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Body/Mind/Spirit: Toward a Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Model of Health

Definitions and Discussion of Spirituality and Religion

Definition: Spirituality

Dictionary1. “the experience or expression of the sacred” (Adapted from Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1967).

2. “…the search for transcendent meaning” – can be expressed in religious practice or …expressed ”exclusively in their relationship to nature, music, the arts, a set of philosophical beliefs, or relationships with friends and family” (Astrow et al. 2001).

3. “individual search for meaning” Bown and Williams 1993).

4. “the search for meaning in life events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe” (Coles 1990).

5. “a person’s experience of, or a belief in, a power apart from his or her own existence” (Mohr 2006).

6. “a quality that goes beyond religious affiliation, that strives for inspiration, reverence, awe, meaning and purpose, even in those who do not believe in God. The spiritual dimension tries to be in harmony with the universe, strives for answers about the infinite, and comes essentially into focus in times of emotional stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss, bereavement and death” (Murray and Zentner 1989:259).

7. …refers to a broad set of principles that transcend all religions. Spirituality is about the relationship between ourselves and something larger. That something can be the good of the community or the people who are served by your agency or school or with energies greater than ourselves. Spirituality means being in the right relationship with all that is. It is a stance of harmlessness toward all living beings and an understanding of their mutual interdependence.” (Kaiser 2000)

Definition: Religion

1. “a set of beliefs and practices related to the issue of what exists beyond the visible world, generally including the idea of the existence of a being, group of beings, an external principle or a transcendent spiritual entity” (Adapted from Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1967).

2. “set of beliefs, practices, and language that characterizes a community that is searching for transcendent meaning in a particular way, generally based upon belief in a deity” (Astrow et al. 2001).

3. religious beliefs – “formed within the context of practices and rituals shared by a group to provide a framework for connectedness to God” (Davies, Brenner, Orloff, Sumner, and Worden 2002).

4. “an organized system of practices and beliefs in which people engage … a platform for the expression of spirituality…” (Mohr 2006).

5. “outward practice of a spiritual system of beliefs, values, codes of conduct, and rituals” (Speck 1998).

Discussion: Spirituality and Religion

While value judgments should play no role in the distinction between spirituality and religion, there are those who may see one as preferable to the other. For this site, no preference is given to either, hence the use of both terms together.

Much debate surrounds the definition of both terms. As Anandarajah and Hight (2001) explain, spirituality encompasses such realms as the cognitive or philosophic, the experiential and emotional, and the behavioral. The breadth of spirituality and religion along with a lack of clarity and agreement on definitions further complicates efforts to systematize an approach to assessment and to research. Sometimes both terms are used interchangeably. Some see religion as the manifestation of ones spirituality, yet a person can be spiritual without being religious. A person can also be outwardly “religious” in performing certain actions, and yet not focus on the underlying principles of spirituality.

The general consensus regards spirituality as the broader term, encompassing religion for some, but able to stand-alone for others without attachment to a particular faith group. It is important to remember, however, that for the patient, these are not static entities, but rather they can change with the dynamics taking place in a patient’s life and health and mental health status.

Looking beyond the individual to family, community, and support networks, the concept of spirituality as defined by Kaiser (2000) can be applied to “helping systems.” For example, Wolff (2008) states that the current model of clinical service delivery is deliberately disconnected from issues of social justice and he calls for greater reliance on such “spiritual principles” as acceptance, appreciation, compassion, and interdependence.

With some exceptions, most of the studies to date on spirituality and religion have centered on patients who espouse Judeo-Christian traditions. More research needs to focus on patients from other faith traditions and the intersection of these beliefs and practices within a sociocultural context.

 

References and Resources for Definitions of Spirituality and Religion

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