How are Religion and Spirituality Different?

Many people confuse spirituality and religion.  They often use these words interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. Both religion and spirituality are based on faith in something greater than us.  However, spirituality is a much broader concept than religion.

What is religion?  Most people would agree that religion is an organized practice of shared beliefs about a higher power that has been established by a group of people.  Religion has guidelines, standards and expectations of followers.  Religious beliefs are usually passed on through families or to those who convert.  Many times there are documents or a book of rules for the members.  These books often list out what is right and what is wrong, based on the values of the religion.  Regimented rituals and traditional celebrations are common practices as well.  Essentially, a religion is an organized institution with a set of rules and beliefs that are shared among its members.  This can create a tight-knit community of like minded individuals.

What is spirituality? Spirituality is a more individualized and a less structured practice.  Many dictionaries or websites might define spirituality as anything to do with the church or religion.  However, it is an outdated meaning of the word.  More recently spirituality is recognized as finding a personal connection with something greater than yourself, seeking out your life’s purpose and acknowledging that there is much more to life than this physical world.  The journey along spirituality is more of an inward journey.  This creates a more personalized experience.  It’s an attempt to answer the question: “How do I fit into the great scheme of things in this universe?”.  It is not a one size fits all practice.  Sometimes a person’s spirituality can include religion, for part of their journey or all of it.  There aren’t many rules in spirituality, if any at all. This creates the space for exploration and open minded interactions among those who seek out spirituality.

The major differences between religion and spirituality are:

  • We are often born into religion or marry into religion. However, religion can also be a choice someone makes. Spirituality is always a decision made by an individual. 
  • Religion is based on guidelines created by someone else’s interpretation of what your connection with a higher power should be in order for you to find peace.  Within spirituality you are guided directly by that higher power.  You are reminded that self-love, self-acceptance and love for the world will help you find peace.
  • There is usually a guide book or documented rules within religions, to help keep members on track.  There is no guide book for spirituality.  You may hear about the experiences of others.  However, no journey in spirituality is exactly the same.  It can be a bit daunting at times but, this allows room to make it your own.

I, myself, have experienced both religion and spirituality.  I find there are a lot of benefits from each practice.  I feel that my time within organized religion opened me up to spirituality and helped prepare me for my spiritual journey.  Life is all about self-discovery and service, no matter if you practice a religion and/or focus on spirituality.  Follow your heart and your intuition and you will find your way.

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