prayer before the opening of
Parliament sessions, and the closure of most stores on Good Friday, Christmas Day and
Easter Sunday. Further, New Zealand still has an archaic law prohibiting blasphemy against
the Deity, Christ, or Christian religion, although prosecutions are extremely rare (Burrows
& Cheer, 2010).2However, despite these elements, Christian churches generally have little
inuence and power over New Zealand society (Ahdar, 2006). The three recent Christian
political parties in New Zealand – the Christian Heritage party, the Christian Democrat party
(now United Future New Zealand) and Destiny New Zealand (later called the Family party)
− have been minority concerns, and several activities Christians usually oppose, such as
prostitution and homosexual acts between men, are legal in New Zealand.
New Zealand supports religious freedom, and this value is enshrined in its 1990 Bill of
Rights Act (New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, 1990, sections 13, 15 & 20). Multiple spiritu-
alities are highly visible in New Zealand. Falun Gong practitioners exercise in public gardens,
Revival Centre members proselytise in local parks, Krishna devotees chant and dance down
streets, and billboards advertise psychic fairs. Television programmes such as Sensing Murder
and Dare to Believe have given rise to celebrity psychics like Kelvin Cruickshank, Sue
Nicholson and Jeanette Wilson, and most general bookshops have a New Age/spirituality
stand. Although, as Ellwood (1993) notes, alternative spirituality is not new in New Zealand
and has been visible as far back as the early settlers, new religious movements are much
more prolic now.
Given the increasingly prominent role of New Zealand’s indigenous people, a distinctive
feature of New Zealand is the growing role of Māori prayers (karakia) and rituals in civic
and national events. These displays reect New Zealand’s commitment to honouring its
founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, which promises the Crown will respect Māorit-
anga (articles 2, 3 and 4).3They are also aimed at counteracting previous repression of in-
1The gure that is often given is 51.2% but this reduces to 49.5% when multiple responses from those who identied
with more than one Christian religion are taken into account.
2The question of whether the blasphemy law applies to non-Christian religions has not yet been tested in the courts.
3The last of these, number 4, was verbal and not part of the written text. In response to a question from Catholic
Bishop Pompallier, Governor Hobson said: “The several faiths (beliefs) of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome,
and also Māori custom shall alike be protected” (Te Puni Kokiri, 2001, pp. 40-41).
digenous spirituality.4There are Māori blessings at state occasions, karakia are permitted in
courtrooms, and in 2001 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded kaumatua (Māori
elders) to go to New Zealand embassy ofces in Bangkok to do spiritual cleansing ceremonies.
Māori values − especially ones associated with the sacredness and beauty of the land − are
respected, and are reected in New Zealand’s strong anti-nuclear policy (Kavan, 2004).
These values are also enshrined in law, and the Resource Management Act 1991 and the
Historic Places Act 1993 acknowledge places or areas that possess spiritual signicance.
Another distinctive feature of New Zealand is that it has one of the highest rates of ‘no
religion’ in the world (Nachowitz, 2007). The percentage of religionless New Zealanders is
currently 34.7% − double the United States’ 16.1% (Pew Forum, 2008). However, this may,
in part, reect the way the census form is set out. Before 1986, New Zealanders were required
to write their religion in response to the question, “What is your religion?” (which implied
they were expected to have one). In 1986 the question remained the same, but the form gave
eight options to choose from including ‘no religion’ (Christian Research Association of
Aotearoa New Zealand, 2000). Consequently, the number of religionless New Zealanders
jumped from 166,014 in 1981 to 533,766 in 1986, and now amounts to one third of the
population. Webster and Perry’s (1989) survey of New Zealand values showed that half of
those who professed no religion believed in at least one of the following: God, life after
death, a soul, the devil, hell, heaven, sin or reincarnation. Analysing the survey data, sociolo-
gist Michael Hill also observed that Anglicans at times identify with very similar beliefs to
those with no religion (in Webster & Perry, 1989).
Despite the distinctiveness of the New Zealand religious landscape, the decline in institu-
tional Christianity is the predominant theme in studies of New Zealander’s religion, whether
they be historical accounts, census statistics, church attendance rates, or values surveys. The
mainline Protestant churches in New Zealand, primarily Anglican, Presbyterian and Meth-
odist churches, lose tens of thousands of adherents every census. One reason for the decline
in mainline numbers is that many of the people leaving these denominations may only have
been nominal members in the rst place, i.e. people who self-identied with a denomination
but did not attend church. Another reason may be that many adherents to these denominations
are in the older age groups and when they die they are not being replaced by younger mem-
bers. The 1997 National Church Life Survey showed that about 30% of those attending
mainline Protestant services are aged over 70 (Brookes & Currow, 1998).
The decline in religious adherence can also be linked to the impact of globalisation, in
line with standard theories of secularisation that connect increasing social variation with re-
ligious decline (Fenn, 1978). As a geographically isolated country, New Zealand has been
strongly affected by the Internet, which has both displaced traditional forms of community
and provided increased access to information about alternative religious paths. Additionally,
despite the proliferation of alternative faiths, New Zealand has a predominantly strong, hyper-
masculine Rugby culture (Phillips, 1987). The stereotypical Kiwi bloke is beer-drinking,
rugged and disengaged from emotion – a man who is likely to associate religion with a need
for a crutch and is more procient at herding animals than spelling Presbyterian. Religion,
in contrast, is a predominately female interest (Stark, 2002; Walter & Davie, 1998). Another
factor that may have contributed to the drop in religious adherence is the increasing materi-
4For example, the 1908 Tohunga Suppression Act restricted the work of tohunga (Māori spiritual healers) until it
was repealed in 1962.
alism of the Western world. Most New Zealanders see prosperity, not religion, as the key
to a good life, and in 1989, 79% of the population (including Christians) listed prosperity
as their highest goal (Webster & Perry, 1989). As Webster and Perry comment, this is not
altogether consonant with the churches’ ideal of being a “friend to the poor” (1989, p. 144).
Nevertheless some religious groups are on the rise. The rst trend, as historian Peter
Lineham notes, is the growth of ‘megachurches’, which in the New Zealand context are
churches with over 500 members (Lineham, 2003). Although some of these churches are
Catholic, most are Pentecostal (Pentecostals have been one of the fastest growing religious
movements in New Zealand since the 1980s). A much publicised example of a megachurch
is Pentecostal televangelist Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church, which has attracted many urban
The second increase is in what Lineham (2003) calls the ‘micro churches’ – intimate,
unstructured groups of participants who have opted out of churches. It is likely that these
members are among the 4.5% of New Zealanders who describe their religion simply as
‘Christian’ on the New Zealand census. There is also a wide-ranging network of New Age
spiritual groups in New Zealand. Both these Christian and New Age groups are part of what
Taylor calls a “culture informed by an ethic of authenticity” in which spirituality is a quest
for wholeness and depth (2007, p. 507).
The third trend is the rapid growth of Eastern religions, which can be attributed to an inux
of immigrants to New Zealand (although many immigrants are Christian). However, this
number should not be overestimated as adherents to Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Chinese and
Japanese religions make up less than 4% of the New Zealand population (Statistics New
Zealand, 2006). As well as this, there has been a resurgence of interest in Māori Christianity,
especially in the Ringatu and Ratana churches. These increases are likely to be due to the
growth of the Māori population as well as growing interest in Māori spirituality (Hoverd,
2008) rooted in post-colonial guilt feelings and New Age fascination with indigenous spir-
itualities (Ahdar, 2006).
As Hill commented over twenty years ago, researchers of religion in New Zealand have
been “few in number”(in Webster & Perry, 1989, p.ii). There is a need for a clearer under-
standing of the religious and non-religious streams in New Zealand. Most current information
is based on adherence to institutions, yet there is considerable variation within these institu-
tions. The aim of the ISSP religion survey is to get a broader and more precise understanding
of people’s religious beliefs, practices, values, and experiences, including individuals who
are unafliated with religious institutions.
The research team used the religion questionnaire developed by the ISSP. This questionnaire
was chosen because: (1) one of the questions clearly differentiated between religious adher-
ence and spirituality, (2) the items had been carefully pre-tested for reliability, (3) the ques-
tionnaire has been used regularly throughout the world since 1984 and adapted each time,
and (4) ISSP ndings regularly appear in leading academic journals, allowing scholars in
other countries to compare data and observe worldwide trends.
The survey questions were similar to those used in the 1991 and 1998 questionnaires. A
question was added that was in the 1991 survey, but not in the 1998 one, asking respondents:
“Do you feel you have ever been aware of or inuenced by a presence or power, whether
you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday self?” Other questions were
also added asking respondents how satised they are with their own religion or spirituality,
and whether they feel they have found their purpose in life. The former has been used in
other surveys, for example the Heylen poll and the Personal Wellbeing Index.
The team randomly selected 2040 people aged 18 and over from the electoral roll, and
sent out the questionnaire by mail. The survey produced 1027 valid responses, an effective
response rate of 52%. A sample of this size has a maximum error margin at the 95% cond-
ence level of approximately plus or minus 3%.
The responses were analysed using PASW statistics 18. Though the sample was represent-
ative of a wide spectrum of New Zealand society, the voluntary nature of the responses res-
ulted in a slight over-representation of older people and females. To correct these biases,
the survey data were weighted so that the age-sex distribution of the sample matched that
of the New Zealand population.
The sample comprised 52% women and 48% men. The majority (61.3%) were married,
23.1% had never married, and the others were widowed, divorced or separated. Most parti-
cipants (77.9%) were born in New Zealand. The highest age concentration was the 40−49
age group (20.6%), and the remaining age groups were evenly distributed, with 38.7% under
the age of 40, and 40.7% aged over 49.
Table 1: Religious Adherence (n=1027)
Proportion of
Sample %
Current Religion
27.2Mainstream Protestant (Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian)
7.1Christian (not further dened)
Other Protestant (Brethren, Jehovah’s Witness, Lutheran, Latter Day
Saints, Protestant nfd, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist)
2.1Eastern (Buddhism & Hinduism)
1.7Pentecostal (including Assemblies of God)
0.8Māori Christianity (Ratana and Ringatu)
40.5No religion
Most participants were raised in conservative Christian households: 40.5% as Protestant,
19.9% as Catholic, and 0.3% as Orthodox. The remaining respondents were either raised in
other religions (12.2%) or had no religious background (27.1%).
The religious afliations of the sample are consistent with the 2006 census gures. Most
respondents (59.5%) indicated they had a religion, and for at least 53.7%, this was a Christian
religion. The breakdown of these statistics can be seen in table 1.
Religious Beliefs
Most respondents (53%) believe in God, although half of these people have some doubts;
19.2% do not believe in a personal God but believe in a higher power of some kind, while
27.8% either do not believe in God or do not know if there is one. Table 2 shows that one
fth of the sample changed their belief about God during the course of their life.
Table 2: Personal History of Belief in God (n=1027)
Proportion of SampleSelf Description of Belief in God
21.7I don’t believe in God now, and I never have
11.9I don’t believe in God now, but I used to
7.8I believe in God now, but I didn’t used to
39.1I believe in God now, and I always have
19.6Can’t choose
Regarding the relationship between humans and God, 37.8% of respondents believe there
is a God who concerns Himself with every human being personally, and for 20.7% life is
meaningful only because God exists. Few (8%) believe that the Bible is the actual word of
God and is to be taken literally.
As table 3 shows, participants have a reasonably high level of religious beliefs, even for
practices that are often associated with superstition.
Table 3: Religious Beliefs (n=1027)
Proportion of‘Denitely’ or ‘Probably’ Believe in
Sample (%)
57.4Life after death
44.3Religious miracles
28.7Good luck charms sometimes bring good luck
26.6Supernatural power of ancestors
39.2Some faith healers do have God-given powers
A person’s star sign at birth, or horoscope, can
affect the course of their futures
38.6Some fortune tellers can foresee the future
Asked whether they had experienced a turning point in their life when they made a new and
personal commitment to religion, 24.6% said ‘yes’. It is likely that many of these experiences
were ‘born again’ ones, as 19.2% said they had at one stage in their life had a born-again
When asked how religious they are, 35.8% described themselves as religious (9.1% as
extremely or very religious and 26.7% as somewhat religious). The rest either describe
themselves as non-religious (37%) or neutral (27.2%).
These self-perceptions are reected in the level of involvement the respondents have in
religious activities. Almost half the sample pray at least several times a year, including 18.4%
who pray daily. However, 38.9% never attend a religious service, only 20.1% regularly attend
a service at least once a month, and 55.1% never take part in church activities other than at-
tending services. A small number showed a higher level of commitment, and 12.3% had
made a personal sacrice during the year, such as fasting, following a special diet, or giving
up an activity during a holy season as an expression of faith. Additionally, 16.1% have in
their home a shrine, altar, or religious object on display, such as an icon, retablos, mezuzah,
menorah or crucix.
Personal Spirituality
Despite declining religious adherence, 45.2% said they have their own way of connecting
with God without churches or religious services, and 70.3% reported being either very satis-
ed or satised with their own religion or spirituality, with only 3% dissatised (the remaining
26.6% were neutral). When asked whether they agreed with the statement, “I have found
my purpose in life,” 49.2% agreed, 10.5% disagreed and 40.3% were neutral.
As table 4 shows, most respondents said that although they do not follow a religion, they
are spiritual and interested in the sacred or supernatural. Conversely, almost one sixth of the
sample follow a religion, but are not interested in the sacred or supernatural. Statistics on
the degree of spirituality provide a clearer picture: 8.4% describe themselves as very spiritual,
29.7% as moderately spiritual, 32.8% as slightly spiritual, and 29.1% as not spiritual at all.
Table 4: Religious Self-description (n=1027)
Percent of RespondentsSelf-description
Follow a religion and am a spiritual person interested in the
Follow a religion, but am not a spiritual person interested in
the sacred/supernatural
Don’t follow a religion, but am a spiritual person interested
in the sacred/supernatural
Don’t follow a religion and am not a spiritual person interested
in the sacred/supernatural
8.7Can’t choose
Regarding religious experience, when asked: “Have you ever been aware of or inuenced
by a presence, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday self?”
39.5% said yes, 38.6% said no, and the remaining 21.9% were unsure.
Attitude to Religion
Most participants seemed to have a positive attitude towards religion. When asked whether
religion helps to nd inner peace and happiness, most (79.1%) agreed, and a similar proportion
(81.3%) agreed that religion helps people make friends. A great majority (90.2%) also said
religion helps people gain comfort in times of trouble or sorrow. Additionally, there was
widespread support (60%) for children to have some form of religious education in primary
schools, with 28.8% preferring the teaching of all faiths, not just Christianity.
There was a general tolerance to other religions. The majority (79.2%) believe there are
basic truths in many religions, 13.7% said there is very little truth in any religion, while 7.1%
believe there is truth only in one religion. In line with this, 73.8% agreed or strongly agreed
with the statement that we must respect all religions. Few had negative attitudes towards
people from other religions: 92.7% were positive or neutral towards Christians, 76.2% towards
Muslims, 87.8% towards Hindus, 91.8% towards Buddhists, 91.9% towards Jews, and 90.2%
towards atheists or non-believers.
Religion in Society
Relatively few respondents (10.8%) consider that religion as a whole is increasing its inuence
on New Zealand life, 46% believe it is losing its inuence, 27.9% think it is neither increasing
nor losing its inuence, and the rest do not know. Among those who believe religion is losing
its inuence, 17.3% think this is a good thing, while 49.7% think it is a bad thing, and the
remainder do not know.
If a law were passed that conicted with their religious principles and teachings, 29.6%
of those surveyed said they would follow their religious principles, while 23% said they
would follow the law. The remaining participants either said they had no religious principles
(34.1%) or they could not choose (13.3%).
Age and Gender Effects
Older respondents tended to be more religious than younger ones. Those over 55 were more
likely than those under 35 to have a religious afliation, to believe in God, and to believe
the Bible is literal word of God. There was little difference in belief in a higher power among
different age groups.
Gender differences were also evident, and, as expected, female respondents were more
religious than men. Higher proportions of women than men had religious beliefs, were afl-
iated to a religion, reported having a religious experience, and identied themselves as
The results conrm that New Zealand society is becoming more secularised. Most participants
had relatively low levels of active involvement in religion, and there is evidence they have
become less religious over the last 17 years. The proportion of New Zealanders who said
they have no religion increased from 29% among those surveyed in 1991 to 40% in 2008.
Similarly, fewer New Zealanders now say they believe in God than they did 17 years ago
(although there is no change in the proportion of respondents who believe in a higher power).
The decline in religious beliefs seems to be strongest in areas that are contradictory to science,
e.g. the belief that the Bible is the literal truth and the belief that star signs and horoscopes
inuence one’s destiny. This nding suggests that education may be an underestimated
factor in research on the secularisation of New Zealand and, given increasing access to tertiary
education, it may be worth exploring the relationship between educational level and secular-
At the same time, there is preliminary evidence that New Zealand is experiencing the
spiritual revolution that Brown (2006) describes, in which religion is refashioned as spiritual
experience, without the need for a central authority. While traditional beliefs and institutional
religion have declined, spiritual experience has risen: 39.5% afrmed they had experienced
a spiritual presence or power different from their everyday self, compared with 32.8% in
1991. Although this statistic is lower than the 62% reported in England when respondents
were interviewed face-to-face and the interviewer could explain the question (Hay & Morisy,
1985), it is consistent with questionnaire responses – 36.4% from England and 35% from
the United States (Greeley, 1974; Hay & Morisy, 1978). That 21.9% chose the ‘Not sure’
option suggests the proportion could be higher.
Overall, the data present a picture of New Zealanders that can be divided into three parts
of roughly equal proportions. The rst group comprises one in three New Zealanders who
can be called religious, though many would prefer the term ‘spiritual’. Of this group, almost
two thirds are very or extremely religious. These are the people for whom life is meaningful
only because God exists. They are likely to pray daily, have religious experiences, make a
personal sacrice for their faith, and have a shrine, altar or religious object in their house.
This group ranges from people who are liberal and unafliated with any institution to those
who are conservative Christians who hold fundamentalist views. If a law were passed that
conicted with their religious principles, they would stay with their principles. They are
more likely to be female than male.
The second group, comprising roughly another third of the population, is of people who
are not interested in the sacred or supernatural, have no religious principles, and would de-
scribe themselves as neither religious nor spiritual. Males predominate in this group. They
do not agree that religion helps a person nd inner peace and happiness, and they do not
presume there is an afterlife. Most have not had a religious experience, and they either do
not believe in God or do not know if there is a God. They do not support religious education
in primary schools.
Between these two extremes is a middle group, also comprising approximately one in
three New Zealanders. They are much less religious, but not irreligious. They are satised
with their own religion or spirituality. They believe there may be a God or a higher power
and some form of life after death. Some pray and sometimes go to church (or a religious
institution), others are not afliated with any religion. They see basic truths in many spiritual
paths and their prevailing attitude to other faiths is either neutrality or goodwill. They believe
that religion can be a force for good, that it provides peace and happiness, helps people in
times of need, and may be worth teaching in primary schools. However, they do not feel a
great need for religion themselves.
The ndings that (1) many New Zealanders are not tied to a religious organisation, but
consider themselves to be spiritual, and (2) many who belong to religious organisations do
not consider themselves spiritual, show how ineffective census statistics are in capturing the
strength of people’s personal religion and predicting the future of religion. These ndings
also underline the need to learn more about those who identify themselves as having no reli-
gion. That many respondents seem to mean ‘no organised religion’, rather than ‘no religion’,
helps explain why Webster and Perry (1989) found that half of those who professed no reli-
gion held religious beliefs. Another issue that arises is the predominance of males in this
category. New Zealand is inclined towards being a masculine culture– the country’s pioneer
origins and what Holmes (1997, p. 263) calls its ‘man alone’ symbolism may make both
organised religion and personal spirituality unattractive options for men.
The high proportion of spiritual people who do not belong to a religion lends strong
plausibility to Lineham’s (2003) suggestion that intimate, unstructured groups of ex-members
are one of the fastest growing religious phenomena in the country. The high proportion also
suggests the inuence of New Age networks, given that many respondents hold beliefs as-
sociated with the New Age, such as spiritual healing and reincarnation. There is little research
on either the New Zealand New Age movement or unstructured Christian groups (Gilling’s
1999 work on informal Christian communities is an exception) yet these seem to be important
directions for the future of New Zealand religion.
The value of this study is that it provides preliminary empirical evidence that a spiritual re-
volution may be occurring in New Zealand – a country that has one of the highest rates in
the Western world of people with no religious afliation. The research also pinpoints educa-
tion as possibly the most important unstudied inuence on secularisation in New Zealand.
Further, the study identies three major religious streams, classifying the intensity of New
Zealanders’ commitment and beliefs, independent of their religious afliation.
Nevertheless, there are several limitations to the research. As well as the common draw-
backs of quantitative research (for example, that pre-set options do not allow much scope
for the respondents) there are drawbacks specic to this study. First, religion is as much, if
not more, an emotional phenomenon as an intellectual one, yet the feeling dimension is
largely omitted in large scale surveys such as this one. Second, as ISSP scholars use the
same questions in 42 other countries, the items were not adapted to the New Zealand setting.
Words in the survey like ‘retablos’, ‘mezuzah’ and ‘menorah’ would be outside the vocabulary
of most New Zealanders, who would instead be familiar with words from Māori spirituality
like ‘tapu’, ‘mana’, ‘karakia’ and ‘tangi’ (or its longer form, ‘tangihana’).
Nevertheless, the major advantage of the ISSP survey is that it allows researchers to capture
people’s personal religion, supplying ndings that can be compared with those of other
countries. The data in this study provide a snapshot of religion in New Zealand, documenting
the beliefs, practices, values, and experiences of a country in the process of secularisation.
Our hope is that future researchers will build on these ndings with qualitative research, for
it is highly likely that secularisation will continue.
Ahdar, R. (2006). Reections on the path of religion-state relations in New Zealand. Brigham Young
University Law Review, 3, 619−659.
Brookes, N., & Currow, S. (1998). Lifting the lid on the New Zealand church.In P. Kaldal,J. Bellamy
& R. Powell, Shaping a future. Adelaide, Australia: Open Book Publishers.
Brown, C.G. (2006). Religion and society in twentieth-century Britain. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
Burrows, J., & Cheer, U. (2010). Media law in New Zealand (6th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand:
Christian Research Association of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2000). The religion question: Findings
from the 1996 census. Auckland, New Zealand: Christian Research Association of Aotearoa
New Zealand.
Davie, G. (1990). Believing without belonging: Is this the future of religion in Britain? Social Compass,
37 (4), 455−469.
Ellwood, R.S. (1993). Islands of the dawn: The story of alternative spirituality in New Zealand. Hon-
olulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Fenn, R.K. (1978). Toward a theory of secularization. Storrs, CT: Society for the Scientic Study of
Gilling, M. (1999). Where do we nd our meaning? Auckland, New Zealand: Futures Group.
Greeley, A. (1974). Ecstasy: A way of knowing. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Hay, D., & Morisy, A. (1978). Reports of ecstatic, paranormal, or religious experiences in Great Britain
and the United States. Journal for the Scientic Study of Religion, 17(3), 255−268.
Hay, D., & Morisy, A. (1985). Secular society religious meanings: A contemporary paradox. Review
of Religious Research,26(3), 213-227.
Holmes, J. (1997). Story-telling in New Zealand women and men’s talk. In R. Wodak (Ed.). Gender
and discourse (pp. 263-290). London, UK: Sage.
Hoverd, W.J. (2008). No longer a Christian country? Religious demographic change in New Zealand
1966–2006. New Zealand Sociology, 23(1), 41−65.
Kavan, H. (2004). Glossolalia and altered states of consciousness in two New Zealand religious
movements. Journal of Contemporary Religion,19(2), 171−184.
Lineham, P. (2003). Three kinds of churches. In R. Bodde & H. Kempster (Eds.), Thinking outside
the square: Church in Middle E arth (pp. 199−224). Auckland, New Zealand: St Columba’s
Press & Journeyings.
Martin, D. (1979). A general theory of secularization. New York: Harper & Row.
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. (1990). Retrieved February 14, 2011, from
Nachowitz, T. (2007). New Zealand as a multireligioussociety: Recent census gures and some relevant
implications. Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal, 2(2), 17−25.
Pew Forum. (2008). U.S. Religious landscape survey: Religious afliation: Diverse and dynamic.
Retrieved March, 1, 2011, from
Phillips, J. (1987). A man’s country? The image of the pakeha male – a history. Auckland, New Zea-
land: Penguin.
Stark, R. (2002). Physiology and faith: Addressing the ‘universal’ gender difference in religious
commitment. Journal for the Scientic Study of Religion, 41(3), 495−507.
Statistics New Zealand. (2006). Quick sta ts about culture and identity. Table 28 (Religious afliation)
& Table 29 (Age group and sex by religious afliation). Retrieved November 15, 2008,
Taylor, C. (2007). A secular age. Cambridge, UK: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Te Puni Kokiri. (2001). A guide to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, as expressed by the Courts
and the Waitangi Tribunal. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Puni Kokiri.
Walter, T., & Davie, G. (1998). The religiosity of women in the modern west. British Journal of Soci-
ology, 49(4), 640−660.
Webster, A.C., & Perry, P.E. (1989). The religious factor in New Zealand society. Palmerston North,
New Zealand: Alpha Publications.
About the Authors
Dr. Franco Vaccarino
Massey University, New Zealand
Dr. Heather Kavan
Massey University, New Zealand
Philip Gendall
Massey University, New Zealand
Bill Cope, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Editorial Advisory Board
Desmond Cahill, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
Bill Cope, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
Robert McKim, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
Please visit the Journal website at
for further information about the Journal or to subscribe.
The Religion and Spirituality in Society Community
This knowledge community is brought together by a common concern for religious study
and an interest to explore the relationship between religion and spirituality in society.
The community interacts through an innovative, annual face-to-face conference, as well
as year-round virtual relationships in a web blog, peer reviewed journal and book
seriesexploring the affordances of the new digital media. Members of this knowledge
community include philosophers, theologians, policymakers, and educators.
Members of the Religion and Spirituality in Society Community meet at the international
conference, held annually in different locations around the world, each selected for the
particular role education is playing in social, cultural and economic change. The
Inaugural Conference was held at University Center, Chicago, USA in 2011 and in 2012
the Conference will be held at Robson Square, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, Canada.
Our community members and first time attendees come from all corners of the globe.
The Conference is a site of critical reflection, both by leaders in the field and emerging
artists and scholars. Those unable to attend the Conference may opt for virtual
participation in which community members can submit a video and/or slide presentation
with voice-over, or simply submit a paper for peer review and possible publication in the
Online presentations can be viewed on YouTube.
The Religion and Spirituality in Society Community enables members to publish through
three mediums.
First, by participating in the Religion Conference, community members can enter a world
of journal publication unlike the traditional academic publishing forums a result of the
responsive, non-hierarchical and constructive nature of the peer review process. The
International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society provides a framework for
double-blind peer review, enabling authors to publish into an academic journal of the
highest standard.
The second publication medium is through the book series Religion in Society,
publishing cutting edge books on religion in print and electronic formats. Publication
proposals and manuscript submissions are welcome.
The third major publishing medium is our news blog, constantly publishing short news
updates from the Religion Community, as well as major developments in the fields of
religion and spirituality. You can also join this conversation at Facebook and Twitter or
subscribe to our email Newsletter.
Common Ground Publishing Journals
Aging and Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The International Journal of the Arts in Society.
The International Journal of the Book
The International Journal of Climate Change:
Impacts and Responses
The International Journal of the
Constructed Environment
Design Principles and Practices:
An International Journal
The International Journal of Diversity in
Organizations, Communities and Nations
Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The Global Studies Journal
The International Journal of Health,
Wellness and Society
The International Journal of the Humanities
The International Journal of the Image
The International Journal of Learning.
The International Journal of Knowledge,
Culture and Change Management.
The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
The International Journal of Religion and
Spirituality in Society
The International Journal of Science in Society
The International Journal of Interdisciplinary
Social Sciences
Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of
Urban and ExtraUrban Studies
The International Journal of Sport and Society
The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural,
Economic and Social Sustainability
The International Journal of Technology,
Knowledge and Society
Ubiquitous Learning: An International Journal
Journal of the World Universities Forum
For subscription information please contact
... The official 2018 census results saw a growth in "no religion" to 48.6% of the population, up from 29% in 1991 and with "undeclared" accounting for 6.7% of the population (Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa, 2019). In an earlier study with 1,027 responses, Vaccarino, Kavan and Gendall (2011) found up to 50% of respondents claimed some belief in God, but an additional 30.5% agreed with the statement "I don't follow a religion, but am a spiritual person interested in the sacred/supernatural". As a result, Vaccarino et al. (2011) concluded approximately one-third of New Zealanders are religious and spiritual, one-third of New Zealanders are spiritual but not religious and one-third of New Zealanders are neither religious or spiritual. ...
... In an earlier study with 1,027 responses, Vaccarino, Kavan and Gendall (2011) found up to 50% of respondents claimed some belief in God, but an additional 30.5% agreed with the statement "I don't follow a religion, but am a spiritual person interested in the sacred/supernatural". As a result, Vaccarino et al. (2011) concluded approximately one-third of New Zealanders are religious and spiritual, one-third of New Zealanders are spiritual but not religious and one-third of New Zealanders are neither religious or spiritual. The data also showed that the growth in those identifying as spiritual in New Zealand is matched by an increase in religious and spiritual experiences (Vaccarino et al., 2011). ...
... As a result, Vaccarino et al. (2011) concluded approximately one-third of New Zealanders are religious and spiritual, one-third of New Zealanders are spiritual but not religious and one-third of New Zealanders are neither religious or spiritual. The data also showed that the growth in those identifying as spiritual in New Zealand is matched by an increase in religious and spiritual experiences (Vaccarino et al., 2011). Spirituality has also been recognised more broadly in New Zealand society through Mason Durie's Te Whare Tapa Wha model of well-being (Durie, 1998), which draws from Māori concepts of spirituality, being taught in all New Zealand state schools and professional healthcare undergraduate courses (Egan & Johnson-Bogaerts, 2020). ...
Full-text available
Robert Greenleaf introduced servant leadership in 1970 as an ‘others first’ philosophy to benefit followers, organisations and society. While research suggests a link between servant leadership and spirituality—an individually constructed set of beliefs, practices, and experiences that may or may not draw from religion—research has yet to explore if and how spirituality develops across multi-faith, multi-ethnic aspiring servant leaders in Aotearoa-New Zealand. This study used a case study methodology to explore how 12 international students developed spiritually, as defined by the Spiritual Development Framework (SDF) proposed by Benson, Scales, Syvertson and & Roehlkepartain (2012), through an Aotearoa-New Zealand tertiary servant leader course. Development was also considered against the dimensions of Servant Leadership Behaviour Survey (SLBS) as proposed by Sendjaya, Sarros and Santora (2008). The present study found evidence of spiritual and servant leader development before the course through mentoring and modelling by family and faith communities and evidence of development during the course in the spiritual development processes of awareness, connection and a way of living and through reciprocal and experiential learning based on professional practice and reflection. The findings support the inclusion of spirituality as a dimension of servant leadership and suggests further servant leader development should build on spiritual practice and formative mentoring by family and faith communities and provide emotional support for learners in their servant leader development.
... Similarly, despite being a largely secular country (Vaccarino et al. 2011), recent research has affirmed the importance of spirituality as part of holistic healthcare in New Zealand (NZ): in Egan's study of spirituality in end-of-life care (Egan et al. 2011), 99% of participants (patients, family members, health professionals and chaplains) "understood spirituality to be meaningful" (Egan et al. 2011, p.321). Whilst chaplaincy has traditionally led the provision of spiritual care, this appears to be changing as healthcare systems, patients' and spiritual needs change (Cobb 2007;Heelas 2006); there is some evidence that suggests nurses provide much of the psycho-social-spiritual care (Egan et al. 2013). ...
... As McSherry (McSherry et al. 2008, p. 1004 states, "teaching spirituality is ethically contentious". It can invoke the idea of religion, which is problematic for predominantly secular countries like the UK and New Zealand (Gill et al. 1998;Vaccarino et al. 2011). ...
... Participants' feedback highlights the need for ongoing engagement of the nursing profession with up-to-date research on the state of spiritual practices in the NZ population, and international understandings of the scope of spirituality and spiritual care. One participant's expectation that spiritual needs will gradually wither in NZ's predominantly secular society contradicts recent research indicating the rise of spiritual identification and practices in NZ-although accompanied by a decline in religious affiliation (Vaccarino et al. 2011). Vaccarino, Kavan and Gendall found that almost one-third of their sample (n = 1027) identified themselves being spiritual despite not identifying with a religion, and almost half declared they had personal pathways to connect with God outside of formal religious services or institutions. ...
Full-text available
This paper presents the qualitative findings from the first national survey of New Zealand nurses’ views on spirituality and spiritual care. The importance of spirituality as a core aspect of holistic nursing care is gaining momentum. Little is currently known about New Zealand nurses’ understandings, perceptions and experience of spirituality. Design: A descriptive online survey. Method: A random sample of 2000 individuals resident in New Zealand whose occupation on the New Zealand electoral roll suggested nursing was their current or past occupation were invited via postcard to participate in an online survey. This paper reports on the free response section of the survey. Findings: Overall, 472 invitees responded (24.1%). From the respondents, 63% completed at least one of the optional free response sections. Thematic analysis generated three metathemes: ‘The role of spirituality in nursing practice’, ‘Enabling best practice’, and ‘Creating a supportive culture’. Conclusions: Spirituality was predominantly valued as a core aspect of holistic nursing care. However, clarity is needed surrounding what constitutes spiritual care and how this intersects with professional responsibilities and boundaries. Participants’ insights suggest a focus on improving the consistency and quality of spiritual care by fostering inter-professional collaboration, and improved provision of resources and educational opportunities.
... In addition to this, another research has shown a positive relationship between health and religion (Bonelli & Koenig, 2013). The findings of the international social survey program indicate that an individual's spiritual experiences are more important than belonging to a formal religious institution (Vaccarino, et al., 2011). This illustrates that, due to this outbreak, people were asked by the governments to offer their religious practices at home, recognizing that congregation for religious practices may increase the risk of spread of the virus while gathering people in enclosed spaces can be possible without having physical interaction. ...
... In addition to this, the majority of the studies (72%) have shown a positive relationship between health and religion, and only sixteen per cent have reported a negative opinion (Bonelli et al., 2013). The findings of the international social survey program indicate that an individual's spiritual experiences are more important than belonging to a formal religious institution (Vaccarino, et al., 2011). This illustrates that due to this outbreak, governments put lockdowns and people were asked to offer their religious practices at home, recognizing that religious practices as individual state of affairs and can be done with having physical interaction. ...
Full-text available
The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) originated in China at the end of 2019, the virus festered there for four months before spreading globally. Impacting the developed and developing world including Indonesia. It has transformed social, economic and political practices social life, everyday habits and government policies, with multi-dimensional consequences on human life. The present study endeavours to explore the relationship between religiosity, social capital, and psychological well-being of the general public, particularly in terms of coping with the pandemic. In addition to this, the study aims to highlight the importance of public awareness regarding social distancing, use of religion as a coping mechanism, and living a healthy lifestyle during pandemic. For knowing the perception of the masses, an online survey by using a self-administered questionnaire was carried out among coronavirus patients, the general public, social media activists, students, and professionals across Indonesia. The findings indicate that the pandemic has altered the lifestyle of the masses in different ways and that people have varied perceptions towards this virus regarding its spread and preventive measures. The study also reveals that, social capital (β = .418, p < .001), psychological well-being (β = .343, p < .001), and religious coping (β = .145, p <. 01) have a significant amount of the variance of coronavirus situational stress (F = 69.77, p < .001, R2 = 0.485). Lastly, the study suggests that, adopting preventative measures, standard operating procedures that are sustainable and healthy forms of coping with the pandemic will be equally as important as medical care in order to contain and eventually eradicate the virus.
... In light of these two trends, increasing lack of religious affiliation and decreasing Christian affiliation, the role to be played by a Christian Chaplain or Padre 5 in the NZDF may justifiably be brought into question. However, the results of a recent survey highlighted the inability of the census to fully capture the intricate nuances of spiritual and religious affiliation, beliefs and practices of New Zealanders (Vaccarino, Kavan & Gendall 2011). The survey results affirmed a general decline in religious affiliation as well as traditional beliefs in monotheistic concepts of "god". ...
... Formal Christian religious affiliation has steadily declined in the last few decades, alongside steady increases in those proclaiming no religious affiliation (Statistics New Zealand 2014). Nonetheless, there exists strong acceptance of and engagement in spiritual practices that connect oneself to God or other higher power (Vaccarino, Kavan & Gendall 2011). In light of the recent changes in NZ society, the NZDF's choice of Christian chaplains as the method of pastoral support to their personnel may justifiably be questioned. ...
... However, many who identify as having 'no religion' are not necessarily atheists. Findings from the International Social Survey Programme have indicated that individualized spiritual experiences are more important than belonging to a formal religious institution (Vaccarino et al. 2011). These findings are backed up by an Australian study which found many youths identified as 'spiritual but not religious,' a category obscured by census data (Halafoff et al. 2020). ...
Full-text available
Social scientific research into the impact of COVID-19 on religious communities is emergent. This research combines interview data (n = 12) collected, as New Zealand moved into Level 3—Restrict and then Level 4—Lockdown, with Facebook and online news media analysis to understand how religious leaders and their communities responded to COVID-19. Our data found four challenges: (1) The requirement to reassess worship practices, (2) the need to mitigate any potential for community transmission, (3) significant difficulties related to social distancing for communal religious practices, and lastly, (4) welfare and pastoral concerns for congregations and others in need.
... Spirituality is a complex concept that is eclectically understood in New Zealand. 15 Qualitative methods offer the opportunity to explore these complex concepts while allowing for a range of opinions to be expressed. Thus this study employed generic qualitative methods including semi-structured in-depth interviews by telephone, followed by transcriptions, coding and thematic analysis. ...
Full-text available
Chronic kidney disease is marked by a reduced life expectancy and a high symptom burden. For those who reach end-stage renal disease, the prognosis is poor, and this combined with the growing prevalence of the disease necessitates supportive and palliative care programmes that will address people’s psychosocial, cultural and spiritual needs. While there is variation between countries, research reveals that many renal specialist nurses and doctors are reluctant to address spirituality, initiate end-of-life conversations or implement conservative treatment plans early. Yet, other studies indicate that the provision of palliative care services, which includes the spiritual dimension, can reduce symptom burden, assist patients in making advanced directives/plans and improve health-related quality of life. This review brings together the current literature related to renal supportive care and spirituality under the following sections and themes. The introduction and background sections situate spirituality in both healthcare generally and chronic kidney disease. Gaps in the provision of chronic kidney disease spiritual care are then considered, followed by a discussion of the palliative care model related to chronic kidney disease and spirituality. Chronic kidney disease spiritual needs and care approaches are discussed with reference to advanced care planning, hope, grief and relationships. A particular focus on quality of life is developed, with spirituality named as a key dimension. Finally, further challenges, such as culture, training and limitations, are explicated.
Full-text available
Examines the strength of religious identification among a sample of 3505 self-identified Christians in Time 4 (2012) of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. The findings focus on four main groups. These reveal significant denominational variation, including a notable "age gap" among Catholic respondents, and high levels of identification among non-denominationally-identified Christians. The article explores the significance of these patterns for the future shape of Christianity.
Most studies of electoral behaviour in New Zealand do not pay much attention to the religious-secular cleavage. While a few studies noted a religious-secular cleavage prior to the adoption of proportional representation, most have assumed that such a divide since 1996 has been confined to the margins of electoral politics, with religious voters supporting smaller third parties over National. This article re-evaluates this conclusion using data from the New Zealand Election Study since 1990. The analyses show that, rather than supporting small third parties more clearly representing issues of concern to them, religious voters have voted largely for National in most elections as part of a religious-secular cleavage between National and Labour. Fluctuation in support for National among religious voters is tied to National’s electoral fortunes: religious voters have been more likely to support National when the party has been likely to form the next government, but more likely to cast votes for third parties when National’s prospects have been poor.
The nature of religious change and the future of religion have been central questions of social science since its inception. But empirical research on this question has been quite American-centric, encouraged by the conventional wisdom that the United States is an outlier of religiosity in the developed world, and, more pragmatically, by the availability of survey data. The dramatic growth in the number and reach of cross-national surveys over the past two decades has offered a corrective. These data have allowed research on religious trends in the United States, Canada, and Europe, putting American trends into comparative relief. This research synthesis reviews the past quarter century of cross-national comparative survey research on religious behavior, focusing on religious service attendance as a commonly measured behavior that is arguably more equivalent across societies and cultures than other measures of religiosity. The lack of evidence for religious revival is highlighted, noting instead declining rates of attendance in the United States and Canada, and either declining rates or low “bottomed-out” stability in Western Europe, most of Eastern Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. Finally, countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are discussed to the extent that research allows, before a call for future research—in these places in particular—is made in order to correct for the Western and Christian focus of much of the research on cross-national religious trends.
Most studies examining the relationship between social cleavages and party system fragmentation maintain that higher levels of social diversity lead to greater party system fragmentation. However, most aggregate-level studies focus on one type of social cleavage: ethnic diversity. In order to develop a better understanding of how different cleavages impact electoral competition, this article considers another type of social cleavage: religious diversity. Contrary to previous literature, higher levels of religious diversity provide incentives for cross-religious cooperation, which in turn reduces party system fragmentation. Using a cross-national data set of elections from 1946–2011, the results show that, in contrast to most studies examining the effects of social cleavage diversity on the number of parties, higher religious diversity is associated with lower levels of party system fragmentation.
Watch a video presentation of this article
Studies in the United States show that "ecstatic," "paranormal," or "religious experience is much more widespread than contemporary descriptions of reality would lead us to suppose. Despite differences in methodology, trends seem to be emerging and a recent national survey in Great Britain suggests that these findings may not be peculiar to North America. The paper outlines points of convergence and divergence between the British and American work on the occurrance of such experience and its relation to psychological well-being, and explores theoretical perspectives which may illuminate the information gathered in these surveys.
A random sample of the adult population of an English industrial city was interviewed to ascertain the proportion of people reporting certain types of human experience which are commonly given a religious interpretation. Whilst the number claiming active membership of a religious institution was very low, a majority of people (62%) said they had this type of experience at least once or twice in their lives. Respondents were asked to give descriptions of their experiences and it was possible to classify these. The coded categories were found to relate to the extent to which an experience was, in fact, interpreted religiously. Furthermore, the more important an experience was judged to be by the individual, the more likely it was to be interpreted religiously. The hypothesis is proposed that interpretations of these experiences are given according to the sector of society within which the experiencer finds himself. There is evidence of a strong taboo against the public admission of these experiences, perhaps because they conflict with currently dominant secular models of reality.
In western societies influenced by Christianity, women are more religious than men on virtually every measure. If religion is rooted (as Marx suggested) in economic vulnerability, can the religiosity of women be explained by economic or social circumstances? Or what about the vulnerability of the physical body - can women's religiosity be explained by their greater contact with birth and death? If modernity entails the progressive eradication of all kinds of vulnerability, what might this mean for the future of religion in general and of women's religiosity in particular? And what further twists to the story might postmodernity add? The article uses these questions as a frame for reviewing the literature on women's religiosity in the modern West.