I’ve taught a course in the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality for about 20 years. As part of this course, I often invite speakers to share their religious and spiritual life stories and insights with the class. One of the most provocative perspectives ever shared came from a Jewish speaker. To paraphrase, he would say:
I know many of you consider yourselves more spiritual than religious, and I know there are many benefits to personal spirituality. However, I have a different take on this. I believe religion is better than spirituality. And I believe this is increasingly so.
The Meaning of “Religion” and “Spirituality”
Although these concepts prove extraordinarily difficult – if not impossible – to adequately define, let me clarify terms as much as possible. In general, religiousness entails behavior concerning the Sacred consistent with what an institution prescribes. Spirituality, in contrast, involves an autonomous question for what is true and meaningful regarding the Sacred, whether inside or outside an institutional context.
Thus, religiousness and spirituality are different but overlapping constructs. Religiousness involves action that harmonizes with a group’s teachings and customs to a greater extent. Spirituality focuses more on an individual’s personal and experiential quest. Common to both religiousness and spirituality is the Sacred: something that lasts forever or that evokes awe or reverence.
The Trend Toward Spirituality
Various surveys in the United States regularly ask respondents to select which of four options best describes them: (1) both religious and spiritual, (2) spiritual but not religious, (3) religious but not spiritual, and (4) neither religious nor spiritual. Results consistently show how respondents are most likely think of themselves as “both religious and spiritual.” However, individuals in these studies increasingly identify as “spiritual but not religious.” For instance, in nationally representative surveys of American adults from the Fetzer Institute, those indicating they were more spiritual than religious rose from 18.5% in 1998 to 33.6% in 2020.
Five Unique Benefits of Religion
Some might consider the notion that religion has unique psychosocial benefits – compared with personal spirituality – offensive or, maybe ironically, “sacrilegious.” However, particularly at this moment in time, in our culture, consider the following:Continue reading