At present, many adults across Europe hold spiritual views such as souls and afterlives that cannot be measured scientifically – including many religiously unaffiliated Europeans.
Western European countries still contain sizable populations who identify themselves as neither religious nor spiritual; these “nones” tend to have more negative attitudes towards religion.
Belief in God or a higher power
Western Europeans hold faith in some form of higher power; around one fifth believe in God as depicted in the Bible; others subscribe to a higher force or spirit that does not fit this mold; yet still fewer adhere to a deity who is all-knowing, loves all people equally, or will judge them according to their actions (27% and 30% medians, respectively).
Few Western Europeans subscribe to beliefs and practices associated with Eastern, New Age or folk religions. Few report communicating regularly with a higher power, or using yoga as spiritual practice; however, majorities of Western Europeans report being familiar with some alternative beliefs and practices such as fate, astrology, spiritual energy transference reincarnation or even the evil eye.
Religious and spiritual adults tend to embrace more spiritual ideas than those who identify as neither religious nor spiritual. Many who identify themselves as both believe they possess an immortal soul while most who deem themselves both believe fate is at work in their lives.
Belief in a soul
The soul is an essential concept across major religions worldwide, distinguishing humans from other animals qualitatively and giving each of our lives meaning. But what exactly is its definition and where is its location?
Many Europeans believe in the survival of souls after death, and majorities across countries as diverse as Portugal and Finland agree with this belief. On the other hand, those who say they neither religious nor spiritual hold very different views regarding where souls journey after death – typically rejecting any idea that religion helps them choose between right and wrong or that there are spiritual forces at work in our universe.
In our Ipsos Mori survey, we asked students where they thought the soul was located within their body. Students who believed that it lay somewhere within their brain, heart or liver reported lower religiosity/spirituality levels compared with those who thought their soul lay outside of them (Fig 8). Furthermore, anticipatory stress levels predicted whether students believed in soul existence (Fig 9).
Belief in fate
Faith in Fate – the idea that one’s life path is preordained – is one of Europe’s most widespread spiritual beliefs, held by majorities of people in Portugal, Spain and Belgium alike. Other popular spiritual practices and beliefs include yoga as a spiritual practice, the existence of souls separate from our bodies, as well as finding spiritual energy present in physical objects like mountains or trees.
While many in Europe embrace spiritual concepts such as astrology, evil eye or reincarnation, others either reject them outright or remain uncertain of their significance. A significant portion of European men – particularly in Sweden and Denmark – do not observe astrology, the evil eye or reincarnation.
However, when multiple questions about spiritual beliefs are combined into one scale, respondents from Austria, Italy and Ireland tend to affirm these beliefs while more people in Sweden and Belgium tend to reject them. It could be that this disparity reflects different cultural views on fate and personal control; research shows that believing that fate can be changed can help people feel more positive and engaged about their lives than accepting fatalism as inevitable.
Belief in astrology
Astrology, or the belief that stars and planets can have an influence over human behavior, is a popular practice among Europeans who identify as spiritual. A median of 23% believe in astrology across EU countries surveyed; similarly large shares use meditation or other techniques to connect with the universe; these beliefs tend to be more prevalent among women than men, although differences vary across nations.
Portugal is home to a firm majority who believe they possess souls; four out of ten in other surveyed nations share this opinion as well. While Sweden and UK fall below this figure with regards to feelings related to something beyond scientific explanation; almost two out of ten in both states report feeling an unseen presence that cannot be explained scientifically.
Studies suggest that those high in narcissism are more likely to believe in astrology as a way of reinforcing their sense of self-importance. While Openness and Agreeableness show no correlation with belief in astrology, intelligence does have a small negative relationship. Data for this report was collected from 264 individuals who completed questions about their faith as well as one regarding how well astrology was supported by science.
Belief in spiritual energy
Spiritual energy is an omnipresent force in the universe that pervades life on every level – including humans. It can be harnessed through various techniques such as energy healing to tap into its boundless resources; manifested both emotionally and physically through feelings and actions alike, soul energy is sometimes also called life force energy.
Many Europeans believe in spiritual concepts like soul, afterlife and connections that cannot be seen or measured scientifically. Yet these beliefs vary across Europe: Pluralities in 10 of 15 surveyed countries lean more heavily towards these notions, including large shares in Portugal and Spain while Austria and Italy seem less inclined.
Some researchers are studying the influence of spirituality on health using epigenetics – the process by which environmental factors can have an effect on genetic expression – while other researchers are looking at whether spirituality can improve quality of life for patients through stress-management or mindfulness techniques. These studies will help doctors and patients better understand how spirituality might impact health; and will hopefully lead to more effective solutions for medical problems.
Belief in reincarnation
Reincarnation is an age-old concept which holds that the soul can take a different form in each lifetime, popular in Hinduism, Buddhism and some forms of Christianity. People who claim they have experienced reincarnation often claim they can access past lives through spiritual practices such as meditation or visiting psychics; some countries even utilize hypnotic regression techniques in order to access those memories.
Europeans who identify themselves as either religious or spiritual tend to adopt beliefs and practices often associated with Eastern, New Age, or folk religions. For instance, 89% of those who identify both themselves as both religious and spiritual believe humans have souls while 68% who identify only spiritually believe in reincarnation.
Origen was an early Christian theologian who proposed an intriguing interpretation of reincarnation in his First Principles. According to him, each individual existed as one body-and-soul combination that traversed multiple realms before ascending spiritually towards greater freedom with God. He suggested this practice was necessary so each soul had time to reach complete freedom from its past lives and reach God fully in this life.
Belief in the evil eye
Europeans embrace many spiritual concepts – such as soul, an afterlife and connections that cannot be seen or measured scientifically – with large majorities of respondents in 10 of 15 countries supporting these beliefs or feelings; however there are also significant shares who oppose or are uncertain of these notions.
History has long held the belief that an evil eye is a malevolent gaze that can bring harm or misfortune upon those whom it falls upon, sent by people angry or jealous enough to kill them with its gaze. According to Greek historian Plutarch, such malevolence energy can travel through someone’s eyes; believed by some scholars to serve as conduits for both positive and negative energies.
Superstition was widespread throughout ancient Greece and Rome, Jewish and Islamic cultures, indigenous societies, peasant communities, folk societies as well as indigenous, peasant and folk societies in Western European countries (e.g. only 20% believe in reincarnation while 16% consult their horoscope or tarot cards for guidance) until quite recently. Although less prevalent today in these Western European nations; for instance only 20% of adults believe in reincarnation while approximately 16% consulted either their horoscope or tarot cards for guidance at some point over the last 100 years or so.