Religious studies professor Ann Taves’s new book What Matters?: Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age investigates the use of spiritual labels to define ethical values in today’s society.

Taves’s work combines research from a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology and anthropology, to explore the extent to which religious labels add value to ethical standards in spiritual, religious and secular societies. What Matters? also includes studies of 19th century American psychology, global psychedelic trance culture, secular humanitarianism and homeschooling in the Southwest, amongst various other areas of research.

In collaboration with coauthor Courtney Bender, an associate professor of religion at Columbia University, Taves compiled research from several studies by the Social Science Research Council at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

According to Taves, the book delves into the subtle complexities that come together to define the priorities of a culture.

“We aren’t talking about ethics in the abstract,” Taves said in a press release. “It’s about the actual process of people valuing and making decisions about what’s most important in the context of everyday life.”

Topics of attachment, separation and uncertainty play major roles in contemporary secular and religious ideas, which Taves said can be easily manipulated to include the spiritual understandings of individuals who do not associate their beliefs with any specific religious practice.

“We knew from the outset that we wanted to get beyond the simple religious/secular distinction, but, in the end, we decided we wanted to do more than add ‘spirituality’ into the mix,” Taves said in a press release. “There’s a lot more in the middle. We decided that it made more sense to open up a broader space in which to analyze what matters to people, rather than try to fit their views into the categories of religious, secular, or spiritual.”