“Spiritual But Not Religious”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 5:00 am

“Spiritual But Not Religious”

“I think in a way that kind of cliche ‘spiritual but not religious,’ which apparently is a thing more and more people say to describe themselves, is in a way an attempt to reconcile in some cases with science. In other words…if I say I believe in this highly anthropomorphic God, if I’m religious and too old-fashioned in a sense, or buy into specific claims of revelation, that might not sit well with the modern scientific intelligence.”
—Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God (February 2, 2010)

Young People Less Religiously Affiliated
(graphic: Pew Research Center)

New research from the Pew Forum on Public Life reveals that a sizable slice of the Millenial population (people born after 1981) does not affiliate with a particular religious denomination or faith. We’re aware that people of all ages are defining themselves under the expansive umbrella of “spiritual but not religious.” We see this, in part, through the weekly listener emails that flow into our inbox.

Our contact form includes a question: “What faith tradition, if any, do you belong to?” Here are examples of some recent responses we’ve received:

  • mindfulness
  • none now
  • I defy labels 😉
  • Christian, Baptist… though I refer to myself as a “recovering evangelical” currently not affiliated
  • atheist, with emerging theory of spirituality
  • the teachings of Christ, the Buddha, and my dog, not necessarily in that order

As you can see, it’s quite a spread. In his recent public conversation with Krista, Robert Wright provided some helpful insights about how this “spiritual but not religious” trend might relate to a concern with what he calls “modern scientific intelligence.”

If you consider yourself “spiritual but not religious,” can you help us understand what this term actually means to you? Does science have something to do with it? Is it primarily a youthful Millennial trend, as the Pew Forum report suggests? Are there other terms that you would add to the list above to describe yourself on this “spiritual but not religious” continuum?

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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  • Can.only.be.honest.

    For me I have always considered myself spiritual and not religious. I cannot get myself to believe or follow the beliefs that are in a man made book. I know there is a greater force that wakes me up and whom has created all in the universe. I belief in angels, spirits, and guardians. Not necessarily in the sense that has been taught in books. I may use these terms for lack of a better name to call them. I have a hard time using the name God as the name is also connected with the Bible. Again, a name I’m comfortable with but do not accept in the way of the Bible. I’m currently working on names that would separate me from the Bible as I would then be as honest as I can in my belief.

    Man created religions for a way to control. No God, Lord, Allah, etc. has put their stamp of approval on any of that nonsense!

  • Brandi

    “Spiritual but not religious” captures exactly how I feel. I was raised Christian and faithfully believed in what was preached to me by my parents, my entire family, and the Southern Babtist churches and school that I attended (Christian school–only until 3rd grade). *note: I’m a very curious person & I have always had questions about religion, the Bible, and what happens after we die here on earth (and about pretty much everything else). It’s not that I want to be defiant but just that I like proof and evidence and I’ve always asked a lot of questions. When I went to college, I met a lot of people who were diverse than what I was used to and raised much differently than I. After studying a religion course, watching documentaries about religion, numerous conversations, research and personal reflection, I began to question Christianity’s teachings. My thoughts about Christianity began to deaffiliate slowly. I still believe in most of its teachings but I now feel much more spiritual and do not necessarily consider myself a Christian, unless that means a Christ follower or a believer. I do believe in Jesus and God. But I mostly believe and nature and interconnectedness, which I believe a higher power created, whom I call God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. My personal relationship with what I feel like is the creator is much more important to me than labeling myself. Thus I consider myself spiritual and not religious.