Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religion & Culture / Religious Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Lorne Dawson

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


Since the sixties, sweeping social change has led to a massive restructuring of North American religious life. This includes the emergence of privatized forms of religiosity that operate without an institutional context. This trend is captured by the growing prevalence of individuals who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. Despite its popularity, critics worry that privatized religiosity is undermining more socially responsive forms of traditional religious engagement. They think that private religion does not lead to the types of face-to-face interactions needed to build social trust and foster a vibrant public sphere. In short, they think it lacks social capital.

Following Robert Putnam, I investigate how much social capital Canadians who I describe as ‘spiritual definitely not religious’ (SDNR) produce relative to the religiously committed and average Canadians. Specifically, I measure the levels of 1) social trust, 2) involvement in civic associations, 3) volunteerism, 4) charitable giving, and 4) political engagement (e.g. voting) present among individuals who say spirituality is important to them, but who do not belong to a religious group. Research methods included 32 in-person interviews and an online questionnaire circulated across Canada. My results suggest that SDNRs are high in social trust, and in some cases, their rate of participation in associational activities is higher than 1) the average Canadian and 2) the religiously committed. They do not surpass the religiously committed, however, in terms of formal volunteering, charitable giving, and electoral political activities. To some extent, this challenges Putnam’s contention that high social trust drives formal associational and political engagement. To account for this, I argue that SDNRs are ‘expressive-postmaterialists’. The confluence of their monism, expressivism and postmaterialism—described in the theories of sociologist of religion Steve Tipton, and political scientist Ronald Inglehart—shape their socio-political morality. As such, their social values and style of political engagement are in many cases, distinctive from the religiously committed. I suggest that future research will want to explore how SDNRs’ moral orientation coincides with alternative avenues of social and political engagement, and how these might be considered potential sources of social capital.

Convocation Year


Included in

Religion Commons