The Value Orientation of Contemporary Pagans

Many new religious movements have emerged since the mid-twentieth century and Paganism is an important strand. This emergence coincided with the emergence and growth of post-materialist attitudes. As a sociologist of religion based at the University of Tampere with particular interests in Paganism, I am following this weekend’s Census with great interest, particularly the campaign of the Pagan Federation for those following one of the Pagan pathways to use the ‘write in’ section to write ‘Pagan’ or ‘Pagan-Heathen’, ‘Pagan-Wicca’ et cetera, rather than leaving their religion not stated. In the 2001 Census, 42,000 of the population in Great Britain used the write-in section in this way, although many considered that this was a substantial undercount.

Statistics on Pagans are relatively limited and conventional surveys do not capture them in sufficient numbers for further analysis. Even where sample sizes are large, Pagans are not coded separately and so we do not know which of the ‘Other Religion’ group are Pagan.

For my PhD project, I therefore used a non-probability sampling method to learn more about the values of Pagans compared to the mainstream UK population. I gathered data from 451 Pagans from the UK, Ireland, and Finland, and 130 Open University students with a similar age and gender profile to serve as a proxy for the mainstream UK population. The fieldwork was conducted over eight months from September 2007 to April 2008. I used a 21-item questionnaire measuring values, and a 32-item individualism–collectivism questionnaire.

For the Pagan sample, respondents were asked to indicate their spiritual path from a list of options: Wicca or Witchcraft, Druidic, Heathen, Shamanic, Eco-Pagan, Pagan, Reconstructionist, or Goddess Spirituality. They were also given the option of further elaboration.

My main findings were that Pagans have significantly higher emphasis than the mainstream group on post-materialist values, scoring high on Universalism and Self-direction and low on Security and Conformity. Within the Pagan group, I found that the majority share a world-view, with nearly three-quarters (72%) seeing themselves as independent and interconnected, with high tolerance of difference and for whom competition and in-group duty are not salient. A second sub-group (12%) is less independent and more interconnected; a third (7%) more in-group focussed and less competitive and tolerant; and a fourth group (10%) is relatively competitive, more individualist and with a lower tolerance of difference. The table and chart below provide more detail on how the sub-groups compare.

Location of Pagan Sub-Group Values Compared To Mainstream Sub-Groups

I did not find a significant difference between the sub-groups in terms of gender or birth cohort distribution, although the interconnected Pagans were older and the competitive Pagan sub-group had a more equal gender division. Neither were there any significant differences between the Pagan sub-groups in country or Pagan path distribution.

My overall conclusions were that the value priorities of the majority of Pagans can be considered to be postmaterialist, emphasising universalistic values and self-direction. I also found that while there was a wide variety of self-identifications given by those who took part in the Pagan survey, there was relative similarity across the sample in its value orientation. It appears that the high tolerance of difference can be partly attributed to this plurality of spiritual paths. A detailed paper covering the research and with more extensive discussion is available here.

I am continuing my research into contemporary Paganism among other subjects and my next plans are to further explore the linkages between different religious and secular worldviews and people’s values. For more information, see my profile or contact me at mika @ lassander. net

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