What is the difference between spirituality and religion? Spirituality and religion are different concepts; but they often get confusing. We often end up describing our religious beliefs and practices when talking about our spirituality. Their purpose and practices can overlap and crossover, but they do have some basic differences.
Institutional vs Individual
Religion, by definition, is an institutionalized set of beliefs. It is practiced by a group of people; generally, in the service and worship of God or the divine. Exclusivity is also a feature of religion. When you are a member of a particular religious group; you cannot be a member of another religious group.
On the other hand, spirituality is more of a deeply personal experience. Its purpose is mainly to connect with something larger than you. This is experience is also referred to as a divine connection. Spirituality is also inclusive as it recognizes different modalities of connecting with the divine. In both cases, the experience of engaging with the divine, through worship, or personal connection, is considered sacred.
Objective vs Subjective
Religion is more of an objective experience. The external environment has a lot to do with its practice. For example, you go to a place of worship (e.g., church, temple, mosque, etc.), and you learn from a book of scriptures. There are also traditions and rituals that you observe to practice your religious beliefs.
Spirituality is more of a subjective experience. It focuses more on the internal process of developing your inner understanding and self awareness. Spirituality recognizes that individuals’ have their own pace in developing spirituality. It also accepts different ways of observing one’s spirituality. Although the focus of the practice may be different, both encourage self-reflection for the individual to grow and improve.
Judgment vs Acceptance
Another difference between religion and spirituality is the approach or the perspective in their teachings. In religious beliefs, failing to observe or practice its tenets generally results in punishment; while those devoted to the practice are rewarded. Though this may not be the intention; sadly, the concept of original sin, judgment, divine retribution and reward, encourage devotion more often based on fear.
In contrast, spirituality has a less judgment-based approach and encourages a more compassionate perspective. It recognizes that there are different world-views with the belief that they can all co-exist through understanding and compassion, acceptance and understanding, and a common desire to create a peaceful world for all. Forgiveness and letting go are encouraged more than punishment. Though this may sound too idealistic; the underlying concept is basically to act in the world with love as your guiding principle.
Spirituality is an important component in your overall wellness. Spirituality and religion are different but they also have a lot of similarities. When you are a member of a religious organization; it does not mean that you cannot be spiritual. Spirituality encompasses different ways of experiencing the divine. Religious practices are one of the many ways to develop your spirituality.