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Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 13:158181, 2011 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1934-9637 print/1934-9645

5 online DOI: 10.1080/19349637.2011.593404

Spirituality and Religiousness: A Diversity of Denitions

Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

This study explored the viewpoints of 234 participants from various nationalities on the denition of spirituality and religiousness. Several universal themes emerged from the phenomenological analysis of participants denitions. Spirituality was primarily viewed as an integral part of ones identity and the personal experience of the transcendent whether it is dened traditionally as God or a higher power, or in more secular terms as unity with the greater world or mystery. In contrast, religiousness is an external tool through which individuals can access their spirituality and relationship to the divine. These results have important implications for how spirituality or religion is assessed and used in interventions with individuals in counseling. KEYWORDS spirituality, religiousness, denitions

The past 10 years has been witness to an increase in the use of the concept of spirituality among health researchers including psychologists (Pargament, 2003). The nature of the denition of spirituality, however, remains problematic. Numerous denitions of spirituality exist (Bregman, 2006), as evidenced in the domains of nursing (McSherry & Cash, 2004), social work and psychology (Hodge & McGrew, 2006), occupational therapy (MacGillivray, Sumison, & Wicks-Nicholls, 2006), and workplace leadership (Dent, Higgins, & Wharff, 2005). Spirituality denitions are at the same time vague and complex, often reecting the unique perspectives of the researchers rather than
Address correspondence to Terry Lynn Gall, PhD, Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University, 223 Main St., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 1C4. E-mail: 158

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the views of research participants (Mattis, 2000; McSherry & Cash, 2004). In a content analysis of research denitions, Chiu, Emblen, Van Hofwegen, Sawatzky, and Meyerhoof (2004) identied four components of spirituality: (a) existential reality or meaning and way of being in life, (b) transcendence, (c) connection and wholeness, and (d) the presence of a unifying force or energy. Others have noted similar elements of spirituality with some additions, including a clearer identication of the element of a higher power or God (Bregman, 2006; Dent et al., 2005; Hodge & McGrew, 2006; McSherry & Cash, 2004; Unruh, Versnel, & Kerr, 2002). These denitions of spirituality move it beyond the traditional concepts of God (Pargament, 1999) and more toward the existential in life (Stifoss-Hanssen, 1999). McSherry and Cash (2004) proposed a spiritual taxonomy to address the problem of diversity in the denitions of spirituality. One side of the taxonomy spirituality is linked closely to religion and theistic ideals while the other side it reects a more humanistic, existential perspective that focuses on meaning and purpose in life. This taxonomy underscores Spilkas (1993) earlier observation that spirituality can be conceptualized in three main ways: (a) as linked to God and theology, (b) as it relates to nature, and (c) as linked to the humanistic concept of self-actualization. Just as spirituality grows in breadth of meaning, so does the term religion shrink, becoming increasingly narrow and restricted to traditional religious beliefs and organizations (Hill et al., 2000; LaPierre, 1994; Pargament, 1999). With this shift in perspective, Hill et al. (2000) remained concerned that the denition of spirituality would become divorced from the sacred as suggested by Stifoss-Hanssen (1999), an effect that will render the term meaningless. Findings from empirical studies reect aspects of these denitions of spirituality. Derezotes (1995) had a sample of social work students, faculty, and practitioners endorse denitions of spirituality and religion. The majority of participants selected the concepts of meaning in life, purpose in life, acceptance of the self or world, appreciation of the transcendent, highest levels of well-being, highest levels of consciousness, and sense of idealism as being representative of spirituality. The concepts of a system of shared beliefs, shared doctrine, and shared rituals; a reverence for a supreme creator; and an institutionalized form of worship, were indicative of religion. Canda and Furman (1999) found similar results in another sample of social workers. OConnell and Skevington (2005) asked different religious focus groups to reect on 18 facets of spirituality, religion, and beliefs as identied by experts. Despite signicant intergroup variability, three common components emerged for spirituality: spiritual strength, meaning in life, and inner peace. MacGillivray et al. (2006) used a similar approach in that they asked adolescents to respond to 23 elements of spirituality that the authors had distilled from the occupational therapy literature. Results showed that adolescents rarely endorsed religious elements (e.g., prayer, God) but focused


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more on spirituality as it relates to the self. Similar to other research, this study was limited in that participants were provided with a predetermined list of components of spirituality that primarily focused on the existential in life with minimal reference to the transcendent and/or sacred. A handful of qualitative studies have addressed this limitation. Zinnbauer et al. (1997) explored how various samples of churchgoers, religious college students, and health care workers dened spirituality and religiousness. For all participants, religion was more readily dened in terms of beliefs about God, organizational beliefs and practices, and commitment to a specic organized religion, whereas spirituality was viewed more in experiential terms as an individuals personal beliefs about and relationship with God. What distinguishes these results from previous work on researcher-generated denitions is that the sacred appears as a strong element in both denitions. Hodge and McGrew (2006) asked a random sample of social work graduate students to dene the terms spirituality and religion. Fully a third of the sample endorsed the idea that spirituality is related to the personal while 47% referenced spirituality in relation to a transcendent being. Other elements of spirituality focused on a sense of connection to others and nature and the application of religion. Although there was some overlap with spirituality, two aspects dominated the denition of religion beliefs linked to an organization and the practice of spirituality through various religious actions. Mattis (2000) further sought to dene spirituality from the perspective of African American women. Over one half (53%) of women viewed spirituality as a connection to and belief in a higher power, 24% as a transcendent force or energy in life, 23% as an understanding of self, and 22% as life guidance. Finally, Tuck and Thinganjana (2007) explored the meaning of spirituality within the context of focus groups of HIV-diagnosed and healthy individuals. The themes extracted from the data provided by the healthy group included aspects of relationship with God and relationships with others, nature, and self, as well as the idea of a spiritual journey and spirituality as related to the self. Although dening spirituality from the perspective of participants, these studies continue to have signicant limitations, notably in the representativeness of their samples. First, all studies were conducted in the context of the United States, a country that continues to hold strong religious values and beliefs regardless of a trend toward the deinstitutionalization of religion and the emergence of a personal religiosity or spirituality (Hill et al., 2000; Zinnbauer, Pargament, & Scott, 1999). As well, study samples were not representative of a general population. Samples were limited to a specic profession (e.g., social work), age (e.g., adolescent), health issue (e.g., inpatient mental health), or culture and gender (e.g., African American women). The objective of the present study is to explore the denitions of spirituality and religiousness from a more general perspective. Specically, a Web survey was designed so as to gather a broader-based sample that

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness


was heterogeneous in relation to a variety of background characteristics including but not limited to nationality, culture, age, gender, education, and employment status.

METHODS Sample and Procedures

This research received ethics approval from the universitys research ethics board. The main method for the recruitment of participants was through an Internet research Web site. To publicize this online survey, links were made with other research Web sites. As well, the Web site was advertised for a period of 3 months through Google Ads. Finally, various French and English, national and international organizations that have an interest in religion and spirituality (e.g., parishes, associations) were e-mailed an advertisement about this study and asked to post the information within their organization and/or provide a link to the Web site. Individuals from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds, including those with no religious afliation, were encouraged to participate as an attempt to obtain as diverse a sample as possible. On completion of each Web page of the survey, the written and numerical data from a participant was sent directly to a condential Web storage le. Anonymity of participants was protected by stripping off the IP address prior to data storage. The Web site was available in French and English. All questions in the survey were translated from English to French following a process of forwardbackward translation. Of the 434 individuals who entered the Web site survey, 234 (53.9%) completed the qualitative questions on the denition of spirituality and religiousness. Since only 18 French Canadians responded to the Web site an additional attempt was made to recruit directly through the Catholic diocese in the Outaouais region of Quebec. Printed surveys were left at several parishes for interested individuals to pick up. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was provided for the return of the survey. Using this method an additional 25 francophone participants were recruited. The nal sample consisted of: 43 French Canadians, 32 English Canadians, 131 Americans, 14 European (including UK) and 14 others (Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Israel).


Participants were asked to report on their gender, age, marital status, number of children, education, annual family income, cultural or racial background, religious afliation, maternal language, and country in which they live.


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Following Zinnbauer et al. (1997), participants were asked to indicate their: (a) degree of religiousness and spirituality separately on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from not at all to very religious or spiritual ; and (b) their sense of self as spiritual and religious, spiritual but not religious, religious but not spiritual or neither spiritual nor religious. Participants were also asked to indicate the frequency of: (a) religious service attendance and (b) personal prayer. QUALITATIVE

Participants were asked to write the meaning of the terms spirituality and religiousness in their own words. Second, to investigate the function of spirituality within the context of an individuals life, participants responded to two open-ended questions: (a) if it applies, briey describe one event in your life where spirituality (as you dened it) helped you to cope. How did it help you to cope?; and (b) If it applies, briey describe one event in your life where spirituality (as you dened it) interfered with or hindered your ability to cope. How did it interfere with or hinder your ability to cope?

Data Analysis
A grounded theory approach (Creswell, 2002) was utilized to analyze the written comments of the participants. Two researchers independently analyzed the data according to the following steps. First, written responses were sorted according to the various cultural groups (e.g., French Canadians). Second, responses from each cultural group were analyzed separately for emergent themes. Third, each question was analyzed separately starting with the denition of spirituality and ending with how spirituality may have hindered the participants coping. Fourth, the researchers read over the responses from all participants within a specic cultural group to each question to get an initial feel for the data. Fifth, a process of open coding was then engaged wherein responses to each question were broken down into independent meaning units. Sixth, axial coding was then carried out wherein a descriptive category or primary theme was attached to each meaning unit. Following this process of independent analysis, the two researchers met to discuss their results and arrive at a consensus as to the descriptive or primary themes. The researchers then discussed the organization of the descriptive categories into a smaller number of superordinate themes for each question (e.g., denition of spirituality) within the context of each national or cultural group. The superordinate categories from each cultural group were compared and a nal list of universal themes (common across groups) was prepared. Differences in the nature and importance of these universal themes across cultural groups were noted.

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RESULTS Sample Characteristics

Table 1 shows the demographic statistics for the overall sample as well as the breakdown by nationality or region. The overall sample had an average age of 39.5 years and consisted of 61.1% women. The majority was single and of European descent. Approximately equal numbers of participants from the overall sample were of Catholic, Protestant, other, or no religious afliation. The gender composition was similar for all groups. The American and European groups had more single individuals and were younger on average. The French and English Canadians were almost all of European descent while the American group was the most culturally and/or racially diverse. The majority of French Canadians were Catholic while the English Canadians had more diversity in religious afliation with 50% being Protestant. The largest proportion of Americans (34.4%) and others (42.9%) fell into the other
TABLE 1 Demographic Characteristics French English Canadian Canadian American European2 n = 14 n = 43 n = 32 n = 131 0 = 51.7 sd = 14.3 67.4% 25.6% 23.3% 44.2% 21% 7% 95.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 69.8% 9.3% 0.0% 0.0% 9.3% 11.6% 0 = 48.5 sd = 15.1 62.5% 28.1% 23.3% 44.2% 21.0% 7.0% 90.6% 3.1% 3.1% 0.0% 3.1% 9.4% 53.1% 12.5% 3.1% 9.4% 12.5% 0 = 27.9 sd = 12.3 61.8% 37.5% 65.6% 21.4% 6.9% 0.0% 68.7% 11.5% 5.4% 6.9% 3.1% 14.5% 20.6% 2.3% 2.3% 34.4% 26.0% 0 = 26.8 sd = 12.8 71.4% 28.6% 71.4% 14.3% 0.0% 0.0% 71.4% 0.0% 28.6% 0.0% 0.0% 7.1% 14.2% 0.0% 0.0% 21.4% 57.1% Other3 n = 14 0 = 40.5 sd = 18.9 50.0% 42.9% 21.4% 42.9% 7.1% 7.1% 14.3% 0.0% 50.0% 0.0% 14.3% 21.4% 7.1% 7.1% 7.1% 42.9% 7.1% Overall Sample n = 234 0 = 39.1 sd = 14.5 61.1% 32.9% 49.6% 30.8% 11.1% 2.6% 73.5% 6.8% 8.1% 3.8% 3.0% 23.9% 21.8% 3.4% 2.1% 26.1% 22.2%

Demographics1 Age Gender Female Male Marital Status Single Married/common-law Separated/divorced Widowed Cultural Background European Black Asian Hispanic Other Religious Afliation Catholic Protestant Jewish Muslim Other None
1 Percentages 2 European

do not add to 100% due to missing data includes United Kingdom, Eastern and Western European countries 3 Other includes Australia/New Zealand, Israel, African and Asian countries


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TABLE 2 Descriptive Statistics on the Religious Characteristics by Nationality French English Canadian Canadian American European2 Other3 n = 14 n = 14 n = 43 n = 32 n = 131 7% 39.5% 14.0% 20.9% 14.0% 7.0% 4.7% 4.7% 34.9% 48.8% 60.5% 30.2% 4.7% 2.3% 14.0% 30.2% 11.6% 14.0% 30.2% 4.7% 4.7% 4.7% 20.9% 62.8% 15.6% 18.8% 37.5% 15.6% 12.5% 3.1% 3.1% 12.5% 40.6% 40.6% 71.9% 25.0% 0.0% 3.1% 6.2% 15.6% 12.5% 34.4% 28.1% 9.4% 6.2% 6.2% 9.4% 65.6% 33.6% 17.6% 17.6% 19.1% 11.5% 9.2% 12.2% 13.7% 23.7% 40.5% 51.9% 32.1% 3.1% 12.2% 35.1% 16.0% 9.2% 19.8% 17.6% 20.6% 6.9% 5.3% 21.4% 43.5% 42.8% 50.0% 7.1% 0.0% 0.0% 35.7% 7.1% 7.1% 35.7% 14.2% 14.2% 50.0% 0.0% 35.7% 71.4% 21.4% 0.0% 7.1% 0.0% 71.4% 7.1% 0.0% 21.4% 0.0% 14.2% 35.7% 28.6% 14.2% 7.1% 0.0% 14.2% 28.6% 28.6% 28.6% 35.7% 50.0% 7.1% 0.0% 50.0% 7.1% 14.3% 14.3% 14.3% 14.2% 21.4% 0.0% 7.1% 57.1% Overall Sample n = 234 25.6% 24.8% 19.7% 17.5% 11.1% 8.9% 9.4% 12.4% 29.5% 39.7% 52.9% 32.9% 2.9% 9.8% 30.3% 18.4% 9.8% 19.7% 20.1% 18.8% 7.3% 4.7% 18.8% 48.3%

Characteristic1 Religiousness not religious slightly fairly religious very Spirituality not spiritual slightly fairly spiritual very Spiritual Category spiritual and religious spiritual but not religious religious but not spiritual not spiritual or religious Service Attendance Not attending Attend infrequently 12 per month 1 per week More than 1/week Prayer never less than once a week once a week once a day several times a day
1 Percentages 2 European

do not add to 100% due to missing data includes United Kingdom, Eastern and Western European countries 3 Other includes Australia/New Zealand, Israel, African and Asian countries

category of religious afliation. The percentage of participants reporting no religious afliation ranged from 7.1% (others) to 57.1% (Europeans). Table 2 shows the religious characteristics for the overall sample as well as the breakdown by nationality or region. About half of participants claimed that religion was not at all important or only slightly important in their lives with the Europeans being the least religious. In contrast, about 69% claimed that spirituality was important or very important in their daily lives with the English and French Canadians being the most spiritual. About 85% of the entire sample claimed to be spiritual and religious or spiritual and not religious while very few reported being religious and not spiritual or

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness


neither spiritual or religious. The majority of French and English Canadians and Americans reported being spiritual and religious, while the majority of Europeans and others reported being spiritual but not religious. About 48% of the overall sample do not attend or rarely attend religious service, with the Europeans being the least likely to attend. Despite low service attendance, about 67% of the overall sample engaged in personal prayer once a day or more with the French and English Canadians praying most frequently.

Denitions of Spirituality
Seven universal themes were extracted from the data on spirituality. CORE

This theme represents the essence or existential nature of an individual. Spirituality exists as a central element of ones deepest self. For me, spirituality is what resides deep down inside of me (FC).1 It is the totality of the human being. Her name, charisma, strengths, weaknesses, everything that makes the person unique and who she is (FC). Spirituality to me is . . . a part of me that I can not separate from myself (A). Some embrace this aspect of self as ones essential spirit or soul. For me, spirituality is about the life of the spirit. The life of the soul (FC). Spirituality is a recognition of a spirit within or of ones self (A), and of being in touch with your own self and soul (A). Spirituality is the care . . . of the soul. It requires a level of maturity to be in touch with your spirit or soul (A). The concept of soul encapsulates a belief that the self has an eternal nature. Spirituality is believing in a human spirit, and the immortality of said spirit after death of the body (A). As part of the core self, spirituality represents a process of life journey and reection, a cornerstone in the development of self-awareness and conscious living. Spirituality is the personal journey leading to the opening of ones level of awareness (FC). It involves a commitment to the disciplined and intentional exploration of the interior self and nurturing the gifts of peacefulness, compassion, patience, gratefulness, tolerance, and selfknowledge within the larger context of ones place in the cosmos (EC). Further, spirituality is an inner reection upon universal truths. A personal journey that is not biased by religion (A). Spirituality encompasses experiences and behaviors that lead one to acknowledge, examine and cultivate an inner strength, core. . . . Spirituality is a strength, a power that I believe is within all people regardless of faith or personal beliefs (E). Thus, spirituality becomes a path to self-knowledge, personal transformation and growth. It is also a dimension of the individual that promotes self-actualization and self-transcendence (FC). Spirituality is the reason for our earthly existence. I believe that it represents the path to our higher selves. We are placed on


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this plane to develop spiritually, become enlightened, and attain our spiritual goals through earthly means. (A). LIFE

Spirituality provides a framework for understanding and approaching daily life. Spirituality is the establishment of a personal set of beliefsa lens through which one sees the world, the self, and others (A). It is an ideological understanding of ones purpose in life, which lends itself to a particular pursuit in life for spiritual fulllment (A). As a conceptual framework, spirituality underscores how an individual exists in and experiences the world. The totality of my beliefs which makes me feel in harmony with how I feel inside, and out (FC). Spirituality encourages an attitude of being at peace with oneself, others, and all living things (EC). At times how an individual operates within the world is inuenced by their relationship with a higher power or being. Spirituality is the personal experience and lifestyle of those who are in reverence to a superior being. It is being lled with the spirit of God and living so that all people will see that something is different in you. It is allowing ones moods and feelings be [sic] under control of that superior being (A). It is a sense of an untangible [sic] force working in the world, helping to guide and shape the events that happen. It is a belief that we as humans have a purpose and that things unfold for us accordingly (A). More concretely spirituality serves as a guide on how to live life. Spirituality is a life code that involves living your life as a good person; treating others well and being as seless as possible, while treating yourself and your body with respect as well (A). It is a way of living based on ones fundamental values (FC) that directs and guides a human beings thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and destiny (EC). It is a way of thinking and being that makes me act in a certain way in my life. It is my divine drive, my Conscience that orients and directs me in my life (FC). Religious beliefs can inform ones lived spirituality. I consider being spiritual believing in one Godwalking in His Ways and being obedient to His Wordthe Bible (FC). Being Spiritual is living one rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (EC). From a more Eastern perspective:
Spirituality is the most simple way of life, which brings calm and peace and taking life one step at a time. Living life in balance, being centered in ones spirit, knowing we all have an innate goodness and simply bringing it to the front of our lives. (EC)

Regardless of religious perspective, spirituality represents a faith in something unseen that guides actions and decisions regarding relationships with people and the earth as a whole on an everyday basis (A).

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness






Spirituality represents a belief in a god or higher power that exists beyond the self and the mundane world. Participants dene this belief in a higher power from within and outside of the context of religious beliefs. Spirituality is a belief in some kind of higher power that guides the universe. This belief can be in a traditional sort of God or any one of many other forms of belief in a higher power (A). Spirituality is a profound certitude in the existence of God (FC). But more than a belief, spirituality is the experience of a personal relationship with a higher power. Spirituality is a term relative to my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It refers to the connection that I might have at any given time with him (A). It is the personal relationship with God, Trinity (FC). This relationship is conceived as an intimate connection, which emanates from deep within the self:
It is the meeting with God, Father, Son, and Spirit through faith . . . It is the meeting with the Divine, with the heart and mind through will. It is I who accept and need His presence in my life. (FC)

Spirituality is to be connected with God through your inner man which is your spirit (A). It is an intimate relationship with God . . . having the Holy spirit dwell with you (A). At times this connection moves beyond the felt presence of the Divine to encompass a dialogue with ones higher power. This relationship with a higher power is active and interactive. To me spirituality means a oneness with a god, an understanding of my God . . . I talk to my God, I do not ask, I inform my God about my actions and I expect him to either agree or disagree (EC). Spirituality is a personal, close relationship between me and the God of the Universe . . . I have a personal relationship where I talk to him (through praying) and he talks to me through my reading His Holy Word (A). It is an openness to the voice and direction of God . . . willingness to walk in his way and delight in his will (EC). Spirituality evolves as an ongoing personal relationship with God that grows and develops throughout life (A) and in turn inuences ones sense of identity or self. Spirituality is holding a sense of who you are by acknowledging a higher being that is responsible for our creation (A). It is the relationship between you and your maker . . . level of consciousness by with [sic] you evaluate your life and emotions (O). In the context of this relationship, spirituality allows a felt experience of or emotional connection to life. Spirituality is feeling emotionally, psychologically, and physically connected to a higher being or to the world around you (A). It is the feeling of being united with the universe, a higher being, and/or humanity. A state of being that calms, heals, and uplifts emotion (A).


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In many cases, participants did not identify a specic being, God, or higher power but dened spirituality in terms related to the numinous and mystical. Spirituality is identied as a link to a greater force, energy, or spiritual essence that is unknown and intangible but that nonetheless plays an important role in how life unfolds. Spirituality is the understanding that you have faith in something that you will never fully comprehend, however this, power, energy, entity is dene [sic] (A). It is a sense of divine, which does not necessarily mean the presence of god (as I am an Atheist), but the ability to feel numinous (A). Spirituality is to believe in a Great Whole. We are part of this Whole. It is energy, life, the never ending cycle of life and death (FC). It is connecting with a deep sense of the numinous within, a feeling of the divine in all that we are (EC). Spirituality involves a level of connectedness to and awareness of the spiritual forces in life and the universe . . . good that is higher than human reality (A). It is discovering meaningfulness residing outside of an egocentric self, feeling connected to some higher force or meaning but not necessarily being able to name it or dene it for others (E). As such spirituality involves an openness to beliefs for which there is not necessarily any concrete evidence (A), beliefs that touch on the supernatural. Spirituality is a sense of the other in life, of a reality that is not physical but interacts upon/with the physical (EC). It is acknowledging energies owing through nature and our ability to utilize and affect those energies for the human conditions of good or evil (A). Spirituality involves recognition that there are unseen or supernatural forces in the world, taking value in things beyond material (A). Spirituality exists as a belief in nonphysical, supernatural, unsubstantiated things and a belief that these things can guide, assist, or strengthen or that these invisible things are signicant to human beings (E). CONNECTION

Spirituality represents a belief in a universal connection, a connection with nature, other human beings, and deity (A). Spirituality to me means recognizing ones own spirit and its connection to the universe . . . that the individual consciousness is connected to all consciousness, everywhere and in everything (EC). Spirituality is about looking beyond common sense, it is to reach toward the universe and to understand what connects us all to the universe and to each other (FC). For some, spirituality is experienced in ones everyday relationships with family, friends and the greater community. I dene spirituality in terms of relationship. Relationship with God and others. This relationship involves faithfulness, love, helping, commitment, giving, forgiving (A). For others, spirituality is manifested in ones connection to nature or the environment. Spirituality is a connectedness

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness


with all animate/inanimate life, all that is, has been and is to come both great and small (EC). It is being aware of an inner depth in the environment and in association with nature and creation. Being able to feel emotional connectedness with nature and creativity (O). This belief in a connection with the greater universe underpins an individuals sense of meaning and understanding of life purpose. To me it [spirituality] means having a sense of meaning about the universe. In addition, you dont see everything as random, rather you believe that everything has a purpose (A). Spirituality is my connectedness to the universe. My perception and understanding of what happens to me, how I view what happens to me and the integration of these happens [sic] into the essence of who I am (A). It is a sense of grandour [sic] and awe at the universe, a feeling of unity with the world and mankind, feeling a sense of purpose in existence (O). In this sense, spirituality nurtures a cohesive sense of self and illuminates how one operates in the world:
Spirituality is the way in which I feel connected to others and nature and to something divine that is bigger then [sic] myself. Its the way that I recognize that I possess my own inner divinity that is a reection of something greater and the way in which I recognize and respect it in others and nature. (A)

Spirituality is the awareness that we are connected to a collective consciousness, to nature, to everything, along with the belief that a devotion to establishing and maintaining this connection can existentially create a greater well-being and personal fulllment (A). RELIGION For a few, spirituality represents and emanates directly from traditional religious beliefs and practices. To me this is how religious you are and how religious you feel (A). It is a state of believing in ones religion in a esoteric way (A). Spirituality refers to the level one thinks about or engages in spiritual and/or religious matters of substance: prayer, discourse, study, meditation, exploration. Likewise, it is the depth with which one practices ones beliefs (A). It is believing in one ideal or religion strongly, whatever it is, and seeing it in every day life (A). SPIRITUALITY

It was the rare participant who found spirituality to be either a vague and illdened term or a negative concept. One participant simply responded: I do not know (FC). Some explicitly dened spirituality as negative. Spirituality is nothing but a waste of mankinds ignorance (A), completely nothing (E),


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and idiocy (E). For others, the negative nature of spirituality was implied in their denitions. Spirituality is a sort of vague enthusiasm for the supernatural forces and meanings underlying the universe (A). It is a belief in some kind of invisible man/woman/spirit thing that has not proven its existence in any way and is completely illogical (A). Spirituality was even seen as a cop-out in that it is something you say when you dont wanna [sic] say you have a denate [sic] religion (A).

Denition of Religiousness
Six universal themes were drawn from the data on the denition of religiousness across all groups. RELIGION The term religiousness is primarily associated with facets of traditional religion including religious afliation and organization, adherence to religious beliefs, doctrine and dogma, and participation in religious practices. Religiousness is belonging to a religion, a hierarchic and authoritarian institution, beliefs, values, behaviors (FC). It is an adherence to an historical religious tradition (e.g. Christianity) expressed through a commitment to its rituals, teachings, policies, structures, and sources of authority (EC). Religiousness represents man made laws (EC), rules, and teachings that are meant to guide life. Religiousness is the following of laws and rules set fourth [sic] by a certain religion. It is the beliefs of a certain group and the constant fullling of those laws (A). These rules and regulations are at times perceived to be limited in scope and meaning. Religiousness is to belong to an organization that sets rules of conduct based on mans understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Limited structures when it comes to good and evil; organization controlled by humans (FC). Succinctly put, it is faith by the book (A). Associated with a set of rules, religiousness in turn dictates the performance of specic religious practices and behaviors. Religiousness involves organized religion, church rituals and forms of prayer (EC), regular discipline of prayer, meditation and contemplation . . . regular attendance at public worship . . . regular study of the Bible/other holy writings (EC) and participation in religious ceremonies or religious actions (A). BELIEF



Religiousness is seen as a belief in a high power such as God, Allah, and Buddha. Someone or something one person will turn to (A) or in deity or deities, which have supernatural powers over the universe (A). This belief in a higher power is typically dened from the perspective of a specic

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness


religion. Religiousness is a belief system in God or a Higher Power within a given code of laws, thought patterns, actions, expectations and demands (EC). It is a practice thats governed by ones perception of a higher power (A) as well as the degree to which a person proclaims to give devotion to God (A). Whereas spirituality was dened as the experience of a relationship with a higher power, religiousness is identied as a pathway or tool to experience or express ones connection with God. It is a way to express ones relationship with the transcendent (FC). Religiousness is:
The act of praying, going to church in order to be in contact with God. It is to believe in God and to integrate God into ones spirituality. There are symbols that exist and which help me to be in contact with God. (FC)

It is a physical support of ritual and discipline to maintain conscious connection inwardly with God and outwardly to create a Godly environment (EC). Religiousness is a way to enhance or nurture ones relationship with God. It involves being faithful to a higher being by practicing the religious beliefs (A) and being faithful to your Lord and doing anything in your power to please Him (A). Religiousness can be reected in a loving God (EC) or in a fearful God. Religiousness is the fear of God between you and your self, sometimes u [sic] think that no body [sic] is watching you, and you do alot of bad stuff, but if you have fear that god is aware and hes watching every thing youre doing, then that will be a religiousness [sic] (A). LIFE

Religiousness was seen to provide moral and ethical prescriptions to guide individuals life choices. It involves believing in an established religion and its scripture/literature, choosing to live ones life in practical/behavioral obedience to the values and morals revealed in this religion (A). From a Jewish participant, religiousness is:
Living a life that is guided by religious law and religious values. Religious observance, in regard to Judaism: following Jewish Law (Halacha). Integrating your religious identity and the teachings of religion to every aspect of your life and trying to live life in accordance with the Law. (O)

While Christian participants noted that religiousness means The Holy Trinity, Obeying the 10 commandments, the sacraments, faith, hope and charity (O) and living a God/Christ-centred lifestyle (EC). For some, religiousness provides meaning in life. I feel that religion is something that gives us a purpose, so we have something to look forward to (A). More concretely, it helps individuals navigate their interpersonal relationships:


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Religiousness in MY opinion, is how active an individual is within their religion and as they interact with people. Me, I wouldnt say I am very religious-active-in my church; however, I do keep Christian morals at hand as I hang out with my friends. (A)



For some, religiousness is simply a manifestation of ones faith or spirituality. The image used to say what faith is; to give money, to light votive candles and pray God and ask God to help us. (FC). To me, religiousness is the outward demonstration of spiritual beliefs. (A). It is an aspect of ones spirituality which manifests itself through corporate worship and participation in the life and work of a church (EC). For others, religiousness is viewed as a way of not just expressing, but experiencing and nurturing ones spirituality. This [religious traditions and ceremonies] is a display of ones spirituality . . . practice that makes ones faith and spirituality stronger (EC). Everything that one puts into practice; ones devotion toward religion and the Church are part of spirituality. It is a quest that brings one inward, the discovery of ones essence (FC). Religiousness is seen as a vehicle that aids in transporting believers to a level by which they can attain spirituality. It offers hope, builds faith (A). Religiousness as a commitment is intended to cultivate spirituality in its adherents, as spirituality is understood in that [specic religious] tradition (EC). In essence, religiousness provides an identiable structure or schema in which ones spirituality is situated. It is the form which spirituality can take; the way we express spirituality alone and with other people according to rituals we chose to do (FC). Religion gives me a context, a framework within which to understand, experience (to a certain extent) and to express my spiritual experience (EC). Religiousness is the structure for my spirituality. I do not believe spirituality can be seperated [sic] from religious practices (A). The framework of religiousness allows individuals to understand the mysteries:
Religiousness is a ways and means . . . to grips [sic] with the unknown entity of spirituality. A form of controlling the unknowable. An attempt to dene the undenable [sic]. Sets of dogmas used as a means to, perhaps, bring order to thoughts and feelings about that which is simply too big and wide for humans to comprehend in its entirety. (EC)



For several participants, the term religiousness elicited negative descriptors including: blindness (A), corruption, greed, segregation, selshness, false hope and fear (A), falseness (A), idiocy (E), and a pathetic waste of time (A). Religiousness is seen to have a negative impact on individuals

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sense of self, their autonomy and their personal spirituality. It is closed boxes that imprison people in one way of thinking, and that explain to people what spirituality is (FC).
Religiousness is not thinking for ones self, being conditioned to believe what you are told. Fearing that which is different from what you have been led to believe. Not taking responsibility for ones actions and reactions. Leaving it all up to God, or whoever you believe is the supreme leader of your religion. Not recognizing ones own spirit and the connection it has to the Universe, the One Consciousness. (EC)

Further, religiousness involves practicing ones faith without question (A) and believing in a set of rules, right and wrong because a God says to (A). It involves conforming to a set of beliefs which have been laid down in scriptures or by gures of authority. Unquestioning belief . . . The following of commands or rituals in order to appease a higher being, or in order to obey a gure of authority within your religion (A). Religiousness involves the act of performing religious activities . . . out of a sense of duty and not due to emotional and spiritual motivations (A). Such constraints on independent thought can lead to a lack of personal development or spiritual growth. Religiousness can lend itself to short-sightedness and prejudice (A) as well as dulls the mind rather than enlightens it (A). Religiousness or religiosity can get in the way of spirituality. Strictly following rules of the church (person devised) can make one feel superior and comfortable, but those elements become shallow and self-serving (EC). It is a way to take the power away from the individual and make them greatful [sic] to some external source. A way of devaluing, denying those who are not religious [in] their spirituality (E).
I know this isnt part of the denition but . . . guess . . . the religious are generally willing to ignore reason, justice and their own wellbeing if thats what it takes to be good members of the ock. Spirituality meets Stockholm Syndrome basically. (A).

Finally, some believe that religiousness is a balm for the morally, emotionally, and/or intellectually weak individual:
Religiousness is buying into a sociocultural group for support because you are afraid that your life is meaningless. As long as you are surrounded by people that believe the same thing you can fool yourself into believing that its true. You are scared because you dont know where existence came from and what happens to a person when they die. Instead of facing the evidence presented by empirical observations of the world around us, you opt to believe in fairy tales. (A)


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It is strict moral codes for people who can not [sic] take responsibility for their own morality and must have a reward for doing the just thing (A). In turn, religiousness is open to misinterpretation and misuse. Although it can embody fundamental values such as respect, love, forgiveness . . . beautiful values often misinterpreted by man. Man is weak, but becomes strong when he applies THE truth (FC). Religiousness can involve a focus on mans corruption of the Word. The Word meaning Jesus Christ. Humanity turning the living word of God into another set of rules and laws (A). As such, the religiousness of some may have a negative effect on others. Most simply, religiousness becomes a source of destruction for mankind (EC). EXTRINSIC

For a few individuals, religiousness is viewed as something outside of me (FC), external; more social community; less personal (EC). Religiousness is typically born within the family environment and as adults can foster a sense of belonging with family, friends and the greater community. Religiousness is something I received when I was very young. Going to church, praying at a young age, with my family, have guided and lit up my life (FC). Religiousness is the desire to follow certain rituals and rules in order to feel one belongs to a group (A).
[It] is rather social, and being part of a community, and not something personal as spirituality. There are dogmas, signs (rituals) one must learn. A number of people connect because of their belonging to a specic religious group such as Catholicism. For me, religiousness is more outwardly oriented than inwardly. (FC)

At times individuals may experience pressure to conform to religious doctrine in order to belong or to be viewed as acceptable: trying to follow laws and rules to prove to outsiders and to God that we are true Christians (A). Religiousness is hard to explain. When I see that word I feel it means people that put on a coat of actions that are to [be] perceived as good by outsiders looking in (A).

Function of Spirituality in Coping

In addition to the dening the terms spirituality and religiousness, participants were asked to describe the function of spirituality in coping with life stress. Participants utilized spirituality in coping with a variety of stressful events (e.g., death of a loved one) as well as with the demands of everyday life. Spirituality functioned to support coping, provide meaning and emotional support, engender positive emotions and attitude, and enhance self (e.g., inner strength, self-esteem). Participants also reported that spirituality

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supported a diversity of meaning in response to stressful events. Specic meaning-making attempts in understanding stressful life events included: (a) taking a greater perspective: seeing self as part of creation, a larger reality, or as in unity with world; having lessons to be learned and providing a life focus; (b) seeing a link to a higher power: believing God as present and that one is not alone, God has empathy, a higher being is in control, has answers, and has some life purpose, God is not punishing; (c) accepting that the passage of time is important: time will help in that healing will occur/everything will be ne/all must pass, importance to focus on the now, acceptance; and (d) person has purpose: a persons work is not done, obstacles will be overcome. When asked to name events when spirituality was a hindrance, the vast majority of participants reported no events or left the question unanswered. Some participants noted that they could not understand the question, as their spirituality was always a positive inuence in their coping. When participants were able to identify an event, they reported that specic beliefs or negative emotions were the source of difculty in relation to their spirituality. As well, spiritual struggle and doubt could serve as a stressful event. Under such circumstances participants noted that spirituality may have a negative impact in terms of impeding daily living (e.g., keeping one from seeing reality clearly), and causing interpersonal problems (e.g., disconnection), negative emotions (e.g., anger), and a descent into a negative spiritual struggle (e.g., view God as negative).

Group Trends
Group trends in terms of how spirituality and religiousness were dened emerged as one of the ndings this study. These differences indicate a culture of spirituality and religiousness that varies even among groups that may otherwise appear to share a similar culture. When asked about their level of religiousness, French and English Canadians, and Americans indicated some level of religious life, however English and French Canadians showed a stronger trend than Americans. In contrast, the majority of European respondents reported being less religious or not religious at all. In responding to questions about spirituality, both French and English Canadians perceived themselves as highly spiritual, whereas Americans showed a clearer tendency to describe themselves as spiritual. European respondents were more likely to describe themselves using the not spiritual category than any of the respondents in any of the other nationalities. When asked about the combination of spirituality and religion, English Canadians showed the strongest trend to perceiving themselves as both spiritual and religious, followed by French Canadians and Americans. In the same vein, about a third of French and English Canadians, perceived themselves as spiritual but not religious. In contrast, almost half of Europeans


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saw themselves as spiritual but not religious. Also, Europeans showed the strongest trend to being neither spiritual nor religious. Universal themes were extracted from the responses of all participants. However, some theme clusters were associated with certain groups. With the exception of a small number of Europeans, participants responded to spirituality as a highly meaningful term. All groups except Europeans placed some emphasis on the importance of a connection to God or a higher power as being a key component of spirituality. That is, only Europeans have reported a disconnection of the transcendent or sacred from the definition of spirituality. All groups talked about spirituality as being linked to the self and ones way of being in life. However, French Canadians most clearly dened spirituality as an individual state and process of beinga framework to understand self and how one is situated in and works in the world. The Europeans also connected spirituality to the core self as well as to a sense of mystery. Europeans were much less likely to link spirituality to a sense of the Divine or God. Greater commonality was found across groups in relation to the denition of spirituality. All groups emphasized that religiousness was rst and foremost dened in relation to the concepts of organized religion, religious beliefs and religious practices with English Canadians and Americans being particularly adamant about this concept.

In their personal reections, participants provided the many elements that they felt were signicant in dening spirituality. The themes emerging in relation to spirituality indicated that participants dened it as a critical dimension of their existence, externally but more importantly internally. Spirituality was seen as an important dening feature of how the self is seen, and how the self relates to others and to the world. Many saw their spirituality as a core part of themselves that is closely connected to exploration of interior life, and which hence leads to personal growth, maturity, and existential reconciliation. In sum, spirituality was seen as the nucleus of the self or the core self. In a second theme, spirituality was seen as framework or a guide for living and being with others: a life perspective. Participants shared the notion that possessing an active spirituality creates a perceptible difference in individuals, because it is a way of being. In this context, spirituality becomes concrete as it manifests itself in words, actions, and life decisions. Spirituality encompasses key values and ethics (e.g., respect for others) on how one should interact with the external world on a day-to-day basis. A distinct theme that ties spirituality to a Divine presence also emerged: relationship with God/higher power. Spirituality is the connection between the core self and the Divine. In essence, it is the part of the self that can

Denitions of Spirituality and Religiousness


see and sense the presence of the Divine other. This relationship is said to be marked by growth and mutuality, and has been described as having emotional, psychological, and even physical aspects. In a theme we labeled connection with mystery, participants shared that spirituality has a dimension of mystery that is not resolvable in terms of everyday reality. In other words, spirituality involves a component of faith and an acceptance that the spiritual experience is by its very nature mystical. There is recognition that one will not understand all of what happens in life and that an attitude of acceptance is necessary to negotiate such moments. The responses also indicated that spirituality was seen as an interconnectedness among elements of the universe and a connection with the world. In this theme, spirituality was dened relationally, not just to God and community, but also to the larger universe: nature, environment, animals. Many participants gave the impression that all things and beings are connected through spirituality, and indicated that this creates a deep sense of meaning, fulllment, and personal well-being. Spirituality was seen as the medium for this connection. Religion emerged as a distinct theme, and was described as a part of dening the core aspects of spirituality. Religion was seen as a framework for spirituality, and spirituality was seen to grow through many of the traditional religious practices such as prayer, dialogue with the Divine, and exploration of the core self. There was no clear dichotomy between spirituality and religion in this theme but rather that religious practice can facilitate spiritual development and growth. A nal theme emerged where some participants indicated that spirituality is a meaningless and harmful pursuit. Participants described spiritual beliefs as vague and unfounded, and an escape from commitment to reality. This nal theme is particularly interesting as it sets itself apart from the others, yet contains elements of themes already presented. For example, a lack of acceptance of the existence of a higher power and connection with mystery seems to drive the negative assessment of spirituality, yet both of these elements were cited as an integral part of the spiritual experience in previous themes. It would appear that believing in a higher power and accepting the mystery of spirituality are core conditions in dening spirituality positively or negatively. It follows from these ndings that these elements are among the more important features of the denition of spirituality. In terms of dening religiousness, certainly, the rst theme, religion or traditional religion indicates that elements such as traditional religious practice, afliation with organizations or denominations, and the adherence to doctrine are the primary dening features of religiousness. Similar themes to those dening spirituality emerged such as belief in God or a higher power and life perspective; however, the context was the higher authority and structures as dened by traditional religion. For example, when dening religiousness, belief in a higher power was connected to the belief system


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and practices or rituals of a specic religious tradition. Similarly to the definition of spirituality, the theme of life perspective emerged as important, but with a much more specic religious context, focusing on an adherence to specic religious code. That is, an individuals life perspective is an integration of religious law that enriches and informs daily life. For some participants, religious devotion was a way of expressing spirituality. Religiousness was viewed as a pathway to spirituality. In this theme, respondents shared that they lived their spirituality through their participation in religious life and shared worship. Spirituality was described as the lived experience of participating in the mission, work, and life of a religious community. Some dened religiousness as negative. Participants presented religiousness as a form of indoctrination and control of individual thought. In this theme, the respondents were critical of religion as dogmatic, exclusionary, prejudiced, and meaningless. In this more negative conceptualization, the rejected elements appear to be belief in a higher power, the disconnection from reality, and religious authority. Aside from the additional objection to religious authority, the negative conceptualization of religiousness seems to be parallel to negative perception of spirituality, indicating that fundamentally, spirituality and religion share a common denitional core whether these are accepted or rejected. There are many common threads tying the denition of spirituality to that of religiousness. As mentioned before, belief in a higher power and connection to mystery seem to be core features of spirituality. In a similar manner, belief in God and the idea of expressed faith and spirituality through religion seem to be core to the denition of religiousness. The greatest contrast between the two denitions appears to be around the level of structured expression of spirituality and specic guidelines for life perspective. Also, based on the responses collected here, the denition of spirituality seems to include a dimension of connection to the external world or a universal interconnection. This did not emerge as clearly in the denition of religiousness. In a nal theme labeled extrinsic value, some respondents saw religious life as a way of entering and being part of a community and that its value primarily lies in the ensuing benets; that is, instrumental and social support. However, this was not a strong theme. Although previously reported in the literature, the denition of religiousness and how it ts with the denition of spirituality might be evolving and changing to reect a more integrated view and a less dichotomous perception. Although there were similarities in the denitions of spirituality and religiousness across the different nationalities or regions, there were some notable differences in the emphasis each nationality placed on the various denitional components. European respondents were the most secular group in relation to their denition of spirituality, with the spiritual component of a connection with God or a higher power having little meaning. In

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contrast, French Canadians integrated the idea of a connection with God with their view of spirituality as a highly personal quest closely tied to ones self-identity. Although one may expect differences in spirituality and religiousness among different cultural and/or religious groups, the present study underscored that differences exist among various Western and even North American nationalities that share a similar religious heritage. Such differences have implications for research in terms of conceptualization and methodology. In particular, current research assessment tools that emphasis religious dimensions or connection with a higher power may not be generalizable across all Western nationalities. From a clinical perspective, many participants (despite nationality) perceive spirituality and religiousness to be a deeply felt experience that exists at the core of ones being that they draw on to understand and cope with the vicissitudes of life. Most importantly spirituality provides a framework from which to develop a sense of meaning or understanding of the events that happen in ones life. Given such ndings, it would be important to take spirituality into account during counseling sessions, or at the very least, at the level of the intake assessment to determine its potential role in relation to a clients presenting problem and his or her self concept. For example, if spirituality or religiousness is identied as relevant to a client, a counselor may ask how he or she denes his or her sense of spirituality/religiousness and how these concepts inform daily life.

Although the methodology of the present study allowed for a broader sampling of participants from a variety of nationalities and regions, limitations remain. First, the sample size for the European and Others groups was small, thus, their denitions of spirituality may have been more limited and perhaps skewed. As well, the American and European groups were younger (on average below 30 years old) and less likely to be married than the French and English Canadians and the others group. This age difference may account for the less religious nature of the American sample in particular as compared to previous research from the United States. The use of the Internet as a means of data collection may in part have contributed to this younger sample. Future Internet-based studies need to broaden their recruitment strategies by advertising through links to Web sites that target older adults.

There is an increased need to recognize the importance of spirituality and religiousness in the political, economic, and scientic trends of our times.


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How spirituality and religiousness are dened, and whether these denitions overlap or diverge, are likely determined by many factors including religious heritage, culture, generation, and nationality. Our ndings support the idea that religiousness and spirituality, and the connection between them is dynamic and shifting. As a consequence of this continuous change, the conceptualization of spirituality and religiousness, and how they impact on the life of the individual, community, and a nation must also evolve.

1. Quotes are identied in relation to nationality and culture: French Canadian (FC), English Canadian (EC), American (A), European including United Kingdom (E), others including Asia, Africa, et cetera. (O). It should be noted that French Canadian comments have been translated into English.

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