The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality


Religion is a social organization where members follow rituals based on their core beliefs. These rituals serve as a social support system for people and often create practical implications for their daily lives. These rules can range from distinctive dress codes to moral codes to actions mandated by a supernatural being. Although they may differ in some ways, each of these systems offers unique characteristics that help people make sense of the world.

The majority of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are not affiliated with any religion. Approximately 20% of this group identify as agnostic while 33% are unaffiliated. Of the religiously unaffiliated, more than one-third identify as “spiritual”.

Religion and spirituality are often confused. Each has a distinct purpose, but they are both aimed at building character. While spirituality focuses on searching for the sacred, religion seeks to unite the people who practice it. It is the spiritual quality of religious institutions that distinguish them from other social organizations. Ultimately, religion shapes a person’s behavior and character.

Students in SBNR programs strive to make a difference in the world. They study to become chaplains, interfaith ministers, and social activists. Many of them are similar to radical reformers of five centuries ago who split from the Reformation. However, a key issue for religion scholars today is the definition of religion. Traditionally, the term “religious” implies belonging to a group with certain doctrines and rituals.