What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is a dimension of life that seeks inspiration, reverence, and awe. It often comes into focus during times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, and death. It also may emerge in everyday activities, such as taking walks in nature and cooking dinner with family. Religious traditions invest many aspects of daily life with spiritual meaning and value. Goddess religions, for example, emphasize that the body is sacred; Native Americans look for signs of spirit in their interactions with nature; and judaism encourages looking for the holy in everyday activities, including walking, washing dishes, and eating meals together.

More than half of Americans say they are “spiritual,” and most identify with a particular religion or denomination. About 45% say they believe in spirits or unseen spiritual forces and 38% report that they have had the experience of feeling a connection with someone who has died. Some people, however, reject organized religion and define themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (“SBNR”).

When asked to describe their spirituality, some 27% of Americans cite descriptions tied to organized religion. They include belief in God (12%), a connection to nature (4%) or even with themselves (4%). Carson and Stoll (2008) describe this type of spiritual development as being a vertical process, and the type that does not involve a relationship with a Supreme Being as being horizontal. To help you understand these distinctions, read the definitions in table 1.1 and then consider your own definition of spirituality.