Spiritual but not Religious?: Beyond Binary Choices in the Study of Religion

  • Published 2012


Spirituality" has often been framed in social science research as an alternative to organized "religion," implicitly or explicitly extending theoretical arguments about the privatization of religion. This article uses in-depth qualitative data from a religiously-diverse U.S. sample to argue that this either-or distinction not only fails to capture the empirical reality of American religion, but it does not do justice to the complexity of spirituality itself. An inductive discursive analysis reveals four primary cultural "packages," that is, ways in which the meaning of spirituality is constructed in conversation -a Theistic Package that ties spirituality to personal deities, an Extra-Theistic Package that locates spirituality in various naturalistic forms of transcendence, an Ethical Spirituality that focuses on everyday compassion, and a contested Belief and Belonging Spirituality tied to cultural notions of religiosity. Spirituality is, then, neither a diffuse individualized phenomenon nor a single cultural alternative to "religion." Analysis of the contested evaluations of Belief and Belonging Spirituality allows a window on the "moral boundary work" (Lamont 1992) being done by the cultural discourse of being "spiritual but not religious." The empirical boundary between spirituality and religion is far more porous than the moral and political one.

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@inproceedings{2012SpiritualBN, title={Spiritual but not Religious?: Beyond Binary Choices in the Study of Religion}, author={}, year={2012} }