Pursuit of the divine has existed for as long as civilisation has. Cultures have long been fascinated with what lies beyond this life and what it all means. Since ancient times, shamans and occult seers have acted as guides to people experiencing a spiritual awakening. Eventually, over millennia, elaborate archetypal stories we built upon core belief systems that became religions. The spiritual pursuit persisted as many, such as Gautama Buddha himself, weren’t satisfied with the answers religion had to offer. They sought the authenticity of the touch of the divine and the firsthand experience of spiritual awakening.
Why is it Important to Distinguish b/w Religion & Spirituality?
While there are several common questions between religion and spirituality, the answers from the two schools widely differ. Religion hands out widely accepted answers on a platter, while spirituality is a personal quest. It is useful to define each before determining why it’s important to distinguish between them.
Religion is mostly an institutionalised set of beliefs, attitudes, and practices directed toward worshipping a god or a supernatural being. It is a well-structured belief system passed on for generations in the form of written scriptures and established cultural practices. Religions have hierarchies of leaders who act as formal representatives of the institution. The leaders often carry out the religious practices and advise followers on the same or give their interpretation of the scriptures regarding practices.
Religion also has a political aspect, as people in any country divide into religious lines. Therefore, religion and group beliefs act as a unifying narrative for large groups of people to direct their lives and affairs. Members of religious faith can also have different dress codes and everyday life preferences. Religious people are also obligated to follow the guidelines set by their religion.
Spirituality is a personal search for a connection with the divine and an awareness of one’s place in the grand scheme of things. It may or may not involve holding a set of beliefs regarding the item, or the thoughts can change over time as one experiences spiritual growth. People can derive spiritual ideas from existing religions or build a sense of wisdom over the years through their personal experiences. People can also hold similar spiritual beliefs with common threads such as a sense of wonder about existence, mystical experiences that transcend mundane life, and a feeling of connection to something higher than themselves.
As we look at the definition of both, we realise there is a stark contrast in numerous aspects of religion and spirituality. Distinguishing from the other is essential in defining an individual’s journey. As people have become sceptical and rebellious towards existing structures, spirituality vs religion has become a common line of argument. More people identify themselves as spiritual but not religious these days as they want to find transcendental answers that suit their choices in life over what is imposed by religion.
10 Differences Between Religion & Spirituality
Here are some major differences between religion and spirituality:
1. Faith is communal, while spirituality is personal
Religion involves large groups of people holding the same belief and worshipping the same God, and it is the communal belief authenticated by religious scriptures. On the other hand, spirituality is a personal journey that someone may guide you, or you may take the path unguided. Spiritual people may or may not hold religious beliefs as well.
2. Someone teaches religion, while spirituality dawns by itself
People have mostly indoctrinated thoughts toward religious systems from childhood. The teaching of religious beliefs, attitudes and practices learnt from others or passed on through generations. On the other hand, spirituality starts as a quest, usually triggered by a profound event that makes the seeker question their reality and higher existence.
3. Religion is fixed, while spirituality embraces differing perspectives
At the heart of religion is dogma, and it is unchangeable. The bottom line is to maintain the structure of the belief. Spirituality is more open as spiritual thoughts often step outside the boundaries to test ideas and opinions.
4. Spirituality is concerned with the present, while religion deals with the future
Worship is central to religion, and according to many good deeds will be rewarded at a later date or in the afterlife. The essence of spirituality is to be fully present in the moment to experience life as it happens. It embraces both the good and the bad equally without anticipation of a reward in the future.
5. Judgment is central to religion, while spirituality is open
Religion forbids many things and indulgences in life, and it is an authority on what is a good mode of conduct in life. Spirituality is a personal journey of discovery that has little to no inhibitions. There are no right or wrong paths and no judgment for what is considered forbidden.
6. Religion is more objective, while spirituality is more subjective
Religion is practices and ideas passed down through generations, and it is mostly objective since the path is already laid for the followers. Spirituality involves subjective perceptions and contemplation. While many resorts to spiritual books, the journey is more emotional than many seekers.
7. Religion is highly organised, while spirituality has no form
Being a communal belief that had a long time to develop, religion has made its way into people’s lives in the form of politics and governance. It has a sphere of influence that extends from the personal to the social. Spirituality is more fluid; it can start at any time and develop with the person naturally.
8. Religion emphasises tradition while spirituality is organic
Following religion means fulfilling duties and obligations set down by the system. The latter may follow practices such as spiritual meditation. Spiritual development occurs naturally over the person’s lifetime and takes its own time to reach fruition.
9. Religion is dogmatic, while spirituality is experience-based
The path for the religious person is set, and they have to accept the dogma, whether they agree with it, and move ahead. Personal experiences strongly influence spirituality, and spiritual seekers might adopt different beliefs throughout their journey, settle on a set of beliefs, or throw it away altogether.
10. Religion is exclusive, while spirituality is inclusive
Different religions are often intolerant of other beliefs. Religious followers cannot follow more than one religion at a time, and spirituality has no such rigid system. Religious people can also be spiritual, and spiritual people can pick ideas from different faiths to follow.
Intertwined Relationship Between Religion & Spirituality
Religion and spirituality are both the foundations of many of our moral principles. Although most people in spirituality do not follow a religion, they share common values such as kindness and the sacredness of life. Moreover, spirituality can exist outside of religious dogma and often arises by itself, while religion is a subset of spirituality.
Similarities Between Religion & Spirituality
Religion and spirituality share some common attributes. Here are a few:
- Belief in a higher power: Religious people believe in one or multiple gods who are ethereal beings who control the universe and maintain order and justice. Spiritual people may not believe in one higher power but frequently acknowledge the presence of a guiding force that is analogous to a god.
- The desire to be in touch with the divine: For the religious, reaching God is life’s ultimate purpose, and it could be for a reward in the afterlife or a better place after death. Spiritual people yearn for connection with the divine for the feeling of peace, tranquillity and power it brings with it.
- Practices: Both religion and spirituality have routine procedures. For the religious, it is visiting a place of worship, rites and ablutions, while the spiritual engage in meditation or similar activity.
- Reverence for the divine: Respect, love and fear of God are central to most religious systems. Spiritual people may celebrate the natural order of the world.
What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious?
People who do not follow any known religion but continue on a path of spiritual development identify as spiritual but not religious. The category involves atheists who were formerly religious believers and other spiritual seekers who continue to search for a higher meaning without accepting religious beliefs.
What are the similarities and differences between spirituality and religion?
- Belief in a higher power
- The desire to be in touch with the divine
- Regular practices
- Reverence for the transcendental
- Religion is highly organised, while spirituality has no form
- Religion is exclusive, while spirituality is inclusive
- Religion is fixed, while spirituality embraces differing perspectives
- Religion is taught, while spiritually dawns by itself