Paul Vitz once said that in our age we will recover—or rather rediscover—many traditional beliefs and practices, and that we will do so primarily through science and the intellect.

Perhaps this is in that vein?

Dacher Keltner’s (UC Berkeley) forthcoming book Awe describes a study that sought to understand various ways people arrive at an experience of “being in the presence of something vast and mysterious that transcends your current understanding of the world.”

The participants were from 26 countries, including adherents to all major religions, as well as denizens of more secular cultures (e.g., Holland). Our participants varied in terms of their wealth and education. They lived within democratic and authoritarian political systems. They held egalitarian and patriarchal views of gender. They ranged in their cultural values from the more collectivist (e.g., China, Mexico) to the more individualistic (e.g., the United States).

Speakers of 20 languages at UC Berkeley translated the 2,600 narratives they produced. We were surprised to learn that these rich narratives from around the world could be classified into a taxonomy of awe, the eight wonders of life, from collective rituals to sudden intellectual epiphanies.

What most commonly led people to feel awe? Nature? Spiritual practice? Listening to music? In fact, it was other people’s courage, kindness, strength, or overcoming—actions of strangers, roommates, teachers, colleagues at work, people in the news, characters on podcasts, and our neighbors and family members.

Around the world, we are most likely to feel awe when moved by moral beauty: exceptional virtue, character, and ability, marked by a purity and goodness of intention and action