Spirituality and religiosity are two terms that have been used synonymously historically. However, over the past couple of years, these words started to adopt distinctive characteristics. More and more people move away from conventional religious practices and adopt a spiritual path that is highly individualistic as new-age spiritualism gets more recognition.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality is “a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the deepest values and meanings by which people live, often in a context separate from organised religious institutions”. Spirituality helps people find meaning in their lives and cope with hardships by increasing their awareness. Some of the most popular spiritual practices in modern times are Transcendental Meditation, Breathwork methods, Mindfulness Meditation, and Astrology. The phrase “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) has been increasingly popularised as a self-identifying label recently. SBNR refers to being on a spiritual path without being a part of organised religion.
What is religiosity?
Religion is defined as “a specific set of organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group”. Religiosity is how devoted a person is to their religion. Religion aims to build its followers’ character. People within the same religion often have a common outlook on life and similar traits. According to sociology literature, religion increases the sense of attachment to the societal group.
What are their similarities?
As it was mentioned above, religiosity and spirituality were regarded as one throughout history. Religion and spiritual practices share some fundamental similarities. They both aim to guide individuals towards a good life. They teach the same core principles of increasing the well-being of society and aiming for the greater good. They involve rituals and practices. Both of them require a certain amount of devotion and self-discipline. They give people a good reason to live and help them to find meaning.
What are their differences?
Religion is “formal, institutional, and outward expression” while spirituality is a journey to find meaning and an individual connection. It is related to the desire for “transcendence, introspection and interconnectedness”. Spirituality is a way to connect with sacredness, it is accepting the possibility of higher powers without getting involved in organized religious activity. It is a unique journey for each person. Spiritual people value the mind-body-spirit while religion is more related to organisational and communal aspects. Religion is focused on externals such as houses of worship, books and community whereas spirituality is all about the inner work. Finding the divine within you rather than through external forces is more central to spirituality. You aim to lose your ego and become the best version of yourself. Self-discovery is the fundamental motive. You try to connect with the higher self and find the divine within by using the tools provided by spirituality.
Spirituality is highly individualistic, private, and anti-institutional. In spiritual practices, each human embeds an infinite potential. Everyone is believed to serve a purpose in life. You are taught to trust your instincts and follow your heart. In most spiritual practices, the follower decides on the terms. Practitioners are on a quest to find connections with themselves, others, and the universe. What they want to practice and how long they want to practice it is up to the practitioner. Religion on the contrary provides specific instructions for a certain lifestyle.
One of the principal motives in religion is the fear of punishment whereas spirituality does not consider this as much. The closest concept to punishment in spirituality is karma. However, karma is not exactly a punishment. It is the law of attraction, what you send to the universe comes back to you according to this system. Aside from punishment, there is also the premise of reward in religions. Most of the common religions support the idea of an afterlife where one is either sent to hell or rewarded with heaven. However, in spirituality, the only reward is reaching inner peace. There is no higher reward granted by any authorities.
Religions entail moral laws and rules, codes of ethics, and a well-established structure. They are very rigid. The followers try to live their lives in accordance with these rules to connect with the sacred. However spiritual people can change their beliefs and their worldview throughout their journey as there are no pre-established rights and wrongs. They are advised to listen to their inner voice. Spiritual traditions offer tools to enlighten seekers’ paths more than providing rules for them to follow.
Another difference worth mentioning is that religion is mostly passed through generations. Children inherit patterns of faith from their parents. However spiritual practices are mostly adopted individually rather than being transferred.
According to Newman’s model of religion and spiritualism, spirituality is a way of “being”, religion is a way of “doing ”, and faith is “knowing ”. Within this framework, both spirituality and religiosity are functions of faith. Faith is the common ground from which both of the concepts build their foundation. Interestingly, one of the most popular spiritual teachers of modern times, Sadhguru, has almost a completely opposite outlook. According to him, religious people are faithful whereas spiritual people reject believing. They only accept what they know for certain and search for what they do not know. Thus they are referred to as seekers. Believing is accepting a certain approach to something you don’t know the answer to. Religious people choose to have faith even though they don’t know and they are called believers. Sadhguru rejects believing as he thinks that believing can stop you from searching for the truth.
As you can see, there are some fundamental differences between religion and spiritualism. However, keep in mind that you can be both religious and spiritual. It is not an either/or situation. They offer different approaches to finding a connection with the sacred and finding meaning in life.
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