Can Spirituality Exist Without Religion?

More and more Americans are turning to spirituality rather than religion. But what does this mean?

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According to Pew Research Center, 25% of American claim they’re spiritual, but not religious. ¹ What exactly does this mean?

For many out there, spirituality and religion co-exist. For others, while religious faith might not seem as alluring, the idea of spirituality comes with much appreciation. Then there are those who hold no belief at all.

No matter your belief, the purpose of this article is to explore spirituality through a reality where religious convictions no longer exist. A reality that’s becoming more and more apart of our society.

Recognizing Accomplishments

For millennia, groups of people turned to religion for more than just salvation. Religion, in many regards, was a means of recognition.

For example, throughout history, many cultures had what has been termed a “rite of passage.” These were traditions in which a male going through puberty would be separated from his mother and, usually, put into survival situations. The purpose of a rite of passage was to help the child grow into a man and, eventually, develop necessary characteristics to better his society. ²

Of course, the idea of a rite of passage in today’s society seems savagery. Yet, they played a fundamental role in how past civilizations were shaped. Not to mention, it gave recognition to accomplishments that couldn’t be rendered through the naked eye.

Krista Tippet, creator and host of the public radio show, “On Being,” has noticed that in modern society, such recognition is “only privileged and rewarded [for] exterior accomplishments.”

We are acknowledged when we land a good career, graduate from school, or obtain luxurious objects. But, in an example, what if one was to make progress in overcoming their anxiety disorder? Would anyone even notice?

In terms of religion, having a relationship with God is no longer being recognized the way it had been even just decades ago. And this may just be one of the reasons so many have let go of their religious beliefs.

Yet, what we’re missing within a religion could be fundamental for our entire existence. That is, our spirituality.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

This discovery is, in many regards, monumental. For before now, we always theorized on our spiritual beliefs. Now we have scientific evidence that they hold an important connection to ourselves.

In 2018, a group of Yale University and Columbia University scientists discovered an area of the brain that is stimulated through spiritual experiences. Whether that be having a connection with God or a “transcendence” with nature, this area of the brain has been termed our “neurobiological home.” ³

While spiritual experiences tend to be defined on a cultural basis, one aspect of the discovery the scientists noted is there’s a all-inclusive, cognitive foundation for spirituality within all of us. With that, many scientists also believe that by better understanding this area of the brain, there’s a lot of potential for treating mental health conditions. ⁴

The Beauty of “Awe”

To better understand universal spirituality – a spiritual sense that goes beyond the boundaries of religion – we must ask ourselves what’s one aspect of human life we all feel spiritually attached to?

While there’s probably a large amount of answers, for the sake of our discussion, we’re going to look into the notion of “awe.” Traditionally, we’ve associated moments of “awe” with experiences of religion and a belief in God.

However, more and more people are experiencing “awe” without the benefit of religion. And the majority of people are doing so through nature. ⁵

According to Tippett, the basis of spirituality is connecting our outer self with our inner self. In her words, “[we are] constantly coming back, looking inward, getting re-centered, [and] looking beyond ourselves.”

Nature, in it’s almost perfect sense of being, often gives people the ability to do this. It takes a break from social structure and recognizes the soul as it is.

Greater Social Implications

If we can all agree that we feel “awe,” then there’s most likely a lot more we’re ignoring within each other. The thing about religion is it was one of the fundamentals for connecting a society. Now that religious beliefs are slowly becoming less and less prominent, many are concerned over the implications that can have on society.

Even Nietzsche who famously said, “God is dead and we killed him,” had concerns as to how our society would continue without the foundation of Christianity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we all need to grab a bible and run to Sunday mass. Rather, it implies that we should all seek out spiritual experiences for the betterment of our society.

As Tibbett explains, “The demonization of each other is the layer that gets added on to the real things that divide us and that are meaningful disagreement that makes it impossible to see each other as human beings and makes a lot of violence possible both in word and deed.”

In more precise words, spirituality offers us the ability to drop labels on one another and allows us to better comprehend our deeper connections to one another. It gives us the opportunity to see each other through our outer selves and to look into each other’s inner self.

While this can appear basic in principal, it can do a great deal in reshaping the way we as a society operate.

Final Word

To sum it up in an easy answer – yes, spirituality can exist without religion. And while its existence will vary for each of us, what’s important is we seek it out.

As discussed, scientists have found that the brain responds to spiritual experiences. Furthermore, they believe this response could help in the treatment of mental health conditions and to stabilize our overall well-being.

This discovery is revolutionary for it finally allows us to begin looking at spirituality through a factually-based angle rather than theory. But how we go about this angle is ultimately up to each of us and our own spiritual affairs.

Your Questions

Still have questions about spirituality and its contexts outside of religion?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further discussion to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ Pew Research Center: More Americans now say they’re spiritual but not religious

² Journal of Adult Development (Springer): The Rites of Passage Framework as a Matrix of Transgression Processes in the Life Course

³ YaleNews: Where the brain processes spiritual experiences

⁴ Indian Journal of Psychiatry: Spirituality and mental health

Greater Good Magazine: Do We Need God to Feel Awe?

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