Pavel R. Říčan

Institute of Psychology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague

Spirituality - the story of a concept[1]


The problem

Spirituality appeared as an uninvited guest in the study of religion. Whereas a hundred years ago William James could simply say "religion", today, to avoid confusion, Hill and Pargament (2003) feel compelled to say "religion and spirituality",[2] while Miller and Thoresen (2003, the same issue of the American Psychologist) use the expression "spirituality/religion", and Wong (1998) likewise uses "religion/spirituality". Thus phenomena previously termed simply “religious” are now being divided into two classes, religious and spiritual. Although an overlap between the two is generally recognized, the class of religious phenomena is becoming narrower – in favor of the guest. During the last decade the concept of spirituality came to abundant use in a number of fields such as physical education (Heintzman, 2003), management (Ashforth, Vaidyanath, 2002), and aesthetics (Austin, 1999). The boom of the concept has become so enormous and its definitions so varied that Unruh et al. (2002) with appropriate irony speak of "spirituality unplugged".

The relation between the concepts religion and spirituality, as understood by a significant part of the general public as well as by some students of religion, particularly psychologists among them, is strongly influenced by the strong connotations attached to each term. Religion is primarily characterized by its traditional forms, rituals, institutions and orthodox teachings, uninspired rigidity, lack of feeling, obsolescence, reactionary attitude, moralizing, etc. In contrast, spirituality has come to mean something new, interesting, spontaneous, informal, creative, and universal. In practice spirituality appears as authentic inner experience, freedom of individual expression, seeking, or even religious experimentation (Říčan, 2003). Understood this way, it is not surprising that many people identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious".

 Some formulations betray a shift from the awareness of connotations to an assumption of descriptive designations: "Religious expressions tend to be denominational, external, cognitive, behavioral, ritualistic, and public. Spiritual experiences tend to be universal, ecumenical, internal, affective, spontaneous, and private" (Richards, Bergin, 1997, p. 13).

            Pargament (1999a) identifies two aspects of what he calls the polarization of religion and spirituality: individual versus institutional[3] and good versus bad.[4] At the same time, he warns that the understanding of spirituality is becoming so broad that the field of the psychology of religion loses its focus, which, according to him, traditionally has been and should remain the sacred.

Pargament’s observation actually elaborates upon Wulff’s (1997, p. 3) concept of (and worry about) the tendency to reification of religion: religion is understood more as something that "is here" - institutions, teachings, churches and their members - than something that happens, i. e., activities, experiences, etc.

The purpose of this paper is not to define either religion or spirituality conclusively, an enormous, unending task better left for thorough interdisciplinary discussions (see Waardenburg, 1986, Platvoet, Molendijk, 1999). What is hoped for instead is a clarification of the relationship between the two concepts from the perspective of their conjoint story.

The approach of this author to the problem of spirituality may be due - at least partly - to the extreme degree of secularization in his country. According to Noble (2003), only 12,2% of Czechs believed in personal God in 1991 and the number fell to 6,5% in 1999. Does religion really disappear or is it just changing its forms? In the second case, we seem to have a unique opportunity to study the process of transformation.

The origin and history of the concept of spirituality

The present concept of spirituality has its roots (though not its absolute origin) in early Christian theology, wherein spirituality is defined as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual, or more specifically, in one’s soul and in one’s activities. To use a modern, biblically based, formulation: "Christian spirituality is a self-transcending faith in which union with God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit expresses itself in service of the neighbor and participation in the realization of the reign of God in this world" (Schneiders, 2002). Only since the beginning of the 20th century has the term been currently used in Catholic theology however, and with so many meanings that a generally accepted definition is considered a distant goal (Kohut, 1999).

Two mutually related oppositions influenced the understanding of the term spirituality, and changed the meaning from its early Christian use. The first of these oppositions, which may be observed since the 12th century (Wulff, 1997, p.5), comes from the classical platonic contradiction of body (or flesh) versus spirit: the spirit being something higher and better, while the flesh is corrupt and therefore must be mortified, its sexuality mistrusted, etc. The second opposition corresponds to another archetypical metaphor: inner versus outer, substantial core versus periphery, if not a dead shell (Říčan, 2003).

 As a result of these two connotations, the heart of the theological concept of spirituality de facto became meditation, mystic experience and techniques of its cultivation, prayer, chastity, revelations and other peak experiences (often deemed supernatural) including Pentecostal ones, felt relationship towards God, angels and saints, especially towards Mary, etc. (see Kohut, 1999). Such an understanding of spirituality may be observed within Christian theology as well as in the practice of churches, especially as concerns the exceptionally pious individuals, members of contemplative orders, etc.

Influenced by the secularizing ideals of the Enlightenment, "spirit" in the adjective "spiritual" became the human spirit. As a consequence, the meaning of the word became extremely vague,[5] and has since come to mean higher, concerning inspiration in a very broad sense, culture, arts morality, philosophy, etc. For scientific purposes, this concept is of little use because it implies an unequivocal positive valuation. Since the concept of spirituality has come to be used outside of theology in the second half of the twentieth century, these connotations largely determine also its meaning - in the general as well as technical language. Since the concept of spirituality has come to be used outside of theology in the second half of the twentieth century, these historically based connotations have largely determined its meaning in general as well as technical discourse.

From theology to the study of religion

The appearance of spirituality in the study of religion was a result of an increasing focus on religious experience. The start of this new orientation is associated with the names of William James (Varieties of religious experience, 1902), as well as of the German phenomenologist Rudolf Otto (Das Heilige, 1917) who put the holy, or numinosum - with mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans as its two key aspects - into the middle of the discussion. For Otto, holy referred not to the variety of teachings, rituals, institutions and their activities etc., but to a specific emotional experience, which must be taken as the core common to all religions; though he was confident that in Christianity this phenomenon had found its supreme manifestation.

 Heavily indebted to the romantic theology of Schleiermacher, Otto's idea became, and has remained, popular in continental theories of religion. Though Otto's belief in an absolutely unique (a priori!) religious feeling will unlikely find support from modern psychologists, it nevertheless has considerably enhanced the tendency to accept the concept of spirituality as central to the study of religion. Eliade (1965) broadened Otto's one-sidedly emotional (irrational) concept to create his basic dichotomy of sacré vs. profane, which he believed was fundamental to all religions.[6]

The decisive progress towards the boom of the concept of spirituality probably occurred in the “golden sixties” and seventies. The generation of “seekers” found expression for their protest against the religious establishment (specifically: Christian churches) in the famous slogan "I am spiritual but not religious"![7] Many left organized religion and abandoned its orthodox doctrines (Roof, 1993).

In psychology as well as in the wider culture, the influence of C. G. Jung (one of the fathers of the New Age) strongly supported this trend. Maslow's (1976) description and interpretation of "peak experiences", sometimes reaching psychological equivalence to the ecstasies of mystics, also strengthened this tendency. Last but not least, psychedelic drugs induced ecstatic experiences, which independently of organized religion, were often interpreted as spiritual. These developments supported the polarization of "spiritual versus religious", and the birth of spirituality as "a postmodern offspring of religion" (Slater et al., 2001).

The testimony of David Elkins (2001), a minister fired and even excommunicated by his fundamentalist congregation is illuminating. He participated in the "movement away from traditional religion to other forms of spirituality", became a transpersonal therapist interested in Eastern religions, New Age, shamanist practices, etc.

A way towards integration

The acceptance of the concept of spirituality into the mainstream of the study of religion was slow and reluctant. In the middle of the nineties Hood et al. (1996, p. 115) observed that "'spirituality' is a very popular word, but its meaning is extremely obscure" and its usefulness in research limited. According to Pargament (1999) "some writers use the terms religion and spirituality interchangeably, a device, Spilka and McIntosh (1996) suggest, to add linguistic variety to our work." Terms like “religious experience” or “religiousness” seemed sufficient if the author wanted to convey that he meant the personal, subjective aspect of religion.

David Wulff, author of the comprehensive, and standard monograph on the psychology of religion, gave the newcomer a kind, yet reserved welcome (1997, 5ff), identifying the "new spirituality" as a movement, while using the concept only quite marginally to express his own ideas. Religion, to Wulff, still meant "both faith and tradition" (p. 4).

Meanwhile, the use of the concept of spirituality has kept growing,[8] especially among humanistic psychologists (Elkins et al., 1988; Elkins, 2001). A telling symptom of this growth was a proposal to rename the division Psychology of Religion of the APA to Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

In his Presidential Address to the Annual Meeting in 1997,[9] Kenneth Pargament offered a useful working solution to our problem. This scholar defined spirituality as a "search[10] for the sacred"., making it  "the heart and soul of religion". Religion, on the other hand, was defined as the "search for significance in ways related to the sacred" (Pargament, 1999a,b). For extremely spiritual people whose life is totally devoted to the search for the sacred, i.e., for those who find the whole of life sacred, there is “little difference between religion and spirituality”. The majority of people, however, participate in religion primarily, if not exclusively, to achieve other personally significant goals such as health, glory, or money.[11]  Thus religion may be used and misused in various ways: it may even be entirely emptied of its core and still remain religion.

In a similar, more recent formulation, religion has been defined as "a broad individual and institutional domain that serves a variety of purposes, secular as well as sacred", while spirituality "represents the key and unique function of religion" (Pargament, Mahoney, 2002, p. 647). According to this solution religion includes spirituality. Religion as a broader concept, then, means spirituality plus institutions and their various activities, rituals, writing and the use of holy books, theology, etc. All of these may support spirituality but may also be used for other goals, in extreme cases even to counter spirituality.

 Similarly, Swenson (1999) defines spirituality as "those aspects of religion and religiosity or religiousness that have an internal presence to the individual" (p. 101) or "a quality of a person whose internal life is orientated toward God, the supernatural or the sacred... it includes such elements as feelings, moods, attitudes, beliefs, attributions, and the like" (p. 397).

Accepting Pargament's theoretical solution, then, may save the construct of religion "from losing its breadth, richness, and potency" (Pargament, 1999a), while enriching the structure of the construct of religion instead of narrowing its meaning. At the same time, the continuity of thinking about religion may be saved from abrupt changes, which have little substantiation in the development of our understanding of the field.

Pargament obviously does not try here to solve the unending problem of defining religion and spirituality. The function of his formulations is only to clarify the mutual relationship of the two.



The discussion goes on.

Pargament’s solution, however highly appreciated, (Emmons, Crumpler, 1999, Stifoss-Hanssen, 1999), has not been fully accepted. The discussion in which his contribution may represent a landmark continues and spreads in breadth and depth.

A group of leading psychologists of religion (Hill et al., 2000, Pargament included) attempting to clarify the relationship between the concepts of religion and spirituality found it "premature to insist on a single comprehensive definition of either term". Both constructs, these authors say, are multidimensional (or multifaceted). It seems clear from their review that progress toward a solution to the problem in question can hardly be expected from summarizing, or mutual compromising existing views but rather – as it is not uncommon in science - from the mutual competition of ideas or approaches in further theorizing, teaching, and empirical research. The following points are relevant for our present perspective.

What should be considered the key feature of spirituality? In our field (James, 1902), as well as in the general study of religion (Otto, 1917, Eliade, 1965, Demerath III, 2000), the experience of (or the search for) the sacred has traditionally been the most accepted answer, even if we are without a satisfactory definition of the sacred and must therefore be satisfied with metaphoric circumscriptions.[12]

Agreement, however, is far from complete. Inspired by the extremely broad meaning of the term "spirit" in modern popular discourse (see above), a number of concepts are being created or chosen which aspire to be the key feature of spirituality or to be included among its aspects. Emmons (1999, p. 5), for example, mentions the "search for meaning, for unity, for connectedness, for transcendence, and for the highest of human potential". In some instances these alternatives seem to betray a tendency to weaken the irrational aspect of our subject by leaving notions of the sacred aside.[13]. Let us comment briefly on a few illustrative examples.

Stifoss-Hanssen (1999) prefers existentiality as the key concept defining spirituality. Existentiality, he argues, refers to serious existential experience; sacredness, on the other hand, "is sometimes not existential (i.e., not really important)". Spirituality, in his view, can therefore also be “expressed by atheists and agnostics, by people deeply engaged in ecology and other idealistic endeavors, and by people inspired by religious impulses not easily understood by classic religious concepts (e. g., sacredness)."

 For Belzen (in press), "spirituality is defined by the reference to Transcendence and by nothing else." Diverse behaviors, even prostitution under certain circumstances, may consequently be viewed as spiritual acts, though the person "will have to appeal to Transcendence in order to be able to call this conduct a form of spirituality." Reich (2000) similarly believes that spirituality "is at work when individuals take something to be transcendent or of great value" which, of course, may happen equally well within a religious as within a profane framework.

Regard for transcendence is closely related to a concern for the ultimate, a concept elaborated philosophically by Tillich (1957) and used by Emmons to clarify one of the key themes in the psychology of religion (1999).

The four concepts, the sacred, existentiality, Transcendence, and the ultimate (plus others, some of them mentioned above) are indeed interrelated, however they are not interchangeable and cannot be commingled. The implications of each may have profound consequences for theory building in our field.

Non-religious spirituality – a concept advocated by Stifoss-Hanssen, Belzen, Reich, and many others, is a currently popular idea in discussions concerning the relationship between religion and spirituality. A number of phenomena are being subsumed under this category: Maslowian peak experiences, quasi-mystic bliss, loss of boundaries between the self and the universe, ecstasies during sexual union or artistic activities, and psychedelic experiences. Some authors speak about natural spirituality (Reich, 2000, Benner, 1988).

It is difficult, however, to draw a line between this kind of spiritual experiences and quite common, everyday perception of beauty, peace, or happiness. Belzen (in press) suggests to solve the problem by recognizing spirituality only in cases when people give satisfactory effort to activities connected with the experiences in question: "If there is no time requiring process, no systematics and no development in any sense, one should be skeptical calling such conduct a form of spirituality". Another possibility would be simply to accept that the boundary between spiritual and non-spiritual remains a little fuzzy, similarly as the boundary between the sacred and the profane.

The problem of the phenomena we are discussing (they may be considered marginal) is not new. The traditional solution (Grom, 1992) acknowledges that very similar, if not the same emotions, ecstasies, etc., may be experienced either within a religious frame of reference (especially with respect to God), or outside of it.[14] In the latter case, these phenomena are considered non-religious, and are not designated as “spiritual”.

If we accept Pargament’s definition, and return the concept of religion to its original breadth,[15] it is easy then to subsume any type of spirituality, including the natural one, into religion to form its heart and core. Jungian tradition, which posits that religion is an inherently human, archetypically anchored function, may be particularly relevant in this connection. Religion may in some circumstances be repressed into the unconscious, but even then continues to work, only in a different way (Jung, 1971).[16] Communism, with its explicitly atheist ideology, as well as Nazism, are, according to Jung, good examples of religious movements. Furthermore, the use of the term spirituality in the writings of Jungians typically refers to religious experience, hence no problem arises if the terms religion and spirituality are used interchangeably (see Moore, 1992). Any polarization of "spirituality versus religion" is alien to this important school of the psychology of religion.

Why, then, has this simple and coherent solution been difficult for some to accept? Let us consider two reasons:

1. To some, especially theologically oriented authors like Grom, the integration of these phenomena would presumably imply the degradation of religion, which to them implicitly means Christianity.

2. To others, the concept of spirituality as distinct and separate from (if not set against) religion is deemed vital as a means of self-identification. As Belzen (in press) points out, "If someone does not want to be religious, but nevertheless accepts Transcendence and commits his or her life, or aspects of life, to it, that person is to be considered spiritual".

Though the tendency for self-identification by means of adjectives "spiritual" and "religious" may be notable, the amount of attention given to it seems symptomatic of a strong need to express this particular self-identification amongst colleagues in our field. According to a recent survey cited by Elkins (2001), 55% of the members of the Division of Humanistic Psychology of the APA agreed with the statement "I am spiritual but not religious". Similar studies before and since (e. g., Reker, 2003) attest to a continued interest among psychologists in this issue; circumstances which seem more telling than the results of the surveys themselves.[17]

Spirituality questionnaires - testing a concept via its operationalization

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, says the pragmatic mind. If we are to evaluate the results of our theoretical considerations, one of our questions should presumably be: How does the concept of spirituality serve empirical research and practical purposes? [18] This is still a rather broad question, so we choose to narrow it by focusing on some typical questionnaires constructed to assess spirituality, which have appeared since the seventieths. It is not our task to analyze the following methods in detail; we are only interested in how the concepts "spirituality" and "spiritual" are being operationalized by them.[19].

Mysticism Scale (Hood 1975, 2001). This scale is not explicitly called "spiritual", though it clearly belongs to the group because mystical experience, as we already mentioned, is "central to spirituality" (Hill, Hood, 1999, p. 359). All of the items use the term "experience" and their content reflects well-known descriptions of experiences given by mystics of various religions. Some of them mention exceptional feelings or states such as loss of the sense of space and time, contact with the ultimate reality, awareness of unity of all things, etc. Some tap less extreme experiences such as feeling of awe or wonder, profound joy, etc. The closest the questionnaire comes to religious language is in expressions such as "divine", "ultimate reality", or "sacred". We may agree that this scale is relatively culturally-neutral and as such might perhaps also be applicable to adherents of non-Western religions.

Reliabilities (alpha coefficients) for subscales based on a 3-factor solution were generally over .80 for the Extrovertive, Introvertive, and Religious Interpretation Scales, respectively. When the items were “translated” to fit specifically Christian experience, the coefficients, in the samples of Christians, were even higher. Validity of the scale is well documented by substantial – and meaningful – correlations with self-actualization, fear of death, erotic experiences with respect to gender, ego permissiveness, and a number of  other variables  (Hood, 2001).

Spiritual Well-Being Scale (Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). This scale is composed of two subscales, “Religious well-being” (beliefs concerning God, satisfaction in prayer, the feeling of fulfillment in close communion with God, etc.) and “Existential well-being” (general satisfaction with life, sense of meaning in life, etc.).[20]

Reported test-retest as well as consistency reliabilities are high for both scales as well as for their sum (typically over .80). Validity is indicated by correlations with measures of loneliness, self-confidence, intrinsic religious motivation, sense of purpose in life, etc.

Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire (Moberg, 1984). Belief in God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, are measured, as well as corresponding experiences such as satisfaction in private prayer, getting personal strength from God, etc. Other items concern church or synagogue attendance, "born again" experiences, etc., but also general happiness, satisfaction with one’s life, etc.[21] The scale evidently assesses Christian spirituality, in agreement with the author's thesis that specific measures of spirituality should be constructed for adherents of every religion (Moberg, 2002).

No measures of reliability were reported. As evidence of validity, correlations with instruments composed of similar items are given.

 Index of Core Spiritual Experiences (Kass et al., 1991). Asking - among other things - about faith in God and feeling of closeness to God, respondents are encouraged to understand the word God as one possible definition of "Higher power". Other items mention communication with the dead, unity with earth and living beings, experience of angels, and overwhelming experiences of love. Respondents are also asked "how strongly religious (or spiritually oriented)" they consider themselves to be etc. Judging by its content, this scale appears to measure the spirituality of those respondents who are able and willing to express it in terms of their relationship to God (or "Higher Power"). Marginally, it touches on mystic experience.

High internal consistency reliability of individual scales is reported (around .90). Correlations with intrinsic religious orientation and motivation and with experience in meditation are reported as evidence of  validity.

 Spiritual Assessment Inventory (Hall, Edwards, 1996). This scale focuses on feelings, attitudes and activities in relationship to a personal God to whom the respondent may listen, with whom he may bargain, by whom he may feel betrayed or from whom he may withdraw. The scale seems to be meaningful to monotheists only.

Test-retest as well as internal consistency reliabilities of most of the (factor-analytically derived) scales are satisfactory (over .80) to high (over .90). Correlations with Bell Object Relations Inventory, consistent with theoretical predictions, seem to attest promising validity.

Spiritual Transcendence Scale (Piedmont, 1999). Respondents are asked about experiences, beliefs or opinions, and attitudes. Individual questions concern states of mind achieved by means of prayers or meditations (peak experiences, deep fulfillment, bliss, etc., again an analogy to the Mysticism Scale), beliefs in a larger meaning of life, in a higher order of the universe, in life after death, etc. The sense of connectedness with ancestors and descendants as well as with one’s own family and wider community is of special interest to the author, and thus forms a special category.

Internal consistencies of the scales .65, .85, and .85, respectively, are reported. From substantial, and at the same time meaningful, correlations of individual scales with various manifestations of religious behavior, attitudes, and experience, validity may be assessed as promising.

Expression of Spirituality Inventory (MacDonald, 2000). This scale is composed of factor scales clearly differentiated as content concerns: 1. Positive appreciation of spirituality, generally and in one’s own life; 2. Mystical experience tapped by items similar to those of Hood's 1975 scale; 3. Paranormal beliefs (reality of witchcraft, psycho kinesis, etc.); 4. Appreciation and personal practice of "religious services", prayer, belief in Higher Power, etc.[22]

Internal consistency reliabilities of individual scales are high (.85 to .97). Validity is obviously very good if criteria are reports of mystical and peak experiences, indices of coping with death, scales of intrinsic religious orientation, personal piety, etc. Correlations with the “Big Five” personality factors are also meaningful.

Spiritual Transcendence Scale (Reker, 2003).[23] This scale relies heavily upon the terms "spirituality" and "spiritual" (all items, with one exception, use them). The first factor is very close to the first factor of MacDonald’s scale. The second group of items ask about how the respondent's spirituality connects him/her with others, how community with others gives him spiritual meaning, how his spirituality makes him forgiving, compassionate and open to others, etc. Some of these items seem to broaden Piedmont's concept of spiritual connectedness with other people. The third factor relates spirituality with the perception of beauty and peacefulness in nature and with the sense of unity offered by nature to man.

The author reports internal consistency reliabilities of all his scales over .90. Meaningful correlations with various questionnaire scales (mostly unpublished) of attitudes, values, purpose in life, as well as with self-identification of subjects as spiritual, religious, spiritual but not religious, etc., attest this questionnaire’s validity.

*          *          *

A dominant common feature of questionnaires bearing the term "spiritual" or "spirituality" in their titles is a clear (though far from exclusive) focus upon respondent's introspective experience. The Hall, Moberg, and Ellison questionnaires are exceptional in that they measure spirituality in the more formal sense, as no charismatic or mystic experiences are mentioned, confirming the impression that spirituality is – half consciously – meant as a serious, rational, non-emotional form (or surrogate?) of religion.

Second, especially in recent years, there has been a tendency in constructing questionnaires of spirituality to avoid traditional religious terms (God, divine, prayer) in favor of psychological and popular philosophical ones, with the tradition of mysticism included (fulfillment, beyond, connection, meaning, peace, beauty, wholeness, merging, nature, humanity, transcendence, peak experience, eternity, bliss, etc.). From this standpoint, the concept of spirituality as it gradually crystallizes from the attempts at its operationalization by means of questionnaires, may perhaps be characterized as a sort of general, nonspecific, or ecumenical, religiousness.

It is likely, however, that spirituality as assessed by these methods is still largely determined by the cultural milieu of the West. Therefore, to call these methods “measures of spirituality” without further qualification may, strictly speaking, be considered a sign of the Western cultural ethnocentrism. Elkins’ (2001) term “humanistic spirituality” is welcome but perhaps we should be even more specific.



The term "spirituality" has become very popular in common discourse, especially in the English speaking countries. Its important function has been to express self-identification amongst people wishing to stress positive aspects of religion while rejecting its concrete form, namely, Christianity, in particular the established churches. The slogan "I am spiritual, but not religious" (dear also to many psychologists interested in religion) has been the primary source of the popularity of the word.

 During the last ten years, the term has also become very popular in psychological studies of religion, with a similar polarization of religion and spirituality as found in common discourse. The concept of spirituality tends now to include religious experience and the search for it, while the concept of religion is gradually being narrowed to the outer, visible, institutional etc.

 Significantly, we find no new discovery or radically new insight in our field that would substantiate the tendency to narrow the basic, classical concept of religion that we commonly use in our studies. Nevertheless, the new concept is here and it seems best to integrate it. The vagueness or openness of its meaning presents us with a good opportunity for such an integration.

How, then, should the concept of spirituality be used?

 In scientific literature spirituality should mean, as Pargament has suggested, the core of religion, which consists of the search for (or experience of) the sacred.[24] If used in such a way, the concept of spirituality may save the concept of religion in the classic sense from a confusing distortion (Wulff's "reification"), and may even enrich it.

Following the tradition of our field, the concept of religion should be used in a broad sense. If a psychologist says "religion", it should be understood that he primarily means religion lived and experienced. The concept should include, among others, the marginal, historically new, implicit, or even hidden and unconscious religious phenomena. Depth psychology, especially its Jungian branch, is particularly suitable to identify and analyze this kind of phenomena. If properly understood and creatively used, the traditional psychological concept of religion – see William James – will satisfy or at least assuage those who today promote the concept of non-religious spirituality.

Neither the concept of religion, nor the concept of spirituality as its core, however, will ever be clear-cut enough to avoid a certain amount of uncertainty, or fuzziness, at their boundaries with the non-religious sphere – consider phenomena like moral enthusiasm, deep absorption by a piece of music, etc.

 Literature popularizing religion will likely continue to speak about spirituality in a very broad, vague sense corresponding to the term "spirit" in general language which, though equally vague, is still appropriate in certain situations. In this context, the very vagueness of the term spirituality, as well as its positive connotations, make it particularly suitable to facilitate discourse between psychologists of religion and workers in fields such as education, health service, politics, etc., who, influenced by the widespread negative connotations, have a tendency to misunderstand terms like "religion" or "religious".

 Every religion and every church has its own spirituality. Nevertheless, the varied spiritualities often tend to be more similar to each other than the corresponding teachings, rituals, or moral obligations of each particular religious movement. This is most clear when considering the mystic component of various spiritualities. Consequently, the investigation of these commonalities seems to be a field where the concept of spirituality will be particularly useful.

 To sum up, the uninvited guest - if properly integrated - may now be welcome as a useful member of the team of concepts in the big game called the study of religion.



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Spirituality - the story of a concept

 The history of the concept of spirituality may be traced back to the theology of the Holy Spirit which - as a consequence of secularization - has been replaced by a vague term of the human spirit, understood as the best, the highest, the most noble, most promising etc., in humanity. The corresponding adjective spiritual became part of the slogan spiritual, but not religious used to express the self-identification of people who protested against religion - particularly the established Christian churches - but wanted to keep the humanist ideals based mostly upon the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.

 In the last decade the term spirituality became popular in common discourse, as well as in psychological studies of religion. To many, it partly replaces the concept of religion, subsuming the aspects most important to psychology, while narrowing religion to the formal, the institutional and the outer. At the same time spirituality, in contrast to religion, obtained a number of positive connotations. These changes seem to be sufficiently substantiated neither by new discoveries nor by radically new insights in our field.

 Pargament offered a theoretical solution according to which spirituality is conceived as the unique function of religion, namely, the search for the sacred. This solution saves the concept of religion from losing its breadth and vitality while assigning the concept of spirituality a useful function in the psychology of religion. To support this solution, the author gives reasons for using the concept of spirituality, in scientific discourse, in the sense given to it by Pargament. When popularizing the psychology of religion and for facilitating communication with workers in other fields, the now usual, very broad and rather vague meaning of the term serves well. A cursory content analysis of some of questionnaires of spirituality confirms this view.

[1] This study was supported by the Grant Agency of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, grant No. A7025301.

[2] The same pragmatic solution may be found in many other authors, e.g., Fontana, 2003.

[3] Another polarization, closely related to but different from this one may be added, namely, fresh, dynamic versus traditional, established.

[4] Although negatively perceived phenomena such as sacred anger in holy war, ecstasies in the course of religious sexual orgies, and enthusiasm during cannibalistic rituals should logically be included in a definition of spirituality, such experiences are rarely-if ever-mentioned. The tendency to idealize spirituality seems to be quite frequent (and may serve some pragmatic ends well, see below).

[5] The vagueness of this term does not mean that it should not be used. In a particular context, it may carry a clear message.

[6] The opposition profane versus sacred appeared first in sociology thanks to Durkheim (1912). It proved fruitful in other fields of the study of religion as well. Eliade, inspired probably by Otto in the first place, enriched this conceptual tool and brought it closer to psychology.


[7] In Norway, according to Stifoss-Hanssen (1999), the same attitude may be expressed as "I am not a Christian, but I am religious".

[8] The use of the concept has undeniable pragmatic advantages. One of them is that the term - for whatever reasons - became one with which "other researchers and respondents can be comfortable with" (Stifoss-Hanssen, 1999). Those who popularize psychological knowledge about religion can hardly avoid using it, whether they like it or not. Another advantage is that the term expresses relativization of particularity of individual confessions and religions. It almost may be understood as ecumenical in a very broad sense and, as such, non-discriminating and "politically correct". Programs such as "spiritual education" for children or "spiritual care" for the sick are - because of the connotations mentioned above - more acceptable in the Western society than "religious education" etc. Also, psychotherapists drawing inspiration from Eastern religions gladly use terms spiritual and spirituality to lower the tension with Christian communities.

[9] The address was later published as the introductory article in Volume 1999 of the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (based on ideas from Pargament’s 1997 book).

[10] I agree that, to the European ear, the word "search" sounds a little too activistic (Belzen, in press). It seems difficult, however, to replace it by another expression without losing either succinctness, or clarity of Pargament's formulations.

[11] Allport's (1967) concept of intrinsic religion may be understood as a precursor of spirituality; its polarization against extrinsic religion, however, did never serve Allport's intention well (Pargament, 1992).


[12] It is doubtful if an adequate verbal-rational description of the sacred is possible. Understanding this phenomenon is only possible through personal experience, which may be induced and confirmed by means of visual arts, music, poetry, narratives, etc.; these may - but do not have to be - included in religious practice (in a very broad sense). Similarly, Otto (1917) advised that without the experience of the sacred, one should not read his book.

[13] The replacement of the sacred as the key defining feature of spirituality may be motivated by a wish to rid it of its traditional connotations, and as such to "secularize" the concept. Furthermore, we may even suspect an attempt to create a more rational, modern alternative to religion as such.

[14] The relationship between what may be called a "purely spiritual" experience and the non-spiritual phenomena associated with it within the broader religious structure can be witnessed through the example of a quasi-mystical psychedelic experience. Though it may remain quite private - neither religious institution, nor informal group being involved - an interpretation nevertheless inevitably emerges since no experience occurs without interpretation. Interpretation, then, becomes the nucleus of a doctrine - a typically religious phenomenon, though not particularly spiritual, which is ready to be used to achieve various goals, not only the search for the sacred. The very procedure, in this case the drug, used in the search of the experience will also be used for other purposes, namely, escaping loneliness or anxiety etc. Typically, however, even this private experience tends to drive people together, to form communities of "believers in" the drug. A scene from the film Hair may be informative here. In one particular scene, members of a group are kneeling with their mouths open, receiving LSD from the leader similar to the manner of receiving the wafer of Communion. Hence we find a group and a ritual that we may assume will be used for purposes other than purely spiritual. As such, we see a religion as a broader phenomenon subsuming this particular spirituality, thus corresponding to Pargament's definition. On a similar note, Stan Grof, a Czech transpersonal psychotherapist who received his training under the communist system, tells how he used LSD when he was a young medical doctor. At that time LSD was considered a promising psychiatric medicine. Previously, he had learned very little about philosophy or religion, yet immediately he interpreted his experience as religious and abandoned his materialism. Reading his books (e. g., 1998), we get an impression of (though somewhat lukewarm) beliefs and experiences similar to those found in eastern religions.

[15] Pargament and Mahoney (2002, p. 647) "prefer to use the term religion in its classic sense" to stress that they do not accept the now widespread narrow understanding. As concerns "other human expressions, which have as their goal the sacred, including yoga, music, art, and social action" (ibidem), we suggest to include them among religious phenomena – as far as they really are used in the search for the sacred.

[16] Belzen (in press) suggests that we should "turn to the investigation of real, clear and exceptionally intense cases of spirituality, instead of looking for its marginal forms, or residues." From the Jungian depth psychological perspective, however, exactly the marginal, the residual, the hidden or still hardly recognizable (because only in statu nascendi) is of primary concern, in individual life or personality as well as in culture.

[17] In this connection, turning away from Christianity, especially from established traditional churches, comes to mind. Berger (1993) believes that this is a lasting trend, especially strong among people educated in the humanities.

[18] Another question might be how various solutions of the relationship between the concepts religion and spirituality serve communication with other fields of religious study, e.g., the history of religion. For example, should Islam, in the stage when Muhammad's first ecstatic visions were only believed by his wife, be called a spirituality which later developed into religion?

[19] One of the chapters of a unique compilation of 126 questionnaires "Measures of Religiosity" (Hill, Hood, 1999) is entitled "Scales of Spirituality and Mysticism". In this section, we draw from descriptions of the six methods described there. In their introduction, the authors announce that a review of various other methods of this kind in another volume is forthcoming. In a subsequent journal review, Slater et al. (2001) introduce - among others - two additional scales called "spiritual" (see below). Furthermore, Reker (2003) recently published a questionnaire entitled "Spiritual Transcendence Scale".


[20] Summing up these two scales under the title “Spiritual well-being  scale” is rightly criticized by Wulff (2003) as producing misleading correlations with other scales and criteria.

[21] Wulff’s objection is equally valid here as in the case of Paloutzian and Ellison.

[22] Similar to the Moberg and Ellison questionnaires mentioned above, MacDonald includes a scale called "Existential Well-Being" which is not directly related to spirituality or religion, however defined. In content, it may be characterized as a mix of depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and general pessimism.

[23] Somewhat surprisingly, the scale bears the same name and has the same number of items as Piedmont's STS.

[24] Other possibilities to express this core should be open to discussion if the concept of sacredness is found too elusive, culture bound etc. (Guthrie, 1996, Wulff, 2003, p. 22, Belzen, in press).