Some may think that the terms “religion” and “spirituality” mean the same thing, but they really don’t. To be religious is very different from being spiritual in the true sense of the words. Understanding the differences and similarities between religion and spirituality can help you to choose your own path. A bit of time I spent on chopra.com has taught me a lot about just how similar and just how different religion and spirituality really are.
One of the most powerful quotes I have drawn from the website that has truly shone a light on why spirituality and religion are different is:
“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience”.Deepak Chopra
Religion vs. spirituality – 6 Similarities:
- Belief in a higher power.
- Having a purpose in this life.
- The possibility of a “next life” or a next stage.
- To live a life in accordance with our beliefs/purpose.
- Belief in the soul.
- Requirement of “faith”.
Religion vs. spirituality – 6 Differences
- Organized system vs. a state of mind.
- Objective vs. subjective experience.
- Tradition vs. evolution.
- Exclusive approach vs. inclusive approach.
- Belief system vs. personal life experience (peace, calm).
- Fear vs. love and individuality acceptance.
In terms of definitions, spirituality and religion are quite different, although they can overlap. For reference, the official definitions are listed below (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Religion: the belief in a god or in a group of gods. An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods. Informal definition: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.
Spirituality: an individual practice and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.
To delve a little deeper into the similarities and differences of religion and spirituality, read on.
How Religion & Spirituality are Similar
Even though it is clearer now that religion and spirituality are different, there are still some similarities between them too. There are 6 simple ways in which religion and spirituality are similar. These are explained in a bit more detail below.
1. Belief in a higher power.
A higher power is something of importance in religion and spirituality. People who are religious and people who are spiritual might not believe in the same thing, but they both believe that there is a higher power out there. Religion may stipulate what/who that power is, whereas spirituality doesn’t have to label it or apply any rigidity to it.
2. Having a purpose in this life.
Life purpose is something that we all have a sense for at some point in our lives. This is actually a focus on religion and spirituality. Someone who belongs to a specific religion will believe that they have a purpose in life that is divine. Their purpose might be closely linked to their religious beliefs. Someone who is spiritual will also believe that they have a life purpose and that their spirituality will uncover what that purpose is or at least help them to find the right path.
3. The possibility of a “next life” or a next stage.
What happens next? This is something that both spiritual and religious people have a certain amount of focus on. Most religions teach followers that there is some sort of afterlife. It could be eternal life, heaven, or similar. The main objective of religious followers is to work their way towards entry to this “next life” or stage. Much the same, spiritual people believe that there is something coming next, and they seek to be the type of person who will be blessed with experiencing the next stage.
4. To live a life in accordance with our beliefs/purpose.
Religion requires people to follow a certain life format, and those who are dedicated to their religion and take it seriously will do so. Much the same, someone who is spiritual will believe in living their life in a certain way. This is not linked to a strict belief system or set out living format, but their beliefs still affect how they live.
5. Belief in the soul.
Religion teaches of having a soul within a body, and in spirituality, it is much the same. Both in religion and spirituality, the soul is of the utmost importance.
6. Requirement of “faith”.
In order to be religious or spiritual, you have to have faith. Most faith is based on believing that there is a higher power and purpose for our lives and all that happens in them.
How Religion & Spirituality are Different
There are 6 simple ways in which religion and spirituality are different. These are explained in a bit more detail below and are based on the concepts laid out by Deepak Chopra.
1. Organized system vs. a state of mind.
When belonging to a specific religion, there is a specific belief, a set system to follow for living and worship too. Members of a religion will be expected to carry out certain customs and traditions in order to be part of the religion.
On the contrary, spirituality doesn’t follow a set of rules for living or worship. Spirituality is based on a personal approach to life and a state of mind where things of the spiritual world are observed, respected, and explored without following a specific list of rules and regulations.
2. Objective vs. subjective experience.
When it comes to religion, the focus is on an objective experience where external factors come into play, such as a place of worship, books to read and follow, as well as rituals and traditions to participate in. Spirituality is quite different from that because it is an internal journey. There is no specific external activity required in order to shift someone’s inner awareness. No house of worship is usually observed.
3. Tradition vs. evolution.
Religions are deeply rooted in traditions, doctrines and rituals, and this is why so many religions are rigid. The teachings of the founder are observed, understood, and applied so that they are preserved and can be passed down from generation to generation.
Spirituality is formless – it is not rigid. The mentality attached is flexible and based more on an evolutionary approach than on tradition or a doctrine. Spirituality is all about change and being conscious of how things change over time.
4. Exclusive approach vs. inclusive approach.
Religions are based on rigid beliefs that could serve to separate those who belong to the religion to become exclusive, choosing only to associate with those who have the same belief system. Spirituality is about including everyone as the spirit unites all. Spirituality seeks to include everyone in finding the same peace and a sense of purpose together.
5. Belief system vs. personal life experience (peace, calm).
Religion is based on a belief system that is essentially founded on someone else’s experience, whereas spirituality is all about having your own life experience. Spirituality seeks to find a sense of peace and calm.
6. Fear vs. love and individuality acceptance.
While religions do base a large focus on love and kindness, there is always an element of fear when it comes to the rules, lifestyle, and rigid worship guidelines. When it comes to spirituality, there is a greater focus on accepting someone’s individuality and showing them love. Fear isn’t usually brought into experiences of spirituality.
Can You Be Both Religious & Spiritual?
You might wonder if it is possible to be both religious and spiritual or if you can only be one or the other. It is interesting to give this a bit of thought because you can be a combination of religious and spiritual, but being religious doesn’t automatically make you spiritual. Much the same, being spiritual doesn’t make you automatically religious.
Most people choose to be either religious or spiritual and don’t often combine the two because of the rigidity of religion and the formlessness of spirituality. People who thrive with guidance and rules would probably choose religion over spirituality.
When it comes to religion and spirituality, it really is a personal choice. If you are looking into your options at the moment, perhaps give a few of the options on both sides of the spectrum a try and see which fits in more with your personal style and preferences. Choose a way that feels right for you.