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Definitions and problems

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The English term "Worldview" was originally derived from the German word "weltanschauung." Its first known use was in 1858 CE.

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Some definitions of "worldview:"

According to:

bulletThe FreeDictionary: The term means:
bullet The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
bullet A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. 1


"The term denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity...At all times, religious and political teachings were bases for forming worldviews; in fact, they were often worldviews themselves. For example, Christianity, Islam, socialism, Marxism, Scientology may be called worldviews; at least they generate clearly identifiable worldviews." 2

bulletAuthor Palmer Michael describes a worldview as consisting of six parts:
bullet Ideology (e.g. beliefs in God, cosmology),

bullet Narrative (e.g. sacred writings and myths),

bullet Norms (e.g. ethics and morality),

bullet Rituals (e.g. activities designed to renew bonds),

bullet Experience (e.g. emotional and spiritual elements), and

bullet A social element (e.g. educating future generations). 3


Professor James Olthuis of the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies has written:

"A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it. The vision may be so internalized that it goes largely unquestioned; it may be greatly refined through cultural-historical development; it may not be explicitly developed into a systematic conception of life; it may not be theoretically deepened into a philosophy; it may not even be codified into creedal form. Nevertheless, this vision is a channel for the ultimate beliefs which give direction and meaning to life." 4


The Learner's Dictionary of Marriam-Webster defines it as:

"The way someone thinks about the world."
Typical uses: "A scientific/religious/cultural worldview." Example: "The two groups have very different worldviews." 5



"A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics." 6


Michael Lind:

"A worldview is a more or less coherent understanding of the nature of reality, which permits its holders to interpret new information in light of their preconceptions. Clashes among worldviews cannot be ended by a simple appeal to facts. Even if rival sides agree on the facts, people may disagree on conclusions because of their different premises." 7



"A particular philosophy of life or conception of the world." 8


Diederick Aerts et al.:

"A world view is a coherent collection of concepts and theorems that must allow us to construct a global image of the world, and in this way to understand as many elements of our experience as possible.." 11

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Our preferred definition:

To author James Sire, a worldview consists of:

"...a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world." 9

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The speed of change of worldviews:

People tend to adopt a worldview during their teens, and often do not make major changes to it for the rest of their life. They frequently reject new understandings and discoveries in the fields of religion, culture, science, etc. out of hand because they are incompatible with their personal worldview. One result of this resistance to change is that public support for major changes in the culture often takes multiple decades to reach a majority. Two examples are:

  • In 1948, 90% of American adults still wanted a ban on interracial marriage. It was fully 48 years later, in 1991 -- 24 years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage -- when a bare majority of American adults favored allowing loving, committed interracial couples to marry. The average rate of change in support between 1948 and 1991 was slightly less than 1 percentage point a year. During that interval, youths -- who were less racist -- entered adulthood one at a time. Elderly adults died, also one at a time. The overall effect was that the adult population, on average, became more accepting of the redefinition of marriage to include interracial couples. Today, it is a non-issue among many if not most American adults.

  • Similarly in 1996, 68% of American adults were opposed to same-sex marriage (SSM). By 2012, this dropped to 43% -- a minority. National polling agencies have been reporting majority support for SSM since 2011. The rate of change of opposition to SSM has been about 1.6 percentage points per year. The rate seems to have acellerated in recent years as increasing numbers of states legalize same-sex marriage through legislative action, plebescites, and court lawsuits.

To paraphrase the unsettling and rather brutal words of the great physicist Max Planck: "Change happens one funeral at a time.

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Handling threats to one's worldview:

As James Olthuis writes, a person's worldview is often "largely unquestioned." 4 If a person lacks understanding of their own worldview and/or is not aware of the diversity of worldviews within the culture, they are often mystified by the beliefs of others. This can lead to demonization of others, as is often seen between pro-choice and pro-life supporters, and between marriage equality and marriage inequality advocates. It can also prevent people from entering into productive dialogue with persons of other worldviews.

Many people are distressed when their worldview is challenged. In order to prevent this, some resort to denial. This is very obvous in the field of global climate change where over 97% of scientific papers that discuss the causes of global warming agree that the cause is anthropogenic -- induced by human activity. However, a study shows that:

"... there is a significant gap between public perception and reality, with 57% of the US public either disagreeing or unaware that scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth is warming due to human activity." 10

Another method of handling challenges to their worldview is through selective use of news sources. Many conservatives gravitate to Fox News and Sirius Patriot channel while many liberals prefer MSNBC and Sirius Progress channel.

Hopefully, those people who become aware of the existence and content of their personal worldview, and the worldviews of others, will be able to better accommodate changes in the culture. When adults who are now retired were entering their teens, racial segregation was a way of life; abortions were criminal acts in many states; homosexual behavior was criminalized in many states and widely considered a mental illness; inter-racial marriage was outlawed in many states, and same-sex marriage was inconceivable. If the current rate of social change continues into the future, many of today's youth will become frustrated at the slowness of change and many of the elderly will be frustrated that any change is happening.

Teens who are aware of their own worldview may be able to better accommodate change when they reach adulthood. Unfortunately, the diversity of worldviews and religions in the national culture is not often included in school curricula, and is certainly not stressed by most faith groups.

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References used:

  1. "Worldview," TheFreeDictionary, at:
  2. "Worldview,", at:
  3. Michael Palmer, "Elements of a Christian Worldview," Logion Press, (1998) Read reviews or order this book Pages 28 - 30.
  4. R. Wesley Hurd, "Me and My Worldview," McKenzie Study Center, at:
  5. "Worldview," Learner's Dictionary, at:
  6. Gary B. Palmer, (1996). "Toward A Theory of Cultural Linguistics," University of Texas Press, (1996). Page 114.
  7. "World View," Wikipedia, as on 2013-SEP-02. at:
  8. Search on for: define:worldview
  9. James Sire, "The Universe Next Door: A basic worldview catalog" Intervarsity Press, (3rd edition, 1997). He discusses, from a conservative Christian viewpoint, such worldviews as theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, Marxism, postmodernism and the New Age. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  10. John Cook, et al., "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, 2013-MAY-15, at:
  11. Diederik Aerts, et al., "World Views: From fragmentation to integration," VUB Press, (1994). Available in an Internet edition

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Home page > Morality > Worldview > here

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Copyright 2005 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUN-02
Latest update: 2013-SEP-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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