Defining Spirituality

Whether or not you believe in God is irrelevant... we are all spiritual beings.

Often times the words spirituality and religion are confused. For some, the word religion carries a lifetime of baggage. For others, the word spiritual means 'tree-hugging hippie freak.' Either way, the result can be the same... people tend to get turned off, or shut down, when these words enter a conversation (I'm flashing back to an image of someone knocking on my door as a kid and saying, 'we'd like to talk to you about Jesus.' Well, I'd like to close this door.... immediately if not sooner). Regardless of anyone's feelings about these topics, it's important to understand exactly what they are, how they are similar, and what differentiates them from one another. First, let's get clear on one thing, they can both be empty words that mean nothing if the person does not practice them. Yes, there are people who show up at church on Sunday and then go commit a crime on Monday; there are also people who claim to be spiritual, yet demonize anyone that disagrees with them (yes, I am guilty of both of doing both of these... the crime and the demonizing).

Religion is typically defined as an organized system of beliefs, rituals, and practices including a relationship with a divine being (Little, 2012), whereas spirituality focuses more on the ideas about what brings a sense of meaning and connection into a person's life. In addition, spirituality tends to focus on connectedness and relationships that are important to an individual. These connections might include a connection to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, or to the significant or sacred (National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care Clinical Practice, 2013).

Religion and spirituality spring from common roots in that they both focus on

transcendence of the commonplace and often involve searching the soul for deeper meaning (Puchalski, 2014). Where these ideas tend to differ is that spirituality is thought to be more individual/internal, whereas religion is more communal and focuses on absolutes (ie: is an action right or wrong, true or false?).

Religion can involve spirituality and a person's spiritual beliefs can include a religion. Though not every person on earth might identify as religious, we are all spiritual beings. Each of us has a sense of purpose and/or meaning in this world and every one of us is part of a relationship... whether that be with ourselves, nature, a higher power, a pet, or another human being. My hope is that in clarifying these concepts, we might be more open to connecting on a more spiritual level with each other.


Little, W. (2012). Introduction to sociology- 1st Canadian edition. Retrieved from

National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care Clinical Practice (2013). Retrieved from

Puchalski, C., & Ferrell, B. (2010). Making healthcare whole: Integrating spirituality into patient care. West Conshohoken, PA: Templeton Press