Religion vs. Spirituality

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Difference between Religion and Spirituality

Religion and spirituality are two terms that both refer to the beliefs and philosophies of people. They are often used in very similar contexts and there is some overlap between the terms. An individual's belief in an organized religion may be very spiritual, but spiritualism does not always lead the individual to a traditional, organized religious system. Many people who have an interest in spirituality do not consider themselves to be part of any religion. Similarly, it is possible to be religious without having a deep spiritual connection with your faith.

Religion
Spirituality

Types

Spirituality is usually associated with an inner search for enlightenment. This may be achieved through practices such as prayer or meditation. It is a very internal process that requires hard work and introspection. Spirituality is often associated with New Age beliefs or alternative ideas, but it can also involve an individual awakening or participation in a conventional religion.

Spiritualism within religion is often identified as being religious rather than being spiritual. Someone who is particularly involved in their religion may be referred to as devout or religious rather than spiritual. The term spiritualism usually implies a philosophical or spiritual interest that is not linked to a particular religion. Spirituality may imply an openness to different interpretations and routes of achieving this connection or understanding, whereas a member of a particular religious group may feel that theirs is the one true religion.

However, the idea of spirituality is often used in a looser way, when someone wants to suggest that they have a deeper side even though they are not part of an organized religion, even if they have not taken much time to explore their own spiritual side. The term spirituality offers a different form of self-identification than simply being a member of a particular religious group or being non-religious.

Religions also come in a number of different forms. The largest religions in the world, by the number of believers, are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and those belief systems that are classified as Folk Religions and Chinese Folk Religions. There are also many other systems of belief, such as Shinto, Sikhism, Judaism, Jainism, Wicca and Rastafarianism, although they are less common, and there are also divisions within religious systems.

Organization

The defining characteristic of a religion is that it is an organized form of belief. Someone who is part of a particular religion will usually join in with organized activities or rituals, and they will probably follow the teachings or philosophies either of a living spiritual leader or of an important religious figure such as Jesus, Moses or Buddha. Religion is, therefore, often based on the past, while spirituality tends to be more about individual development in the present.

Spirituality is more internal in nature than religion. An individual can develop their own sense of spirituality, which may stem from their own experiences and view of the world, or from elements taken from the teachings of religions or philosophies created by others. Spirituality does not require participation in rituals or the following of religious laws, although such organized systems may sometimes be followed in order to attain a spiritual state.

A religion is a system of belief. However, not every organized system of belief will be widely considered a religion. Religion is usually associated with a traditional, established order. Newer systems of belief may be referred to as cults or new religious movements, although they share many of the features of more traditional religions.

The Individual

Spirituality tends to be much more about the individual than the group. Spiritual individuals may come up with their own set of beliefs rather than following a particular religion. When someone considers themselves to be spiritual, whether or not they are a member of a particular religion, they often mean that they feel some sort of connection with a higher power of some kind, or that they have spent time exploring the spiritual side of their being.

Spirituality is more about an inner quest than an outward performance, so it can be harder to recognize and it can also be much more individual than religion. People may achieve spirituality in their own unique way. Some people have found a spiritual connection through prayer or meditation, while others were struck by spirituality while walking, surfing, gardening or even working. Typically, spirituality involves feeling a connection to a higher power or to a larger reality, or finding a deeper understanding of one's own nature. An individual may spend a lot of time thinking about spirituality, but without being part of a particular religion.

Although members of a religious group are often highly spiritual people, there are also people who are involved in religion more for the social and cultural aspects than for the spiritual elements. It is not necessary to be spiritual in order to be part of a religion. Some people who identify themselves as Christian, for example, only attend church on special occasions such as weddings and may never consider the spiritual meaning of their faith and lives. Others will be deeply spiritually involved in their religion and they will engage with the ideas and beliefs that it espouses.

Similarities and Differences

  • Although there is some overlap between religion and spirituality, the term religion is used to refer to certain organized systems of belief, while spirituality is usually associated with people who are not members of a particular religion.
  • Religious people may also be spiritual people, but someone who identifies themselves as part of a particular religion is not necessarily spiritual.
  • Similarly, a spiritual person does not have to be a member of a certain religion, although they may also be religious.
  • Spiritualism is a feature of the individual, not the group.
  • Religion tends to involve group activities, rituals and rules.
  • Religion is about being a member of a group and following the teachings of others, who may be considered spiritual leaders.
  • Spiritualism is about finding one's own path, which may require the assistance of religious practices or spiritual leaders, but which can also be achieved alone or through unconventional means.

Which is more important?
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
 
 

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