Spirituality and Religiousness

In two large-scale studies examined by Zinnbauer and Pargament (2005, 28) (see also Saucier and Skrzypiska 2006) about how people perceive the relationship between spirituality and religiousness, the respondents classified themselves into three categories:

  1. those who considered themselves as both religious and spiritual (around 69%);

  2. those who considered themselves as spiritual but not religious (around 21 %); and

  3. those who considered themselves as religious but not spiritual (4%).

These findings, among others, point to a difference between the concepts of spirituality and religiousness. Some of the questions that arise, in this consideration are: Is spirituality opposed to religiousness? Is it possible to be religious without being spiritual? Is spirituality not an essential component of religion such that we can have a religion without spirituality? How do we make sense of the expressions “spiritual but not religious” and “religious but not spiritual”? What is the role of spirituality in religion?

Zinnbauer and Pargament (2005) identify two general perspectives on the relationship between spirituality and religiousness. Both perspectives assume that religiousness and spirituality are not identical concepts; but while the first perspective regards the two concepts as incompatible opposites (or mutually exclusive, that is, they cannot go hand in hand), the second one does not. For the first perspective, it is not possible to be religious and spiritual at the same time. A religious person, in this regard, is not a spiritual person, and a spiritual person is not a religious person. On the other hand, the second perspective maintains that it is possible to be religious and spiritual at the same time. A religious person can be a spiritual person, and a spiritual person can be a religious person. What makes them different or not identical is simply that one is a form or version of the other. That is, either religiousness is a form of spirituality or spirituality is a form of religiousness.

On the Incompatibility of Spirituality and Religiousness

The first perspective, which sees religiousness and spirituality as incompatible opposites, is based on certain views, opinions, or observations about what makes religiousness and spirituality different. These views result from separating (or polarizing) certain features of religion into two opposing features. Let us then analyze the following two main views (see Zinnbauer and Pargament 2005):

Separating the Substantive and Functional Aspects of Religion

First is the view that religiousness is substantive (or substance-oriented) while spirituality is functional (or function-oriented). Substance here refers to beliefs (doctrines) and practices (such as rituals), while functionality refers to the goals of uniting with the sacred, living a meaningful life, and having harmonious social relationships. Actually, substance and functionality are both features of religion. Through its beliefs and practices, one hopes to attain unity with the sacred, live a meaningful life, and have a harmonious relationship with other people. But some people have divided these two features, and they have thought that religiousness was solely about the substance of religion while spirituality was solely about the functionality of religion.

Separating the Institutional and Subjective Aspects of Religion

Second is the view that religiousness is institutional and objective, while spirituality is personal and subjective.That is to say, religious persons express their faith in the context of a community or an organized group, while spiritual persons express their faith as individuals. Again, like the first view, religion actually has both communal worship and individual worship, but some people have separated these two kinds of worship into two incompatible opposites. Consequently, they have associated religiousness with communal worship while spirituality with individual worship.


The question with these two views is, are they right in separating the substantive and the functional features of religion, as well as its institutional and personal features? The answer, of course, is no. First, limiting religiousness to substance alone does not explain how religion affects the personal lives of believers or what religion does to make the lives of the believers meaningful. On the other hand, limiting spirituality to functionality alone without any basis on substance will not explain what makes spirituality different from other ways of attaining unity with the divine or living a meaningful life. There are different ways to address the existential questions of humans (questions concerning the meaning and purpose of human existence), and what makes a spiritual response to these questions different from nonspiritual ones must be based on some beliefs and doctrines. The substance and functionality of religion, in short, cannot be separated from one another.

Second, inasmuch as religiousness involves communal or organizational activities, the end goal is still a personal relationship with the divine. The communal activities, in certain respects, are ways by which the believers strengthen or enhance one another’s personal relationship with the divine. On the other hand, inasmuch as some forms of spirituality are antireligious institutions, spirituality cannot occur in a vacuum. Spirituality exists in the context of a tradition or culture; and so while it can be practiced individually, it is still community-dependent. Moreover, there are also spiritual organizations where those practicing spirituality of some form organize themselves into groups. This implies that there is nothing contradictory in being individually spiritual and being part of an organized group of fellow spiritual persons. In short, we cannot separate the communal and the personal features of religion.

On the Compatibility of Spirituality and Religiousness

Let us now examine the second perspective which claims that religiousness and spirituality are compatiole. That is, though being spiritual is not the same as being religious, one can still be spiritual and religious at the same time. As earlier noted, this is because their difference lies only in the fact that one is a broader concept than the other. There are two competing views here. One claims that it is spirituality which is the broader concept, while the other claims that it is religiousness.

Religiousness as a Form of Spirituality

The view that claims that spirituality is the broader concept is based on the observation that it is possible to distinguish between a kind of spirituality that occurs within the context of a religious tradition (by “religious tradition” we simply mean the tradition of a particular religion such as Christianity, Islam, and others) and a kind of spirituality that does not (such as the spirituality of the so-called “spiritual mystics”). We may call the former kind religious spirituality, and the latter kind nonreligious spirituality. Because spirituality can be religious or not, then spirituality is a broader concept than religiousness.

Spirituality as Part of Religiousness

On the other hand, the view that claims that religiousness is the broader concept is based on the consideration that while spirituality is an essential part of religion whose goal is unity with the divine, religion has other important goals too. For instance, “social connection, community service, education, healthy lifestyle promotion, or financial assistance may also be pursued by religious organizations, families, and cultures in order to support the spiritual development of its members” (Zinnbauer and Pargament 2005,36). Because religiousness involves things other than spirituality, then religiousness is a broader concept than spirituality.


These views show that regardless of which concept is regarded as broader, spirituality or religiousness, spirituality and religiousness can ramain compatible with one another.The possibility that one can be spiritual without being religious and the fact that being religious involves more than being spiritual do not prevent one from being spiritual while being religious at the same time. More importantly, however, even given the same conditions, one can still maintain the idea that spirituality is an essential component of (not just compatible with) religiousness such that one cannot be religious without being spiritual in some way. For while there can be nonreligious spirituality and religiousness involves more than spirituality, it can be maintained that spirituality in the context of religious spirituality is essential to religiousness. We just have to qualify that the kind of spirituality that is essentially involved in religiousness is the religious kind.