Five Similarities Between Religion and Spirituality

This is now the third post on the article of Dr. Gianni Zappalà, “Spirituality is the new black …and it has social impact!” Its source URL is

If you want to read the whole article, please click that URL.

Here is the portion of that article and my comments follow the article portion. The author’s words are in italics, mine are in ordinary roman.

Spirituality and Religion

Part of the confusion and difficulty in defining spirituality is that at least up until the end of the 20th century, the words spirituality and religion were used, especially in popular discourse as synonyms. The media for instance still often (mistakenly) refers to ‘spiritual leaders’ when what is really meant is religious leaders (usually in a position of authority) of a particular religious group or place of worship.

There may be similarities or connections between spirituality and religiosity but it does not necessarily need to be the case. As Robert Fuller pointed out in his book, Spiritual, but not Religious, for instance, both terms allude to a belief in a higher power of some kind, be it the more traditional notions of God from the Judeo-Christian tradition or the concept of a universal energy field or force.20 Both terms also describe a desire to connect with this higher power and albeit less so with spirituality than religion, both concepts also have an interest in rituals and practices that help deepen one’s spirituality or religiosity, be it yoga and meditation or attending church.21

The result of this confusion between spirituality and religion is that much of the writing on the ‘new spirituality’ is about what spirituality is not, in particular, how it is different to religion. The two examples below, the first from an academic scholar of spirituality and the second by a best-selling popular author on spirituality illustrate the point:

„[S]pirituality refers to our relationship with the sacredness of life, nature, and the universe, and this relationship is no longer felt to be confined to formal devotional practice or to institutional places of worship…spiritual development is the intrinsic human capacity and yearning to embed the self in something greater than the self. In contrast, religions are the cultural mechanisms that can provide rituals and beliefs to aid this process’. 22

„[R]eligion asks you to learn from the experience of others. Spirituality urges you to seek your own..23

In short, the two concepts have become ‘polarized’ in the scholarly and popular literature. Table 1 summarizes some of the key differences often noted between the ‘new’ spirituality and religion taken from recent writing and studies. While stark academic dichotomies do not always do justice to the complexities, subtleties and contradictions present in real life, the characteristics of religion and spirituality depicted in Table 1 suggest that the two concepts diverge in several important respects. While traditional approaches generally saw religion as a ‘broad-band construct’ that was not differentiated from spirituality, and religion was seen as having both positive and negative aspects, modern approaches (such as those depicted in Table 1) tend to define religion more narrowly and explicitly distinguish it from spirituality. Religion is generally viewed as negative (with connotations of doctrine, institutionalization and authoritarianism) while spirituality is generally viewed more positively (as an individual journey and exploration of the self).24

Here are the footnotes:

20 See for example Greg Bradden, The Divine Matrix, California: Hay House, 2007.
21 Fuller, op.cit.
22 Tacey, op.cit p.38
23 Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God, Vol 1., Sydney: Hodder, 2005.
24 Zinnbauer et al, op.cit, p. 898-99

Here are my comments:

When we were children we were asked, Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If we based our answer on the creation story in the Bible, we would answer, Chicken. But if we based our answer on our experience in raising chickens, our answer would be, Egg.

The same can be said of the answer to the question, Which came first, Religion or Spirituality?
In terms of our experience with religious books and discussions, religion came first. It is only now that more and more people are talking about spirituality and writing about it. In terms of the origin of both words or in terms of the object of our understanding, spirituality came first. The spirit was there before there was any religion. God was there before there was anybody to worship him.

We can even say that spirituality is an offshoot of religion. For many centuries people professed religion. Some of them even fiercely opposed religions other their own. Christians for many centuries opposed paganism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other religion. This has happened also with paganism, Islam, and the rest. They too opposed other religions.

But more and more people are discovering that mere religion cannot answer their deeper yearning for a better experience of life. So, they turn to something deeper and better than religion. They find this in spirituality.

Because spirituality in a sense is an offshoot of religion, there is bound to be some similarity between them, just like the similarity between the egg and the chicken.

These similarities are mentioned in the article of Dr. Zappala. Here are the three similarities.

First, both believe in a higher power of some kind. Religion believes in God the Father or Jesus, or Allah, or Brahman, or Tao. Spirituality believes also in this God or it may conceive of God as a universal or primal energy. Both believe that such being possesses power higher and greater than what we have.

Secondly, both religion and spirituality desire to have a relationship with this higher power. Although the nature of the relationship is different in religion than in spirituality, the desire for this connection is there. Religion connects with this higher power with fear and trembling. Spirituality connects with this higher power with love and affection.

Thirdly, according to the article both religion and spirituality have rituals and practices which deepen one’s religiosity or spirituality. Religion usually has sacred rites or sacraments. Spirituality has meditation or yoga sessions.

I may add two more similarities between religion and spirituality.

Both have respect for the sacred, the other worldly. This is not just respect for God. This is respect for the reality that is beyond our senses and reason. When religion pushes this respect to its extreme, it becomes superstition. When spirituality pushes this respect to its extreme, it becomes religious spirituality.

And the second similarity I want to add is that both have fear of failure. In religion this failure is punished by hell fire or repetition of existence or some other worse fate. In spirituality this failure is the inability to realize one’s true worth or value and the destiny of a life of meaninglessness. Hell, repetition of existence, non-existence, meaninglessness are forms of punishment for failure, either in religion or in spirituality.

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  1. thank you so much ive been looking all around the internet n this is the only article i could find thanks :D

  2. Thanks for sharing this information

    Yogi Sriji is an enlightened spiritual leader; founder of Trikarana Yoga Charitable Trust and Trikarana Transcendental Meditation (TTM) Center, a unit of the Trust, started in the year 2009 in Coimbatore, an Industrial City in Tamil Nadu


  3. Religions are based upon rituals that are strictly and ceremoniously followed by those who are part of that religion. True spirituality is something that is found deep within oneself. It is your way of loving, accepting and relating to the world and people around you. It cannot be found in a church or by believing in a certain way.

    Ask The Lama