Examining, evaluating and exploring Spiritual Capital

Simon Beard


This is a preliminary paper introducing the idea of Spiritual Capital, as part of Ekklesia's putative Spiritual Capital Project. The project would seek critically to evaluate and explore ideas of, the evidence base for, and the theological implications of 'Spiritual Capital'. Spiritual Capital is a term that refers to the positive benefits of spiritual, psychological and moral development to individuals, organisations and communities/societies. It seeks to measure these benefits in an objective manner, in a similar way to the way in which Social Capital claims to measure the socio-economic benefits of strong communities.

Spiritual Capital refers to the positive benefits of spiritual, psychological and moral development to individuals, organisations and communities/societies. It seeks to measure these benefits in an objective manner, in a similar way to the way in which Social Capital claims to measure the socio-economic benefits of strong communities.

Spiritual Capital is here defined as 'the amount of knowledge and expertise relating to meanings, values and fundamental purposes available to an individual or culture.’ This definition serves as a good basis for Spiritual Capital as it encompasses all aspects of psychological, moral and spiritual knowledge and expertise and does not assume a connection between Spiritual Capital and any particular spirituality or belief system.

What are the proposed benefits of Spiritual Capital?

Several studies have shown an important connection between spiritual capital and social capital. Spiritual Capital can help to provide linking connections between members of a congregation, faith, philosophy or movement and can also help provide bridging connections between groups that have a high level of spiritual Capital.

The Management Consultant Dina Zohar and the Psychologist Ian Marshall who pioneered research into Spiritual Capital and the related concept of Spiritual Intelligence argue that it plays a vital role in steering organisations and societies through transition and change. They argue that high levels of spiritual capital allow for the injection of new ideas into an organisation or culture without causing it to fracture or divide into chaos. They also argue that Spiritual Capital improves the ability of the market to meet the real needs of society, rather than its material needs alone.

Not surprisingly Spiritual Capital, like Social Capital, is seen as contributing to the strength of a culture’s moral norms. Supporters of this view compare what they perceive as moral decline in society with a decline in religious observance. They also see a correlation between a decline in spiritual capital and the destructive nature of materialist ideology, both capitalist and socialist.

Spiritual Capital has also been seen to correlate with subjective well-being. A major survey of responses to the World Values Survey has found that respondents who reported “God is important in my life” were significantly happier than those who did not. This result, amongst others led the economist Richard Layard to conclude that ‘personal values’ are one of the big seven contributors to individual well-being.

Is spiritual Capital Declining? The case of religion

Results from the British Social Attitudes Survey can give an indication of changes in Spiritual Capital in the UK. According to the Survey numbers of adherents to Christian denominations have fallen significantly in the last 25 years, whilst the number with no religion has increased by around 46%.

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Results such as these have been used to suggest a fundamental shift in religious beliefs, and by extension Spiritual Capital, in the UK over the last three decades.

However this shift is not observed in the numbers of people actually undertaking some form of religious practice. For instance the number of people attending a religious service once a week has remained virtually unchanged over the last 20 years.

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Whilst there has been a rise in the number of people who are never involved in any kind of religious observance the declines have been in the number of people attending less than once a month or once a year. This suggests that the picture is far more complex. Rather than a simple decline in religion, the past few decades may for example have seen a decline in religious hypocrisy, with fewer people attending religious observances out of duty, rather than their faith. It may also indicate that fewer are also identifying culturally with religion.

Is spiritual capital declining? – The case of morality

The claim is often mounted that traditional religious values are in decline and being replaced by materialistic ones.

One of the most well observed shifts in morality has been in the acceptance of abortion.

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Whilst data show that there has been a general rise in moral acceptance for abortions where either the mother or the couple do not want another child, in other situations, such as rape, the likelihood of the child being disabled or where the couple cannot afford more children values have changed little, although there is some sign of a peak of acceptance between 1987 and 1994 followed by some decline.

Another issue that has polarised religious and sexual opinion is sexual ethics more broadly.

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Here support for some previously socially-unacceptable sexual practices, such as homosexuality and pre-marital sex has risen sharply, whilst support for extra martial sex has actually remained relatively unchanged.

Figures for capital punishment show that support has fallen slightly, but remains high.

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Other moral issues frequently surveyed by the BSAS show mixed trends.

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Support for pornography appears to have fallen to a low point at the turn of the 1990s before rising. Support for the legalisation of cannabis has risen steadily, although apparently falling off in recent years whilst support for euthanasia has remained high across the period surveyed.

These trends suggest that whilst there have been pronounced changes in morality they have not represented a single unified shift towards ‘secular’ liberal values, as some have claimed. Again the picture is complex. It may be for example that there is a fusion of new support for personal autonomy with traditional values of honesty, preventing harm to others and respecting the rule of law.

Measuring Spirituality

Measuring Spiritual Capital directly presents many challenges. To utilise the definition provided by Zohar and Marshall would require a complex psychological assessment of the population. Furthermore useful questions, such as ‘in general how hopeful do you feel’, or ‘do you believe life has some purpose or meaning’ are not regularly asked.

Some useful information however can be found by looking at trends in non-religious based spiritual aspects of peoples lives. For instance in three years the BSAS asked people what sort of beliefs they held about god.

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Active disbelief in God has been the least popular response in all three years, whilst a majority (over 70%) of the population hold some form of belief in God or another higher power. Interestingly the most popular answer in each year is that people doubt that God exists, but believe anyway, showing a healthy mixture of rationality and faith.

Another question looked at people’s prayer lives.

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Again this showed that most people (over 65%) had some form of Prayer life, and that prayer was more common than religious observance.

The changing face of religion

We can also look at these two aspects of spiritual capital on a ‘per-religion’ basis. We can only examine Christian and Atheist opinion due to the need to keep a sufficiently large sample size.

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From these results, belonging to a religious group seems to helps a person develop their spirituality, but does not seem essential. Almost 50% of those who belong to no religion hold some form of active belief in God and / or have a prayer life. These figures do not include adherents to ‘atheistic’ religions, such as Buddhism. It is also worth noticing the degree to which the Church of England fails to develop the spiritual life of its adherents, with over 15% of those belonging to it holding no active belief in god and / or having no prayer life.


The following tentative hypotheses appear to be supportable:

1. Despite a decline in the numbers claiming to belong to the large Christian denominations in the UK Spiritual Capital remains high

2. It is not essential to belong to a religious organisation to develop Spiritual Capital, even when this is measured in terms of belief in and relationship with God.

3. Belonging to a religion is not enough to ensure high levels of Spiritual Capital, and religions must work on developing the spiritual, moral and psychological lives of their adherents.

4. It is not accurate to talk of any general ‘collapse’ of morality. The picture is more of transformation, led by a combination of greater support for personal autonomy in sexual and reproductive issues alongside many values that are more traditional.

This paper is an introductory one for a wider project being undertaken by Ekklesia to evaluate and explore ideas of spiritual capital. However, there are two recommendations that can be made at this stage.

The first is that policy makers looking to build Spiritual Capital should not confuse or conflate it with religion, let alone any particular religion.

The second is that religions should not seek to portray themselves as the single representatives for all spiritual individuals or of spirituality in general.


1. Zohar D and Marshall I, Spiritual Capital – wealth we can live by (Bloomsbury, 2004)

2. Thomas R, Spiritual Capital Cardiff – A report on the impact of faith and cultural organisations in Cardiff (Spiritual Capital Cardiff Project 2008) & Furbey R et al. Faith as Social Capital (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2006)

3. Zohar D and Mashall I, ibid.

4. For instance Reekie D. Spiritual Capital, Natural Law and the secular Marketplace (Civitas 2007)

5. Halliwell J, How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective wellbeing (Economic Modelling 20 2003)

6. Layard R, Happyness – lessons from a new science (Penguin 2005)