By answering these 17 questions you may learn more about your own worldview, as well as about the worldviews of others. Your answers will indicate which of the four major cultural worldviews (defined below) describes you best, as well as the worldview to which you are most opposed.
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This worldview test is primarily the brainchild of integral researcher Annick de Witt. In her research, De Witt used both qualitative (interviews) and quantitative methods, including large-scale surveys with representative samples of citizens in the Netherlands and the USA. Her aim in developing the test was to create an empirical, social science approach to mapping worldviews.
Her research confirmed the existence of at least four major worldview-groups in the Western world, which she describes as “traditional,” “modern,” “postmodern,” and “integrative.” The existence of these worldview-groups has also been confirmed by work in sociology, the history of philosophy, and developmental psychology. These worldview-groups differ significantly in their political preferences, their attitudes towards climate change, the sustainability of their lifestyles, as well as their positions in ‘hot’ societal debates such as on the role of biotechnology. An article presenting the results of this study is currently under review in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Science and Policy.
ICE Caveat: Accurately assessing human worldviews is a complex undertaking. In our opinion, none of the various test instruments currently used by social scientists or organizational development specialists can adequately assess a person’s actual worldview with objectivity. Nevertheless, we like De Witt’s questionnaire and want to support her work in this area. And at the very least, answering her 17 questions provides an opportunity to reflect on the distinct worldview frames that make up the political spectrum in most of the Western world.
Annick de Witt (Ph.D.) is an author, change-maker, and consultant in the field of cultural and inner transformation for global sustainability. She has extensively researched worldviews and culture, and has published about these themes in books, academic journals, and the popular (Dutch) press. For general information, to receive updates, and for questions or comments go to her website annickdewitt.com. For more information on her academic work visit this link, where you can download her publications.
According to De Witt, worldviews can be defined as the inescapable, overarching systems of meaning that inform how we interpret, enact, and co-create reality. They are the fundamental ‘lenses’ through which we see and filter reality, and they interface with our perceptions of global issues in ways that are profound, persistent, and frequently overlooked. Worldviews not only tend to shape how individuals perceive particular issues and their potential solutions, they also tend to influence their willingness to partake in, or politically support, such solutions. The four major worldview families indicated by the questionnaire are briefly described as follows:
In traditional worldviews the religious sphere is generally not distinguished from the secular sphere, nor is metaphysics from science. Religious or metaphysical views on reality thus answer the big questions in life, and substantial faith is placed in religious authorities, such as scriptures, doctrines, and leaders. In this worldview, a transcendent God is usually seen as separate from the profane, earthly world, and man as fundamentally different from nature. The relationship with nature is frequently understood in terms of ‘dominion’ or ‘stewardship’. Traditional worldviews tend to emphasize the importance of family and community, as well as values such as honesty, decency, sobriety, obedience, discipline, solidarity, conformity, service, dedication, respect for tradition, humility, and self-sacrifice.
In the cartoon graphic above, this worldview is symbolized by the presence of the church, the agrarian landscape and lifestyle, and the religious figures. The policeman symbolizes a respect for authority and tradition, obedience and discipline, rules and order.
Modern worldviews attempt to achieve liberation from imposed, oppressive, frequently religious, authorities and understandings of the past, through an emphasis on rationality and critical thinking. The vision of reality tends to be secular and materialistic: the existence of a higher power, divine reality, or intangible dimension is generally rejected. Science is frequently seen as the ultimate (and even exclusive) source of reliable knowledge, providing access to objective reality. This ‘objectification’ of reality generates a dualism between body and mind, and object and subject, which tends to lead to immense scientific, technological, and socio-economic progress as well as an instrumentalization of nature. Science and technology are generally seen as central means to address humanity’s most pressing issues. The autonomous, ‘self-made’ individual has a central position in this worldview. Individualistic and hedonistic values—such as freedom, independence, success, performance, social recognition, comfort, and fun—are usually dominant.
In the cartoon graphic this worldview is symbolized by the modern, standardized, functional style of architecture, smoking factories, airplanes, and the rise of global (fast food) corporations. The chemical scientist in the front points at the scientific-rational nature of this worldview, which results in both a philosophical materialism (there is nothing beyond what is empirically observable) as well as an axiological materialism (value and meaning in life is found in the material realm), as symbolized by the business man and the bag of money he is holding.
Postmodern worldviews are characterized by a tendency to acknowledge and value multiple perspectives on reality, and are generally critical of modern science’s claim to exclusively provide objective knowledge. This worldview instead emphasizes the relativity and contextuality of knowledge, as well as the value of moral, emotional, and artistic ways of knowing. Frequently a somewhat critical attitude towards the modern model of society (e.g., ideas of progress, modern science and technology, capitalism) is observed, and the emancipation of marginalized and oppressed groups is a central motivation. This is for example reflected in the rise of social movements since the 1960’s, promoting peace, multiculturalism, gay rights, and the environment, among others. Generally, postmodern worldviews celebrate diversity, heterogeneity, relativism, and ‘post-materialistic‘ or ‘self-expression’ values such as creativity, uniqueness, authenticity, imagination, feeling, and intuition.
In the cartoon graphic this worldview is symbolized by the creative and playful ‘postmodern’ architecture, the colorful – diverse, expressive, authentic – crowd marching for typical postmodern concerns such as peace and justice, and by the courthouse in the back.
Integrative worldviews appear to be primarily characterized by a self-reflexive attempt to bring together and synthesize elements of other worldviews, or of domains that in other worldviews tend to be viewed as mutually exclusive, such as science (or rationality) and spirituality, imagination and logic, heart and mind, humanity and nature—perspectives that in the West have been in conflict for centuries. In this worldview, such opposing perspectives are frequently understood to be part of a greater whole or synthesis—on a “deeper level”—resulting in “both-and” rather than “either-or” thinking. Such a holistic or integrative perspective may lead to a profound sense of connection with nature, and an understanding of earthly life itself as imbued with a larger consciousness or “Spirit.” Universal, existential concerns—such as life and death, self-actualization, global awareness, and serving society, humanity, or even “life” at large—are often of central importance.
In the cartoon graphic above, this worldview is symbolized by the green, social entrepreneur who integrates (modern) entrepreneurial spirit with (postmodern) idealism and concern for oppressed others. The person on the yoga mat holds a mobile phone in his hand, symbolizing the integration of century-old spiritual practices with modern technologies. Religious and spiritual expressions are diverse yet tolerant of their differences, as we see in the varied sacred buildings. The water points at the self-reflexive nature of this worldview, and the wind turbines and green roof show its commitment to global environmental values.
For more analysis on how worldviews impact politics and culture, we invite you to read the ICE white paper: Premises and Principles of the Evolutionary Worldview, which can be downloaded here: https://www.culturalevolution.org/premises-principles-evolutionary-worldview/