Spiritual, but Not Religious

For a long time, many people have made a distinction between being “religious” and being “spiritual.” The former is sometimes perceived as a bad thing, due to its implied association with “organized religion” and some of the negative stereotypes that term elicits. The former, while more vague, also tends to be more acceptable to the general public.

Turns out that Americans who deem themselves “spiritual”—but not necessarily “religious”—are more satisfied with life while also reporting higher levels of gratitude and pro-social behavior than those who don’t regard themselves as “spiritual.”

Those are the findings from a recent research report from PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute). The report says that Americans fall into four categories:

  • 29% are both spiritual and religious;
  • 18% are spiritual but not religious;
  • 22% are not spiritual but religious; and
  • 31% are neither spiritual nor religious.

Americans who are spiritual, regardless of how religious they are, demonstrate a greater proclivity to help others,” said PRRI research director Dan Cox in a release. “Americans who are more spiritual are more likely to listen to someone else’s problems, do a personal favor, or even allow a stranger to cut in line.”

In a Guardian essay referencing the new research, opinion writer Daniel José Camacho says, “As a person of faith, my experience with organized religion has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. Yet I have always appreciated how spiritualities across a variety of traditions animate expansive visions and compassionate ethics. Even as the religious landscape in the United States rapidly changes, the importance of spirituality won’t necessarily go away. Now, there’s more evidence to flesh this out.”

The Economist also wrote about the research in a piece titled, “Tingles of the transcendent don’t always prompt people to go to church.”

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