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Spirituality is relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. Synonyms include immaterialism, dualism, incorporeality and eternity. Spirituality is associated with religion, deities, the supernatural, and an afterlife, although the decline of organized religion in the West and the growth of secularism has brought about a wider understanding of its nature.

Defining spirituality[]

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Traditionally, religions have regarded spirituality as an integral aspect of religious experience and have long claimed that secular (non-religious) people cannot experience "true" spirituality. Many do still equate spirituality with religion, but declining membership of organised religions and the growth of secularism in the western world has given rise to a broader view of spirituality.

Secular spirituality carries connotations of an individual having a spiritual outlook which is more personalized, less structured, more open to new ideas/influences, and more pluralistic than that of the doctrinal faiths of organized religions. At one end of the spectrum, even some atheists are spiritual. While atheism tends to lean towards skepticism regarding supernatural claims and the existence of an actual "spirit", some atheists define "spiritual" as nurturing thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony with a belief that the entire universe is, in some way, connected; even if only by the mysterious flow of cause and effect at every scale.[1]

In contrast, those of a more 'New-Age' disposition see spirituality as the active connection to some force/power/energy/spirit, facilitating a sense of a deep self.

For some, spirituality includes introspection, and the development of an individual's inner life through practices such as meditation, prayer and contemplation. Some modern religions also see spirituality in everything: see pantheism and neo-Pantheism. In a similar vein, Religious Naturalism has a spiritual attitude towards the awe, majesty and mystery it sees in the natural world.

For a Christian, to refer to him or herself as "more spiritual than religious"[citation needed] may (but not always) imply relative deprecation of rules, rituals, and tradition while preferring an intimate relationship with God. The basis for this belief is that Jesus Christ came to free humankind from those rules, rituals, and traditions, giving humankind the ability to "walk in the spirit" thus maintaining a "Christian" lifestyle through that one-to-one relationship with God.

Spirituality and religion[]

Whilst the terms spirituality and religion can both refer to the search for the Absolute or God (or whatever name you want to use), an increasing number of people have come to see the two as separate entities; religion being just one way in which humans can experience spirituality. As cultural historian and yogi, William Irwin Thompson put it, "Religion is not identical with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization."

Those who speak of spirituality outside of religion often define themselves as "spiritual but not religious" and generally believe in the existence of many different "spiritual paths" - emphasizing the importance of finding one's own individual path to spirituality. According to one poll, some 24±4% of the United States population identifies itself as spiritual but not religious.[2] One might say then, that a key difference is that religion is a type of formal external search, while spirituality is defined as a search within oneself.

The experience of 'spirituality'; the human emotions of awe, wonder and reverence, are also the province of the secular/scientific, in response to their highest values[vague]

, or when observing or studying nature, or the universe.[3]

With respect to religion, this implies that spirituality takes on the following characteristics: faith becomes more personal, less dogmatic, more open to experimentation, and is based upon personal experience. From this perspective, religion and spirituality can be seen as merely two stages in the inner growth of the faithful aspirant, so much so that many followers of constituted religions consider spirituality to be an intrinsic and inseparable aspect of their religious experience. The relationship between religion and spirituality can, thus, be seen comparable to the relationship between container and content, between form and substance, or between theory and practice.

Spiritual path[]

With regard to the quest for spirituality, it can be said that there are various spiritual paths which can be followed, and therefore no objective truth or absolute by which to decide which path is better. Because every person is different, the choice can be left to the individual's own sensitivity and understanding.

Spirituality, in a wide variety of cultural and religious concepts, is itself often seen as incorporating a spiritual path, along which one advances to achieve a given objective, such as a higher state of awareness, outreach wisdom or communion with God or with creation. Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which appears in book VII of The Republic, is a description of such a journey, as are the writings of Teresa of Avila. The spiritual journey is a path that has a dimension primarily subjective and individual. For a spiritual path may be considered a path of short duration, directed at a specific target, or a lifetime. Every event of life is part of this journey, but in particular one can introduce some significant moments or milestones, such as the practice of various spiritual disciplines (including meditation, prayer, fasting), the comparison with a person believed with deep spiritual experience (called a teacher, assistant or spiritual preceptor, guru or otherwise, depending on the cultural context), the personal approach to sacred texts, etc. If the spiritual path is the same in whole or in part, with an initiatory path, there may be real evidence to overcome. Such tests usually before a social significance, are a "test" for the individual of his reaching a certain level. Spirituality is also described as a process in two phases: the first on inner growth, and the second on the manifestation of this result daily in the world. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]

Spirituality and personal well-being[]

While people may practice prayer and believe it affects their health (for example adherents of Christian Science), no 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 some behavioral scientists. Masters and Spielmans[16] have conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of distant intercessory prayer, but detected no discernible effects.

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...."[17]

If spirituality is understood as the search for or the development of inner peace or the foundations of happiness, then spiritual practice of some kind is essential for personal well being. This activity may or may not include belief in supernatural beings. If one has such a belief and feels that relationship to such beings is the foundation of happiness then spiritual practice will be pursued on that basis: if one has no such belief spiritual practice is still essential for the management and understanding of thoughts and emotions which otherwise prevent happiness. Many techniques and practices developed and explored in religious contexts, such as meditation, are immensely valuable in themselves as skills for managing aspects of the inner life.[18][19]

Spirituality not equal to supernaturalism[]

Spirit in the sense of 'essence' implies that spirituality also is how you deal with the 'essential' in life. The metaphysical includes deeper realizations about the relationships between things - it is non-physical, but not necessarily supernatural (cosmology is a part of metaphysics for example). Buddhism, Taoism, and ancient Greek Stoicism all have worldviews which need not include supernatural realms or transcendent phenomena. If you have a path that is sacred, and disciplined on the more profound things about Nature and life, has ritual, and so on, but is all based on a naturalistic understanding of the universe - that is spirituality as well.

Relationship to science[]

See also: Relationship between religion and science and Quantum mysticism

A number of authors have suggested that there are spiritual consequences of quantum physics. Examples are physicist-philosopher Fritjof Capra;[20] Ken Wilber, who proposes an "Integral Theory of Consciousness"; theoretical nuclear physicist Amit Goswami, who views a universal consciousness, not matter, as the ground of all existence (monistic idealism); Ervin László, who posits the "quantum vacuum" as the fundamental energy- and information-carrying field ("Akashic field") that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present (collectively, the "Metaverse").[21]

Since 1954 the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science has debated the merits of combining scientific thinking with religious perspectives.

Near-death experience (NDE)[]

Main article: Near death experience

If consciousness exists apart from the body, which includes the brain, one is attached not only to the material world, but to a non-temporal (spiritual) world as well. This thesis is considered to be analyzed by testing the reports from people who have experienced death. According to Mr. Anil K. Rajvanshi, if the brain is dead but consciousness lives on, it would prove the existence of something outside the material world and open up an interesting scientific study of the soul[22].

However, some researchers consider that NDEs are actually REM intrusions triggered in the brain by traumatic events like cardiac arrest[23].


The scientific method takes as its basis empirical, repeatable observations of the natural world. Critics such as William F. Williams have labeled spirituality as pseudoscientific and opposed ideas and beliefs that include supernatural forces yet are presented as having a scientific character, citing the imprecision of spiritual concepts and the subjectivity of spiritual experience.[citation needed]

Positive psychology[]

Spirituality has been studied in positive psychology and defined as the search for "the sacred," where "the sacred" is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration. Spirituality can be sought not only through traditional organized religions, but also through movements such as the feminist theology and ecological spirituality (see Green politics). Spirituality is associated with mental health, managing substance abuse, marital functioning, parenting, and coping. It has been suggested that spirituality also leads to finding purpose and meaning in life.[24]


See also: Evolutionary origin of religions


See also: History of religion

Spiritual innovators who operated within the context of a religious tradition became marginalized 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.[25]

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 (1803–1882) as a pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field.[26] 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 not persuaded 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. Authors such as Chris Griscom and Shirley MacLaine explored it in numerous ways in their books. Paul Heelas noted the development within New Age circles of what he called "seminar spirituality":[27] structured offerings complementing consumer choice with spiritual options.


The scholarly field of spirituality remains ill-defined. It overlaps with disciplines such as theology, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology, parapsychology, pneumatology, monadology, logic (if involving a spiritual Logos) and esotericism.

See also[]


  3. Keith Lockitch "Rescuing spirituality from religion."The Ayn Rand Center for Individual RightsSept 17, 2009.
  4. Azeemi, K.S. (2005). Muraqaba: The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. Houston: Plato.
  5. Bolman, L.G., and Deal, T. E. (1995). Leading With Soul. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  6. Borysenko, J. (1999). A Woman's Journey to God. New York: Riverhead Books.
  7. Cannon, K.G. (1996). Katie's Canon: Feminism and the Soul of the Black Community. New York: Continuum.
  8. Deloria, V. (1992). God is Red, 2d Ed. Golden, Co: North American Press.
  9. 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.
  10. Dirkx, J.M. (1997). "Nurturing Soul in Adult Learning." Transformative Learning in Action. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 74, edited by P. Cranton, pp. 79-88. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  11. Eck, D. (2001). A New Religious America. San Francisco: Harper.
  12. English, L., and Gillen, M., eds. (2000). Addressing the Spiritual Dimensions of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 85. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  13. Taisen Deshimaru (1982). The Practice of Concentration. Ubaldini Publishers.
  14. Basho (1992). The Hermitage of Illusory Dwelling. Edizioni Se.
  15. Hoseki Schinichi Hisamatsu (1993). The Fullness of Nothing. Il Melangolo.
  16. Masters, K.S. & Spielmans, G.I (2007). "Prayer and health: review, meta-analysis, and research agenda", Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(4), 329-338.
  17. Alcoholics Anonymous, p.14-15.
  18. "The lost Art of being happy - spirituality for skeptics" Wilkinson 2007
  19. "Happiness, a guide to one of life's most important skills" Ricard 2007
  20. Capra, Fritjof (1991 (1st ed. 1975)), The Tao of Physics: an exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism, 3rd ed., Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, ISBN 0877735948 
  21. Laszlo, Ervin, "CosMos:A Co-creator's Guide to the Whole World", Hay House, Inc, 2008, ISBN 1401918913, pg. 53-58
  24. Snyder, C.R.; Lopez, Shane J. (2007), "11", Positive Psychology, Sage Publications, Inc., ISBN 076192633X 
  25. Jordan, David, "The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre", University of Chicago Press, 1989, ISBN 0226410374, pg. 201
  26. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Restless Souls : The Making of American Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper, 2005. ISBN 0-06-054566-6
  27. Robert C. Fuller, a Ph. D in "Religion and Psychological Studies" and "American Religion.", said of spirituality: "Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issues of how our lives fit into the greater scheme of things. This is true when our questions never give way to specific answers or give rise to specific practices such as prayer or meditation. we encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is "spiritual" when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life." Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, page 60. Cited in Anthony Giddens: Sociology. Cambridge: Polity, 2001, page 554.

Further reading[]

  • A Course in Miracles. 2nd ed., Mill Valley: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992, ISBN 0-9606388-9-X.
  • Azeemi, K.S.Muraqaba: The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. Houston: Plato, 2005. (ISBN 0-9758875-4-8)
  • Bjelica, Drago The Bible For The New Age (Online). 2009.
  • 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.
  • Cheroff, Seth, The Manual For Living. CO Spirit Scope, 2008.
  • 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.
  • Downey, Michael. Understanding Christian Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 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.
  • Percival, Harold W. Thinking and Destiny, ISBN 0911650067
  • 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
  • Roberts, Jane (1970). The Seth Material. reprinted (2001) New Awareness Network. ISBN 978-0971119802
  • Roberts, Jane and Robert F. Butts (1972). Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul. reprinted (1994) Amber-Allen Publishing. ISBN 1-878424-07-6
  • Roberts, Jane (1974). The Nature of Personal Reality. Prentice-Hall. reprinted (1994) Amber-Allen Publishing. ISBN 1-878424-06-8
  • 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.
  • Wakefield, Gordon S.(ed.), A Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. London: SCM, 1983.
  • Wilkinson, Tony, "The Lost Art of Being Happy - Spirituality for Sceptics" Findhorn Press 2007, ISBN 978-1-84409-116-4
  • 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[]

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