It’s pretty common for college students to have no religious affiliation but still claim to be spiritual. These are the atheists and agnostics who don’t necessarily believe in God anymore yet yearn for some deeper meaning to life. While religion seems to have faded to the background for many, spirituality is rising as a separate term indicating inner peace and guidance among younger generations. What’s funny is that spirituality and religion go hand-in-hand whether people realize it or not.
When you hear the word spiritual, you might imagine palm readings, tarot cards and abstract talk about the metaphysical. According to thefreedictionary.com, it actually means of or relating to God and the nature of the soul. Simply put, spirituality is founded in religion. People who live “spiritual” lives probably have the same morals traditional religions teach and don’t even recognize the connection.
The appeal of organized religion is dead for a lot of youths who have distanced themselves from their churches’ teachings. Instead, they often try to build their own spirituality.
Undeclared first year Dustin Magalhaes, who was raised by his Mormon mother and atheist father, said he no longer attended church but felt spiritual nonetheless.
“Being spiritual means seeing the world as a cohesive thing. It’s finding peace within yourself and conducting yourself according to that,” Magalhaes said. “Religion (on the other hand) requires steps to reach a level of spirituality.”
Magalhaes is right. Religions tend to be more systematic in their approach to spirituality. Their procedures can be seen as tedious for some people.
Catholicism, for example, requires the Liturgy of the Eucharist followed by the Communion rite in each mass. Its doctrine suggests that completing these steps builds a stronger relationship with the Trinity: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
This is why a lot of college students leave their childhood religions behind – there are simply too many rules to abide by. At the end of the day, however, where would we be spiritually without initial exposure to religious teachings?
Professor Maria Jaoudi, who specializes in spirituality throughout world religions, thought it would be difficult for someone to be spiritual without some sort of religious foundation.
“There are people who really are spiritual and don’t belong to a religious tradition. We would say they’re spiritual because of having manifested values. They’re good people and they’re kind people, so we might think they have a spiritual presence. But often, it’s only through a religious tradition that you can be grounded enough to grow that way. In other words, without a religious tradition it’s very difficult to do this on your own,” Jaoudi said.
Basically, you can’t be spiritual out of thin air. Whether you liked your religious upbringing or not, it undeniably served as a basis for who you are today.
It’s fine to embrace your own sense of spirituality, but to completely deny the beliefs of a certain religion is hypocritical if your own way of life is based on them to some degree.
Senior accounting and business major Sauvera Ali saw the fine line between spirituality and religion as being much thinner than we imagined. She saw the two ideas as part of a bigger picture: forming a personal relationship with God.
“Islam requires you to pray five times a day and to read scriptures daily. It’s a strict set of rules, but the most important thing is the faith and connection you have with God – that one higher power,” Ali said. “Spirituality to me is the discipline you have on yourself to follow your religion. To what extent are you willing to acknowledge something more powerful than yourself?”
Although spirituality and religion are sometimes seen as separate, they are really quite related. People should stop throwing the word spiritual around like a Frisbee and understand it’s unlikely to be truly spiritual without religion playing a role at one point or another. If you’re spiritual, then you’re probably religious too.
Instead of making a clear boundary between spiritual and religious, we should interpret them as part of the same thing regardless of how we identify ourselves.
Fabian can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org