When we initially contemplate the ideas of religion and spirituality, different mental and emotional reactions can arise that depend on our personal beliefs, upbringing and deeply ingrained subconscious patterns. It could be that religious ideology and spiritual beliefs are seen as opposing concepts to some and cohesive concepts to others. In this article, the focus is not to try to prove one is superior or more valid than the other but rather to holistically compare them for deeper understanding, observation and insight. We will start with gaining an understanding of what religion usually entails and what spirituality usually entails followed by contemplating some of the differences between the two and finally exploring some of the many similarities.
What is Religion?
It is documented that are actually 4300 religions in the world and with just a few of these being the major religions that are followed by a majority of the world population; these most popular religions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism. Religious beliefs can be traced back to around 5220 years ago (around the time that writing was invented) and is still an integral part of our societies today. Today organized religion has an influence that extends into most of our political and institutional laws as well as social structures.
Most people are born into a religion and it is often linked to culture and a sense of community. Religion is usually an organized set beliefs that a follow a certain and agreed-upon story which revolves around dedication to a god or several gods and deities. The narratives of religious texts and beliefs often specifically answer many of the fundamental questions that we have humans, especially regarding the meaning and purpose of existence as well as morals and values. The religious texts offer a set of specific ways or rules on how to live.
What is Spirituality?
There is no one meaning of spirituality, it is about uniquely creating meaning and not just about belief, but rather based on direct experimenting, experiencing on a personal level and finding what works for you. Spirituality usually encompasses a feeling that there is a power or energy that is greater than oneself and exploring various well known as well as personal techniques to connecting with or better understanding this power (on both inner and outer levels). Spiritual practices are often intention-based and range from daily activities practiced more mindfully to transcendental meditation or psychedelic ceremonies. Although spirituality has no set rules there are some commonly shared practices and philosophies such as mindfulness, silence, contemplation, yoga and meditation.
Spirituality is innate to the human nature of curiosity about life and most major religions have some spiritual basis to them. Many spiritual practices draw from some of the practices derived from religions (especially Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism). The differences and overlaps of spirituality and religion shall be explored in the sections below.
Are there differences between Religion and Spirituality?
Spirituality and religion can definitely be viewed as being interlinked in some ways but assuming a mainstream perspective they can also be viewed as contrasting. These are some of possible differences between religion and spirituality:
Religion is often based on set collective beliefs while spirituality is usually more experiential and individualized.
Religion usually includes condemnation (punishment for not following the rules of the religion that can negatively take effect both in this life and the afterlife), spirituality doesn’t really condemn anything or anyone ( in some spiritual practices there is an acknowledgment of concepts such as karma and unconscious energy exchanges which may be the cause imbalances or problems but there is no set consequence for set actions like in religious belief systems)
Religion can be fear-based to secure compliance and dedication whereas spiritually is voluntary and usually motivated by love and willingness.
Religion is often about fully accepting what the scriptures say and can be resistant to questioning or interrogation while spiritual practices usually welcome questioning, contemplation and the combining of personal, mystical and scientific perspectives to gain an understanding that is flexible and that fully resonates with the individual experience.
The Connections between Spirituality and Religion
When approached with an open mind there many similarities and connections between religion and spirituality as philosophies and practice. When explored deeply enough they inherently have similar intentions and outcomes; to gain an understanding of existence and live in ways that are of benefit to both ourselves, all those around us and the world at large. These are the core intentions of some these practices that can be subverted by ego, fear, dogma and power struggles. When religion or spirituality is approached with sincerity and presence it is possible for every path to be a beneficial journey discovery, knowledge and enlightenment.
Spirituality and religion are similar in that they can both be used as tools for self-improvement, for finding meaning and for experiencing connection.
They both have the capacity to offer us comfort, support and inspiration. They can both offer solutions to many of the problems or anxieties of being human.
Both spirituality and religion have inspired and energized humans throughout history and till today to produce amazing works of art, music and service.
In light of the observations of some of these non-discriminating differences and overlaps of religion and spirituality, it can be noted that they are not didactic and both of these practices at the core are essentially deeply personal and powerful endeavors. It is always up to the individual to choose what truly resonates. Approaching any practice, be it religious or spiritual, with genuine faith and integrity is when the true power and benefit of these understandings can be experienced. The embodied understanding of the diversity of both religion and spirituality as valid, effectual and a personal choice is eloquently expressed in the following quotation by the theological scholar and metaphysical poet Fakeer Ishavardas:
“Believing or not makes no difference to the absolute of things that be. But it does to you. For you shall live and die accordingly.”
__Written by Music Of Wisdom team