where the writers are
Spirituality Versus Religiosity

I recognize and understand spirituality more easily in the context of traditional religious rituals or the quasi-solitary contemplation of Nature or fine art, as opposed to more secular pratices such as yoga (as exercise) and tea ceremony which I view mainly as an aesthetic experience.

So when a friend mentioned that people can be spiritual without being religious, I felt the need to transcend my vague understanding of these experiences as something subjective and ineffable by finding concrete descriptions that clearly eludcidate the characteristics of each.

After reading various articles on the Internet, I found the following article to be particularly helpful for distinguishing and understanding the two experiences:

A National Study of Spirituality in Higher Educatin: Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose- Key findings of the first national longitudinal study of undergraduates' spiritual growth  http://spirituality.ucla.edu/findings/

FIVE SPIRITUAL QUALITIES: Equanimity, Spiritual Quest, Ethic of Caring, Charitable Involvement, Ecumenical World View

FIVE RELIGIOUS QUALITIES:Religious Commitment, Religious Engagement, Religious/Social Conservatism, Religious Skepticism, Religious Struggle

What I liked about this study is that it clearly differentiated the two attitudes, religious and spiritual, in terms of observable and measurable qualities (as shown above) instead of focusing on the subjective experiences bordering on the ineffable which tend to conflate the two experiences without addressing the wider social and communal aspects.

I have come to the tentative conclusion that experiences people tend to casually categorize as "spiritual" is mainly aesthetic in nature but also having a rarefied aspect that invites a special contemplation that could be elevated to a quasi-meditative state, which makes it possible for someone with appreciation for art to have a spiritual encounter with specific works of art in a museum. However, if search for meaning and purpose is essentially spiritual in nature, then spirituality can be found whenever an individual attempts to identify with something bigger than the self through self-reflection or engage in activities that lead to awareness of higher planes of existence. In this sense, a deep engagement with a profession can be a spiritual practice whether it is medecine, law, science, archeology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, education or writing.


6 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

"However, if search for

"However, if search for meaning and purpose is essentially spiritual in nature, then spirituality can be found whenever an individual attempts to identify with something bigger than the self through self-reflection or engage in activities that lead to awareness of higher planes of existence."

I would agree with you there.

"Spiritual" is a very interesting word.  It is currently very much in vogue in England – at least among the people I come across – where I find it is used quite distinctly apart from the notion of "religious".  Personally, I do not think the two have to be mutually exclusive.  Just like I do not see why you could not believe in God and subscribe to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, at the same time.  Many Mediaeval mystics were "religious" and "spiritual" contemporarily.

I hope it is all right to express my humble opinion on this point.  It is no more than an opinion based by personal experience.  I have no wish to offend anyone's beliefs.  I have found that in my social and professional circles, people who feel comfortable describing themselves as "spiritual" often have an interest in and sympathy with what, a few years ago, was labelled as "New Age".  I repeat, my experience may well be very limited on this front.  

Recently, a few people asked me if I was spiritual.  I said I was not.  These people then said, "But from your writings you come across as such a spiritual person!" I eluded the subject, partly because I do not find it comfortable to discuss the nature of my "spirituality" with people I do not know well, (in any case, it is in flux), and partly because I got the sense that the people asking me associated "spirituality" with– among other things – yoga, crystal healing, spirit guides and other notions which I highly respect but which, after spending a few years – some time ago – exploring, I do not always feel akin to.

I actually find many "religious" teachings deeply "spiritual" (though perhaps not always their practical modern applications) in the sense you illustrate, above.

As I said, I prefer to keep my "spiritual"/"religious" beliefs to myself.  However, a few months ago, because it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I believe in God.  Heads spun around at frightenening speed and the room fell silent.  There was suddenly an awkward atmosphere.  Finally, one of my acquaintances said, "But how can a woman as intelligent as you..?".  Interestingly the person who asked that describes himself as "spiritual".  To him, believing in God clearly implied ignorance and a lack of questioning.  He did not seek to investigate the concepts behind and beyond the word.  And I did not feel like justifying my choice of words.  I merely asked him to leave me be, proposing a mutual respect policy.

Fascinating how words acquire connotations. 

Sorry about such a fumbling comment.  I hope it makes some sort of sense.

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you Kim...

Mystery may be experience anywhere. Mystery goes by many names. Beautiful post.

Comment Bubble Tip

Katherine, Your comments make


Your comments make perfect sense to me, and I enjoy this post (recommended by Katherine.)

My personal observations living in the USA is that there is a religion backlash going on due to the recent political posturings and the rise of the super conservative tea party and religious right. 

I am also very cautious and somewhat uncomfortable talking about my own faith with people I barely know. I am also in a state of flux having abandoned the faith tradition that I followed most of my life, and taking tiny steps towards commitment to another. 

I think Dr. Steve summed it up- where ever there is mystery, no matter where one finds it- it's truth and wonderful for that individual. 


Comment Bubble Tip

Very interesting and thought provoking post!

Even though my understanding of the two concepts is continually evolving, thus far, I have arrived at certain quasi-beliefs.  Spirit and spirituality is something we are born with.  Religion is something we are taught, by man, from the moment of our birth and throughout our life. 

Spirituality is a ‘knowing’ we all have; that we are all connected to everything around us.  Before we are allowed to explore this ‘knowing,’ man steps in with his opinions--his ego and his arrogance--and begins training and grooming (ie: brain washing) us with what we should believe regarding religion.  Thereafter, for the whole of their physical life, most people live in an unconscious state of inner conflict and confusion due to what they knew at birth (spiritually) versus what they are ‘brainwashed’ into believing (religiously) by man.  This inner conflict and confusion is what often leads people on a 'spiritual quest.'  

There are times when I almost believe that man and 'his religion' are at war with spirituality--very much like opposing groups everywhere (ex: republicans are at war with the democrats in the US).   And in this war, you are told you must choose a side.  You can either believe as we do and be right, or, you can believe as 'the Losers' do and be wrong.  A good example of this is in Katherine Gregor’s comment where she spoke of the man who looked at her like she was ‘less evolved’ than he had previously thought merely because she hadn’t chosen a definitive ‘side’ in man’s ‘war’ when it comes to Spirituality and Religion.  (Side note here: Personally, Katherine, I find it odd that someone who is ‘Spiritual’ can believe there is absolutely no merit in any of the concepts found in Organized Religion, just IMHO). 

I find the ongoing argument people have regarding religion and spirituality infinitely fascinating.  By and large, people seem to need clear definitions and labels everything and they are uncomfortable until they have them. 

Once defined and labeled, people need to be on the ‘winning team’ of what has been labeled and defined.  What happens once they have chosen what they believe to be the winning team in an--incomplete--argument?  Their ego, arrogance, and need to belong (in society) demands they defend their chosen ‘team’ by attempting to convince everyone else there is something wrong with them unless they believe as the winning team does!  And, then, if the people on the winning team can’t convince the ‘Outsider’ to believe as they do, well, then the Outsider needs to be destroyed.  Annihilated. 

To the people who are on these clearly-defined teams of theirs, my questions have always been: If, as you say, your team’s religious or spiritual beliefs are righteous and true, why do you feel compelled to argue?  Why do you feel the need to convince anyone else that you’re right?  And lastly, why would you need to keep searching for answers if you already have them all? 

Thank you for the morning brain stimulation, Kim!  It went quite nicely with my café au lait!

Comment Bubble Tip

Well....poo!  I had no idea

Well....poo!  I had no idea how long my comment was until I'd posted it!  I apologize if I took up too much room, Kim!!

Comment Bubble Tip

Sweet mystery....

This is so true:

"...spirituality can be found whenever an individual attempts to identify with something bigger than the self...."

Thank you for a fascinating, and lovely post.