Are ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ synonymous? In truth, no they’re not. Despite a common desire to conflate one with the other, religion and spirituality are quite distinct from each other. But how? What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Religion vs spirituality – common ground
The best place to start when considering the difference between religion and spirituality is the places where both actually have a lot in common. This includes:
- The eye cannot perceive everything that is going on in the universe
- There is more to us than the physical body
- It is not possible to be truly fulfilled in life unless we start interacting with these more than merely physical elements of existence
But from this similar starting point, the two concepts begin to widely differ…
What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Both religion and spirituality say then, that your relationship with the non-physical – what we might call the spirit or possibly the divine – is something of vital importance in your everyday life.
The most clearly defined answer to the difference between religious and spiritual thinking is the nature of your relationship with the divine:
A religion lays out a system of belief which defines the nature of your relationship with the spirit or the divine for you. Here are the teachings, the expected conduct and the rituals through which you can both express and promote your belief in the higher power which you worship. Having a set code of ethics to follow is also a feature of many religions.
Coming at the definition from another angle, it could be said that any system of worship or belief is a religion.
Spirituality, on the other hand, emphasizes the idea that you as an individual have to experience the divine – or spirit, whatever you perceive this to be – and define the nature of your relationship with it.
Just like different religions, any given spiritual thinker may have completely different ideas as to what ‘spirit’ might be to them. As well as to how – or if – they choose to show reverence, to worship or simply appreciate it. In fact, spirituality tends to promote a certain experimentation and self-definition of what being a ‘spiritual person’ means to any given person.
Is something that’s spiritual necessarily religious too?
Not at all. For example, many people who visit the Spirit Vine retreat center view it as a spiritual experience. But there’s no religion involved. Others are religious and find their retreat a useful way to consider and explore their own beliefs. For yet others, their experience has nothing to do with what they think of as the spiritual, while still being on a very personal exploration of self.
Many people would say that they have a spiritual side, yet they do not follow any established religion. Strangely, it is also possible to identify people who claim to be religious, yet who do not seem particularly spiritual. Indeed there are many quite loud proponents of certain religions who seem to have inadvertently separated themselves from the spiritual aspect of their stated faith altogether.
Conversely, there are many people who are both religious and spiritual. They follow a religion because it speaks to them in a deeply personal and highly spiritual way. Or because it seems to them to be the way in which they can most clearly conceive the nature of their relationship with their higher power.
Religion vs spirituality is not necessarily a battle then. Nor are they, perhaps, mutually exclusive. But they are certainly not the same thing.