What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?

See here for the Finnish version: Mitä eroa on hengellisyydellä ja uskonnolla?

Ah, words with extra baggage. Caring about clarity of communication, one has to hate them.

Is “spiritual” the same as “religious”? Or is spirituality something better or more genuine? Or is it really just the same thing? Or are they unrelated?

In truth, this is one of those annoying cases where a word has two different meanings. Mostly, “spiritual” means one or the other of the following:

  • Anything having to do with religion (no matter how shallow).
  • Anything having to do with the deep questions and values of life (no matter how secular).

The most prototypical kind of spirituality would of course involve both at the same time, that is, dealing with the deep questions in life in a religious framework. I imagine this kind of cases are where the different meanings split off from. But spirituality as just religiosity can just mean sitting in the church out of habit or the like, whereas dealing with the deep questions in life does not require any rituals, religious communities, or belief in the supernatural.

Of course, there is a separate question about what is meant by religion. Using some definitions, it may even cover all spirituality in both meanings of the words, erasing the difference. Usually, this is not the case.

The general lesson here is that there is no point in arguing about whether, for example, someone can be “spiritual but not religious” before you have ascertained what each party means with each word. There’s also not much point in saying such things if you haven’t thought about what exactly you mean. In fact, the reason I am writing this at just this time is as a response to another post where someone wrote things that I see as fairly valid about what people mean when saying that, but used a conceptualisation of the terms that led him to say that it doesn’t mean anything at all. (Here: “I’m spiritual, not religious”.) It would if it were me saying it; it would mean that I think about deep issues a lot and they have an effect on my life, but I do not mix any supernatural beliefs into this. But then, that’s not what the other blogger was talking about. Yet the words are the same.

(You haven’t seen anything yet, though — I have also thought of writing about whether there could be faith without belief. Update: Done. Here.)

Sama suomeksi.

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One thought on “What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?

  1. […] important question, and just arguing that it has to be either deterministic or random isn’t spiritually very […]

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