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Spirituality and Religion - Are They the Same?

Updated on January 13, 2012
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Worship of Venus
Worship of Venus

Is spirituality the same as religion? If you are spiritual, do you have religion? Are these two concepts the same or something totally different? Yes and no is the answer.

Let me muddy the waters a little more. You can be religious and not be spiritual. You can, also, be spiritual and not be of a religion yet possibly religious. More confused than ever? That’s alright. This topic has confused people for years. The best way to answer it and understand it is to start with the definitions of each.


The dictionary defines spiritual as “of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit: incorporeal”. (Incorporeal means that it is outside or beyond the physical or material body.) Just looking at that definition leaves the field of “spiritual” wide open.

It could also be described as seeking a higher power or force. It is looking beyond what we physically see and seeking the force that drives the physical and shapes it. With these definitions, any religion could be considered spiritual as well as other “spiritual movements”.

If you believe and are active in astrology, could you be considered spiritual? Yes, according to these definitions. Being interested in astrology means that you are looking to how the stars and all the heavenly objects effect and shape lives. Believing in non material forces that are not present on Earth shaping human lives is a spiritual belief.

If you are a pagan, are you spiritual? Yes. This is based on the more broader definition of pagan which is mainly any of the ancient religions such as Roman, Celtic, etc. If you look up all the various “movements” that fall under pagan, you will notice that each one of them believes in external forces influences human lives and sometimes the afterlife. This makes them spiritual in nature.

If you approach yoga or meditation as something more than an exercise or relaxation method, respectively, are you spiritual? Once again, yes. When these activities go beyond physical health and mental health, they are looking at the soul and non-physical forces. This puts them in spiritual categories then.

If you believe in reincarnation, are you considered spiritual? Yes, because this belief is of a power that moves a soul from one life form to another over the centuries. If you only believed that there was nothing after this life and nothing was directing you or influencing you, then you would not be spiritual.

If you are a Christian, Jew, or Muslim, are you spiritual? Those are spiritual believes because each one of them believes in God or Allah as the divine power that directs life and is part of the afterlife.

If you are a Buddhist or Hindu, are you spiritual? The answer, again, is yes. There is more to the present, physical life.

These are just a few of the areas that could be considered spiritual, but the general idea is present: seeking out and/or following a force that is not physical/non-earthly.

Let’s now take a look at religion.


The dictionary defines religious as “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity; of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances “. You can be religious about anything, if you want to be honest. Some of us religiously brush our teeth after every meal and snack. This part is nowhere near spiritual, but it is a dedication to a set of actions. That aspect of religious will not be discussed here. Here, religious will only involve deities.

Of all those “movements” we just discussed, every one of them can be described as religious especially if they have traditions or observances. But then, are they religions? No.

A religion is an organized or structured set of beliefs. Let’s break it down by those same “movements”.

Astrology could be defined as a religion only because there are some guidelines, though loose, on how the stars and similar bodies should be read. There is no leader in this movement, and it is usually not found discussed in religious sections. You could argue that it is a religion, yet there are strong arguments that it is not based on organization.

Paganism can easily be defined as a religion because so many of the sub-categories of it do have leaders and structured meetings as well as defined traditions.

Yoga and meditation would not really be described as religions though they can be religious in nature. There is no structure and no leader.

Reincarnation by itself is not a religion, but there are religions that believe in reincarnation.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all religions. They have traditions, leaders, and gatherings.

Buddhism and Hinduism are also religions as they have ancient traditions and leaders.

The Verdict

Now, back to the original question. Is spirituality the same as religion? No. You can be spiritual and not be of any religion. You can be of a religion and not be spiritual. How can this last part be?

You can say that you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu and not be the least spiritual. That is because some people claim membership by birth since their family practiced those beliefs. It could also be that they have joined those religions for a variety of reasons but never take part in the spiritual aspect. They are Christian (or any of the others) and have not one ounce of spirituality in them.

Now, can you see why the answer is yes and, yet, no? It almost comes down to semantics as some people might say they belong to a religion while others do not view it as such. You could almost answer this by asking yourself this: Do I believe in a force or power stronger than me or outside of me that influences and/or directs my life? If I do, then I am spiritual. Do I believe the same and, possibly, are a member of the organized religions as well? If so, than I am part of a religion. If not, then I am just spiritual.

Since this can be so murky and yet be so clear, it is really that important to know the difference? Yes. I say that because of an experience I had with a friend of mine. She had just found her faith in one of the organized religions and was developing spiritually. She met a guy and was excited because he was “spiritual”. She interpreted that to mean that he believed the same as her and was also of her religion. Disastrously, she found out that that was not the case. The end result was weakened faith and a broken heart as he tried to tear apart her beliefs. He was not of any religion and, personally, wasn’t too spiritual after all in any sense of the word.

These areas should not be taken lightly at all as they get very personal and can affect us severely. If your faith is important to you, knowing the difference should be just as important. Not all spiritual movements are the same and can be directly polar opposites which can internal and external conflict.

Again, spirituality can be the same as religion and religion can be spiritual. The opposite can also be true. Evaluate where you stand and understand the movements better so that you are confident in exactly where you stand.


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    • profile image

      Vincent Gill 5 years ago

      I was brought up as a Catholic Christian, but as I matured I began to question its validity in these fast changing times.

      There is nothing innately wrong with religion, unless it is out of date. History shows that all religious and political institutions become corrupt over time, so you end up with a body of belief that is nonsensical, and some of the followers begin to revise and some drift away. However there is always a new religion on the rise.

      Every new religion builds new institutions that help to reunite the splinters of all previous religions, and introduces the next installment of Gods plan (the universe unfolding....) which usually means a change in the social laws to fit the age - such as equal status for men and women - one world government (unity in diversity) and so on.

      After Christianity it was Islam – now it's the Bahai Faith. The beauty of a new religion is that it unites people and that is what the world needs right now.

      At this point in the autumn of my life, I am not a member of any religion. I am a mature son of God and a free spirit.

    • fred allen profile image

      fred allen 7 years ago from Myrtle Beach SC

      Fantastic hub! It occurred to me after reading how you related the story of your friend, what can happen if these matters of spiritual and religious differences are not disclosed in depth before committing to a long term relationship. It can damage relationships and the people involved. For instance, I read your hub about the teachings of Paul as compared with Jesus'. I read the conflict of those who would call themselves Christian who see Paul as a false apostle and those who call themselves Christian and accept Paul's teachings as authentic. Both call themselves Christian, yet do you think they could coexist in a lasting committed relationship whith each other with such differring views. I think not. This was an excellent hub ! Voted awesome and up! Glad I found you on hubpages.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      This is a great hub explaining being both spiritual and religious. Because I am a Christian who follows God, the Father of Jesus, I am both spiritual and religious. But really the defining point for me is I also have a relationship with Jesus, which really to me is way more important than being religious or spiritual.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      A very good hub. I enjoyed reading this. I consider myself to be a spiritually questing person. I don't belong to any organized religion. I'm the closest to Christian, if anything, because that's the way I was raised.

      I found this hub to be enlightening, and thank you for taking the time to write it.