Spirituality vs. Religion

In chapter 3 of American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Chaves discusses the phenomenon of more and more people claiming to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’. Given other statistics relayed in the reading, such as the declining confident belief in G-d and declining religious socialization, this makes a lot of sense.

Although there seems to be trouble in the scientific community differentiating between religion and spirituality, my experience with both has helped me define the difference. To me, being spiritual means seeking familiarity with your soul and your place and purpose in the universe. It means searching for the meaning of life, and for inner peace. Many religions provide answers to these inquiries, often relating directly to belief in a higher power, but religion is also much more than that. Religion is also tradition, ritual, and community. My experience growing up in a Reform synagogue was largely centered around these latter components. While G-d and belief were discussed, my Jewish identity began with celebrating Chanukah and Passover every year. Simply participating in these traditions made me feel distinctly Jewish. In addition, every year of elementary school my mother would come into school and teach the history of Chanukah to my class. This fueled me with pride in my community and our history, and had nothing to do with belief or spirituality.

While spirituality is an essential part of religion, spirituality can (and does) exist outside of religion. When people say they are ‘spiritual, but not religious’, I think this means they don’t participate in the traditions or rituals of a certain religious community, but they might believe in a higher power or seek the meaning of life.