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Definition: Spirituality from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

This term is frequently defined in relation to the term religion. Typical distinctions between spirituality and religion are that the former is more private, idiosyncratic, fluid, and linked to personal meaning. In contrast, religion is more social, institutional, codified, and static. Spirituality also does not necessarily connote a belief in a supernatural or transcendent being.

Summary Article: Spirituality
From The Brill Dictionary of Religion

‘Spirituality’ is a fashionable word, used in contemporary religious discourse for a spiritual attitude toward life, a style of piety. It occurs in the Christian and the non-Christian areas alike. This diffuse application is connected with a twin history. From the French (spiritualité), the word has been taken over into other languages, especially so since the 1960s, by Catholic theologians, who wished to describe certain forms of piety actively lived: from a contemplative monastic life (for laity, as well, who occasionally share this life, and integrate it into their daily lives), to a political and social engagement from Christian motives, for example in the ‘spirituality of liberation’ (G. Gutiérrez; → Liberation Theology). Behind all of this stands the Latin adjective spiritualis, which in the Middle Ages meant ‘pertaining to monasticism.’ In this sense, then, spirituality is a modern form of active Christian piety that applies itself in the direction contrary to that by which religion withdraws from the world, and/or holds contemplative elements to be important. Similarly, the category has been adopted in the Evangelical area as well.

From Anglo-Saxon linguistic space comes a second, independent line of tradition. As early as the close of the nineteenth century, ‘spirituality’ began to denote a free-spirited attitude that appealed to inner experience in religious things, by contrast with Christian tradition's ‘blind belief in dogma.’ Unitarians and other free religious movements molded the word in this sense. Others transferred it to non-Christian religions, as for example, at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekananda applied it to Hinduism. In this application, it denotes a ‘mystical’ nucleus of potentially any religion, which—unlike its theological or dogmatic formations—is experienced preponderantly, or only, in the individual, private religious practice of the ‘God-seeker.’ In the West, the → New Age movement has been among the agents propagating this meaning, adopting it as a self-description of ‘unchurched religiosity,’ ‘nature-based spirituality,’ etc.

Emotions/Feelings, Esalen Institute, Mysticism, New Age, Private Religion

  • Bochinger, Christoph, “New Age” und moderne Religion, Gütersloh 2 1995, 377-398.
  • Fuller, Robert C., Spiritual, But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, Oxford 2001.
  • Christoph Bochinger
    © 2006 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands

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