What Is Spirituality vs Religion? Definition & Examples

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is something that’s talked about a lot but is often misunderstood. Many people think that spirituality and religion are the same thing, and so they bring their beliefs and prejudices about religion to discussions about spirituality. Though all religions emphasise spiritualism as being part of faith, you can be ‘spiritual’ without being religious or a member of an organised religion.

What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?

There are some pretty clear ways in which religion and spirituality differ.

Religion

This is a specific set of organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group.

Spirituality

This is more of an individual practice, and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others, without any set spiritual values.

Organised vs freeform

One way to understand the relationship between spirituality and religion is to imagine a game of football. The rules, referees, other players and the field markings help guide you as you play the game in a similar way that religion might guide you to find your spirituality.

Kicking the ball around a park, without having to play on the field or with all the rules and regulations, can also give you fulfilment and fun and still expresses the essence of the game, similar to spirituality in life.

You can do either or both

You may identify as being any combination of religious and spiritual, but being religious doesn’t automatically make you spiritual, or vice versa.

Why do people practise spirituality?

Life can be full of ups and downs, good times and bad. Many people see spirituality as a great way to seek comfort and peace in their life. It can often be practised alongside things like yoga, which ultimately focus on stress relief and release of emotion.

Spirituality is a way of gaining perspective

Spirituality recognises that your role in life has a greater value than what you do every day. It can relieve you from dependence on material things and help you to understand your life’s greater purpose. Spirituality can also be used as a way of coping with change or uncertainty.

Spirituality – What is True Spirituality

True spirituality involves a daily trust in the One that created us. “[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”(Colossians 1:15–17).

It is not a religion that holds us to a set of rules or traditions. It is not attained through any human worthiness. It is about a relationship that God offers us, an eternal life with Him.

Experts’ definitions of spirituality

    • Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, contends that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”
    • According to Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, researchers and authors of The Spiritual Brain, “spirituality means any experience that is thought to bring the experiencer into contact with the divine (in other words, not just any experience that feels meaningful).”
  • Nurses Ruth Beckmann Murray and Judith Proctor Zenter write that “the spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, and strives for answers about the infinite, and comes into focus when the person faces emotional stress, physical illness, or death.”

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Relationship between religion and spirituality

While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another. The best way to understand this is to think of two overlapping circles like this:

  • In spirituality, the questions are: where do I personally find meaning, connection, and value?
  • In religion, the questions are: what is true and right?

Where the circles overlap is the individual experience, which affects the way you think, feel, and behave.

Types of spirituality

There are many different definitions for spirituality, but the most common features in practice are that spirituality provides a sense of meaning and purpose in life and includes a belief that after death a person’s soul or spirit continues in another realm or is reincarnated in this world. Most spiritual beliefs include supernatural beings or powers, such as a God or a hierarchy of gods, angels, and/or demons. The amount of interaction between the supernatural world and the physical world varies among different spiritual beliefs.

From a spiritual perspective, the primary purpose of human life is to grow spiritually. This typically means being less self-serving and materialistic, and more reverent toward the assumed spiritual realm. The conditions for the soul after death are often believed to depend on the extent to which a person adheres to the spiritual values during life. The exact details for these beliefs vary greatly.

The specific aspects or forms of spirituality that provide meaning and purpose are different for different people. These differences appear to be associated with different personalities of people.

Research indicates that a person’s personality depends on the temperament he or she is born with and on his or her experiences during life, particularly during childhood (Carey, 203; Hammer & Copeland, 1998). Both factors are important in determining personality. The differences in personality may influence what types of spiritual or religious interests a person has. act of contrition.

Several forms of spirituality or religion and their relationship with personality are described below. A person may have varying degrees of each of these personality factors and may be drawn to more than one form of spirituality. There are probably other types of spiritual expression and personality that are not described here. In addition, there also appear to be personality factors that are associated with a philosophy of materialism and tend to make a person uninterested in or skeptical of spirituality.

Mystical

Keirsey (1998) stated that people with the “intuitive feeling” personality types according to the Myers-Briggs personality model tend to be mystical in outlook. These people aspire

“to transcend the material world (and thus gain insight into the essence of things), to transcend the senses (and thus gain knowledge of the soul), to transcend the ego (and thus feel united with all creation), [and] to transcend even time (and thus feel the force of past lives and prophesies).” (Keirsey, 1998, p. 145)

People with this mystical personality factor tend to feel an underlying unity in all people and all things, and to seek transcendent experiences that are direct contact with this unity. Their approach to spirituality tends to be based on personal experiences of the transcendent rather than based on institutional authority and doctrine.

Authoritarian

For people with an authoritarian personality, establishing and conforming to authority is the main purpose of life. These people tend to form hierarchical organizations that emphasize setting and following rules. In some cases, authoritarian groups tend to have hostile conflicts with those who do not follow their rules or share their values.

In Eastern approaches to spirituality, the relationships between the gurus or spiritual masters and their disciples often have authoritarian characteristics.

Altemyer (1996) argues that fundamentalist religions are religious manifestations of the authoritarian personality. Fundamentalists exist for most of the worlds major religions and believe that their particular set of beliefs and values are the only true religion. They believe that those who follow the rules of their religion have a special relationship with God and that God will punish those do not follow the rules. The Christian Fundamentalist’s firm belief in the inerrant authority of the Bible is a typical expression of the authoritarian personality.

Religious terrorists are an extreme form of fundamentalism. It is a small step from believing that God will punish those who do not follow the rules to believing that God wants the select true believers to punish nonbelievers (Stern, 2003).

Intellectual

Some people are attracted to knowledge in the form of memorizing and analyzing writings, history, and theories. This intellectual approach can result in religious pundits with extensive knowledge of the details of religious beliefs and religious history.

Service

Service to others is a common form of spiritual expression in many religions. This is a central theme in the New Testament. Some people are more attracted to this form of spirituality.

Social

Participation in a religious group or spiritual community is a social activity that has great appeal for some people. Extroversion is a well established personality factor that reflects a person’s desire to be involved with groups of people. The scientific study of religion tends to focus on the social aspects. Social support and connections from participation in a religious or spiritual group are frequently discussed as an important aspect of spirituality.

Spirituality vs Religion

These two concepts often coexist, but they certainly don’t have to.

Spirituality occurs and exists within. It’s an experience that one harbors inside their soul and mind.

On the other hand, religion exists within the masses. You join others in one set of beliefs to practice and worship a higher being and holy books that exist outside of yourself.

Look at religious leaders if you need help distinguishing between the two. They weren’t part of the religion they created, but spiritually-oriented individuals. Buddha didn’t subscribe to Buddhism and Jesus didn’t subscribe to Christianity. They weren’t religious, they were spiritual.

People can also be religious but not spiritual if they don’t view themselves as containing the ultimate knowledge they seek and simply accept the word of another individual or establishment without question. Or if religion and spirituality function as a trend or something to tout over other people, you unquestionably are not spiritual.

Identifies 6 key differences between spirituality and religion:

  1. There are no rules in spirituality
  2. Spirituality is based only on love and not fear
  3. Religion tells you the truth – spirituality lets you discover it
  4. Religion separates, Spirituality unites
  5. The difference between karma and punishment
  6. Spirituality allows you to walk your own path

Why Spirituality is Important

If you inhibit the mind from pondering questions of destiny and ethics, you shut yourself off from the true potential inside yourself. Through not embarking on a spiritual path, you don’t allow total self-discovery. Without truly knowing yourself inside and out, it’s impossible to fully contribute to the world around you.

The feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment so many religious and non-religious people feel could most likely resolve itself through the inner-reflections of spirituality. How does one even begin finding their “purpose” without first establishing why they’re looking for one in the first place?

How to Practice Spirituality

The greatest aspect about spirituality lies in how individualistic it is. It involves looking within and defining a system of belief that takes root within your own dispositions. No one can instruct you on the perfect way to practice spirituality because ultimately only you know how.

However, you can take certain steps in beginning your journey.

Start asking yourself the hard questions. What motivates you to act certain ways? Where do you find peace? What do you believe happens after death? Why do we exist? Meditating on or sitting with such questions does wonders.

The University of Minnesota notes these questions as the hallmarks of spirituality:

  1. Am I a good person?
  2. What is the meaning of my suffering?
  3. What is my connection to the world around me?
  4. Do things happen for a reason?
  5. How can I live my life in the best way possible?

Religious texts and philosophers can also assist you in this journey, if you like. I prefer combining a culmination of wisdom from different texts or individuals with my own beliefs. Spirituality is never-ending, you can always listen closer or learn more.

Really just investing time in discovering yourself beyond what defines you physically and ties you down to this world or level of consciousness is spiritual.

 What is Spiritual Health?

Spirit is what can not be defined as part of the body or as part of the mind. Body, mind, and spirit all have an affect on one and other. By improving your spiritual life you can contribute to the healing process. Spirituality may not be able to cure you, but it can help to cope with the pain and difficulties that accompany illness. Spiritual health is achieved when you feel at peace with life. It is when you are able to find hope and comfort in even the hardest of times. It can help to support you as you experience life completely. Spirituality is different for everyone.

Physical Health and Spiritual Health

When facing a chronic illness it may be easy to lose your spiritual health. There is a time in which you may be tempted to let go of your beliefs. It is important to remember that by keeping a healthy spiritual life you can better manage your physical health. Your spiritual life can help you to cope with any issues that may arise with your physical health. We are whole beings. Balance can keep us healthy and help us to recover.

If you are struggling with your spiritual health there are questions that you may want to ask yourself:

  • What makes me feel most complete?
  • When do I feel most connected to the rest of the world?
  • Where do I find the most inner strength?
  • What am I doing when I feel whole?

These questions may help you to find the things you can do to get inner peace. If you are able to achieve inner peace you can allow your body more strength for healing. Our physical bodies need us to feel at peace. This allows them time to rest and recover. This is another way that our spiritual health can contribute to our healing process.

Quotes about Spirituality

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

“The essential lesson I’ve learned in life is to just be yourself. Treasure the magnificent being that you are and recognize first and foremost you’re not here as a human being only. You’re a spiritual being having a human experience.”
– Wayne Dyer

“There is a light in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”
– Richard Attenborough

“In order to experience everyday spirituality, we need to remember that we are spiritual beings spending some time in a human body.”
– Barbara De Angelis Animo