AskDefine | Define spirituality

Dictionary Definition



1 property or income owned by a church [syn: spiritualty, church property]
2 concern with things of the spirit [syn: spiritualism, otherworldliness]

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. Concern for that which is unseen and intangible, as opposed to physical or mundane.
  2. Appreciation for religious values.


  • Hebrew:

Extensive Definition

Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit, a concept closely tied to religious belief and faith, a transcendent reality, and one or more deities. Spiritual matters are thus those matters regarding humankind's ultimate nature and purpose, not only as material biological organisms, but as beings with a unique relationship to that which is perceived to be beyond both time and the material world.
As such, the spiritual is traditionally contrasted with the material, the temporal and the worldly. A perceived sense of connection forms a central defining characteristic of spirituality — connection to a metaphysical reality greater than oneself, which may include an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence, or such states as satori or Nirvana. Equally importantly, spirituality relates to matters of sanity and of psychological health. Spirituality is the personal, subjective dimension of religion, particularly that which pertains to liberation or salvation (see also mysticism)
Spirituality may involve perceiving or wishing to perceive life as more important ("higher"), more complex or more integrated with one's world view; as contrasted with the merely sensual.
Many spiritual traditions, accordingly, share a common spiritual theme: the "path", "work", practice, or tradition of perceiving and internalizing one's "true" nature and relationship to the rest of existence (God, creation of the universe, or life), and of becoming free of the lesser egoic self (or ego) in favor of being more fully one's "true" "Self".

The spiritual and the religious

An important distinction exists between spirituality in religion and spirituality as opposed to religion.
In recent years, spirituality in religion often carries connotations of a believer having a faith more personal, less dogmatic, more open to new ideas and myriad influences, and more pluralistic than the doctrinal/dogmatic faiths of mature religions. It also can connote the nature of believers' personal relationship or "connection" with their god(s) or belief-system(s), as opposed to the general relationship with a Deity as shared by all members of a given faith.
Those who speak of spirituality as opposed to religion generally meta-religiously believe in the existence of many "spiritual paths" and deny any objective truth about the best path to follow. Rather, adherents of this definition of the term emphasize the importance of finding one's own path to whatever-god-there-is, rather than following what others say works. In summary: the path which makes the most coherent sense becomes the correct one (for oneself).
Many adherents of orthodox religions who regard spirituality as an aspect of their religious experience tend to contrast spirituality with secular "worldliness" rather than with the ritual expression of their religion.
People of a more New-Age disposition tend to regard spirituality not as religion per se, but as the active and vital connection to a force/power/energy, spirit, or sense of the deep self. As cultural historian and yogi William Irwin Thompson (1938 - ) put it, "Religion is not identical with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization." (1981, 103)
For a religious parallel to the approach whereby some see spirituality in everything, compare pantheism.
To Christians, referring to one's self as "more spiritual than religious" implies relative deprecation of rules, rituals, and tradition while preferring an intimate relationship with God and/or talking to Him as one's best friend. Their basis for this belief is that Jesus Christ came to free man from those rules, rituals, and traditions, giving them the ability to "walk in the spirit" thus maintaining a "Christian" lifestyle through that one-to-one relationship with God. Some excellent resources that further explain the "spiritual Christian" are found in the Bible, Gospel of John 4:24 for example, and in the works of Watchman Nee. Nee probes deeply into the building blocks of mankind and derives that we are Spirit, Body and Soul.

Directed spirituality

"Being spiritual" may aim toward:
  • simultaneously improving one's wisdom and willpower.
  • achieving a closer connection to Deity.
  • removing illusions or "false ideas" at the sensory, feeling and thinking aspects of a person.
Plato's allegory of the cave in book VII of The Republic gives a well known description of the spiritual development process, and may provide an aid in understanding what "spiritual development" exactly entails.

Spirituality and personal well-being

Though many people practise prayer and believe it affects their health, only limited scientific evidence supports the efficacy of prayer. In keeping with a general increase in interest in spirituality and complementary and alternative treatments, prayer has garnered attention among a growing number of behavioral scientists. Masters and Spielmans have conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of distant intercessory prayer, but detect no discernible effects. They review the literature regarding frequency of prayer, content of prayer, and prayer as a coping strategy; then make suggestions for future research, including the conduct of experimental studies based on conceptual models that include precise operationally-defined constructs, longitudinal investigations with proper measure of control variables, and increased use of ecological momentary assessment techniques.
Spirituality has played a central role in self-help movements such as Alcoholics Anonymous: "...if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead...."

Spirituality and science

Analysis of spiritual qualities in science faces problems — such as the imprecision of spiritual concepts, the subjectivity of spiritual experience, and the amount of work required to translate and map observable components of a spiritual system into empirical evidence.


Science takes as its basis empirical, repeatable observations of the natural world, and thus generally regards ideas that rely on supernatural forces for an explanation as beyond the purview of science. Scientists regard ideas which present themselves as scientific, but which rely on a supernatural force for an explanation, as religious rather than scientific; and may label such idea as pseudo-science. In this context scientists may oppose spirituality, at least in the scientific sphere.


New Age physicist-philosopher Fritjof Capra has articulated connections between what he sees as the spiritual consequences of quantum physics. Ken Wilber, in an attempt to unite science and spirituality, has proposed an "Integral Theory of Consciousness".
Ervin László posits a field of information as the substance of the cosmos. Using the Sanskrit and Vedic term for "space", akasha, he calls this information-field the "Akashic field" or "A-field". He posits the "quantum vacuum" (see Vacuum state) as the fundamental energy- and information-carrying field that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present (collectively, the "Metaverse").

History of spirituality

Spiritual innovators who operated within the context of a religious tradition became marginalised or suppressed as heretics or separated out as schismatics. In these circumstances, anthropologists generally treat so-called "spiritual" practices such as shamanism in the sphere of the religious, and class even non-traditional activities such as those of Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being in the province of religion.
Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, often opposed to clericalism and skeptical of religion, sometimes came to express their more emotional responses to the world under the rubric of "the Sublime" rather than discussing "spirituality". The spread of the ideas of modernity began to diminish the role of religion in society and in popular thought.
Schmidt sees Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) as a pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field. Phineas Quimby (1802-1866) and New Thought played a role in emphasizing the spiritual in new ways within Christian church traditions during the 19th century.
In the wake of the Nietzschean concept of the "death of God" in 1882, people unpersuaded by scientific rationalism turned increasingly to the idea of spirituality as an alternative both to materialism and to traditional religious dogma.
Important early 20th century writers who studied the phenomenon of spirituality include William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)) and Rudolph Otto (especially The Idea of the Holy (1917)).
The distinction between the spiritual and the religious became more common in the popular mind during the late 20th century with the rise of secularism and the advent of the New Age movement. Paul Heelas noted the development within New Age circles of what he called "seminar spirituality": structured offerings complementing consumer choice with spiritual options.

The study of spirituality

Many spiritual traditions promote courses of study in spirituality which happen to culminate in the unflowering of their own world-view systems or practices.
More generally, building on both the Western esoteric tradition and theosophy, Rudolf Steiner and others in the anthroposophic tradition have attempted to apply systematic methodology to the study of spiritual phenomena. This enterprise does not attempt to redefine natural science, but to explore inner experience — especially our thinking — with the same rigor that we apply to outer (sensory) experience.
Overall, scholars in disciplines such as theology, religious studies, psychology (but more accurately parapsychology--'beyond psychology'--pneumatology, monadology, and esoteric philosophical logic,) anthropology and sociology sometimes concentrate their researches on spirituality, but the field remains ill-defined.
In the late 19th century a Pakistani scholar Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi started writing books and teaching the somewhat hidden science of Islamic spirituality, of which the best known form remains the Sufi tradition (famous through Rumi and Hafiz) in which spiritual discipline is transmitted to students by a spiritual master or "pir".


  • A Course in Miracles. 2nd ed., Mill Valley: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992, ISBN 0-9606388-9-X.
  • Anderson, R. A., Church of God? or the Temples of Satan (A Reference Book of Spiritual Understanding & Gnosis). Texas: TGS Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-9786249-6-3
  • Azeemi,K.S.Muraqaba: The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. Houston: Plato, 2005. (ISBN 0-9758875-4-8)
  • Bolman, L. G., and Deal, T. E. Leading With Soul. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
  • Borysenko, J. A Woman's Journey to God. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
  • Cannon, K. G. Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. New York: Continuum, 1996.
  • Cappel, Constance, "Dera Poetry," Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris, 2007.
  • Deloria, V., Jr. God is Red. 2d Ed. Golden, Co: North American Press, 1992, ISBN 1555919049.
  • Dillard, C. B.; Abdur-Rashid, D.; and Tyson, C. A. "My Soul is a Witness." International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13, no. 5 (September 2000): 447-462.
  • Dirkx, J. M. "Nurturing Soul in Adult Learning." in Transformative Learning in Action. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education No. 74, edited by P. Cranton, pp. 79-88. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
  • Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.
  • Elkins D.N. et al (1998)Toward a humanistic-phenomenological spirituality: definition, description and measurement. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 28(4), 5-18
  • English, L., and Gillen, M., eds. Addressing the Spiritual Dimensions of Adult Learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 85. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
  • Haisch, Bernard The God Theory: Universes, Zero-point Fields, and What's Behind It All, (Preface), Red Wheel/Weiser, 2006, ISBN 1-57863-374-5
  • Hein, David. "Christianity and Traditional Lakota / Dakota Spirituality: A Jamesian Interpretation." The McNeese Review 35 (1997): 128-38.
  • Hein, David, ed. Readings in Anglican Spirituality. Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1991. ISBN 0-88028-125-1
  • Hein, David, and Edward Hugh Henderson. Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York and London: Continuum / T & T Clark, 2004. About the spiritual theology of Austin Farrer; includes chapter on "Farrer's Spirituality" by Diogenes Allen.
  • Hein, David. "Spiritual Counsel in the Anglican Tradition," in Anglican Theological Review (1997, 1995, 1994).
  • Holtje, D. (1995). From Light to Sound: The Spiritual Progression. Temecula, CA: MasterPath, Inc. ISBN 1-885949-00-6
  • Martsolf D.S. and Mickley J.R. (1998) "The concept of spirituality in nursing theories: differing world-views and extent of focus" Journal of Advanced Nursing 27, 294-303
  • Masters, K.S. & Spielmans, G.I (2007). "Prayer and health: review, meta-analysis, and research agenda", Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(4), 329-338.
  • Perry, Whitall N. A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom: An Encyclopedia of Humankind’s Spiritual Truth. Louisville: Fons Vitae books, 2000, ISBN 1-887752-33-1
  • Rajvanshi, Anil K. "Nature of Human Thought", NARI, Phaltan, 2004
  • Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, Acorn Press, 1990, ISBN 0-89386-022-0
  • Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Restless Souls : The Making of American Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper, 2005. ISBN 0-06-054566-6
  • Shahjahan, R. A., "Spirituality in the academy: Reclaiming from the margins and evoking a transformative way of knowing the world" International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 18, no. 6 (December 2005): 685-711.
  • Steiner, Rudolf, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation. New York: Anthroposophic Press, (1904) 1994. ISBN 0-88010-372-8
  • Steiner, Rudolf, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, (1904) 1994
  • Thompson, William Irwin, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981).
  • Wapnick, Kenneth, The Message of A Course in Miracles. Roscoe, NY: Foundation for A Course in Miracles, 1997, ISBN 0-933291-25-6.
  • Zagano, Phyllis Twentieth-Century Apostles: Contemporary Spirituality in Action (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999)
  • Zagano, Phyllis "Woman to Woman: An Anthology of Women's Spiritualities (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical PRess) 1993.
  • Zajonc, Arthur, The New Physics and Cosmology Dialogues with the Dalai Lama. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-515994-2.

External links


Specific spiritual traditions

spirituality in Arabic: روحانية
spirituality in Bosnian: Duhovnost
spirituality in Breton: Speredelezh
spirituality in Catalan: Espiritualitat
spirituality in Czech: Spiritualita
spirituality in German: Spiritualität
spirituality in Spanish: Espiritualidad (psicología)
spirituality in Esperanto: Spiriteco
spirituality in French: Spiritualité
spirituality in Friulian: Spiritualitât
spirituality in Icelandic: Andleg viðleitni
spirituality in Italian: Spiritualità
spirituality in Hebrew: רוחניות
spirituality in Dutch: Spiritualiteit
spirituality in Japanese: スピリチュアリティ
spirituality in Norwegian: Åndelighet
spirituality in Polish: Duchowość
spirituality in Portuguese: Espiritualidade
spirituality in Romanian: Spiritualitate
spirituality in Russian: Духовность
spirituality in Albanian: Spiritualiteti
spirituality in Simple English: Spirituality
spirituality in Serbo-Croatian: Duhovnost
spirituality in Finnish: Hengellisyys
spirituality in Swedish: Andlighet
spirituality in Turkish: Spiritüalizm
spirituality in Yiddish: גייסטליכקייט
spirituality in Chinese: 靈性

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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