'Spiritual but not religious': What does it mean? Survey offers clues

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — It’s almost reached the level of cliche in American society: You ask
someone why they don’t go to church, and they reply, “Oh, I’m spiritual but not

But what
does that mean? A survey conducted jointly by the Public Religion Research
Institute and Florida State University does not provide hard-and-fast answers,
but it offers clues.

asking respondents directly whether they considered themselves spiritual but
not religious — or at any other spot on the spirituality-religiosity spectrum —
the survey tried to tease out what made them different from their fellow

tried eight different measures to get a spiritual analysis,” said Dan Cox, PRRI
research director. “Three (measures) really held together: They felt particularly
connected to the world around them, they felt a part of something larger than
the just themselves, and they found a larger purpose in life.”

determine whether survey respondents were religious, “we took a more
conventional approach: frequency of worship attendance and salience — how
important people said religion was in their life,” Cox said.

the near-ubiquity of the “spiritual but not religious” comment, this group was
the smallest of the four designations, at 18 percent. Those who are neither
spiritual nor religious constitute 31 percent, those who are both spiritual and
religious make up 29 percent, and those who are not spiritual but religious account
for 22 percent.

didn’t really look at the actual practices,” Cox told Catholic News Service in
a Nov. 8 telephone interview, although that may be part of a future survey involving
the same respondents. “We looked at yoga and meditation. The spiritual folks
are more likely to meditate but not to participate in yoga. Those are the only
two behaviors that we looked at.”

intent of the study was to “look at what difference, if any, that spirituality
makes in people’s behavior and life satisfaction. According to our definition
of spirituality, it has a discernible impact,” Cox said. “How they treat other
people, pro-social behaviors, holding the door open for someone, letting others
cut in line.”

the not religious but spiritual group, 62 percent said they had listened to
someone talk about a problem in the past week; 49 percent
reported they were moved, touched or inspired while watching television in the
last week — double that of the 24 percent of nonspiritual Americans;
and 72 percent said the statement “if I had to list everything I felt grateful
for, it would be a very long list” describes them either exactly or very well.

activity is a greater source of inspiration than listening to music,” the
survey report said. “Roughly seven in 10 (71 percent) spiritual Americans — including
69 percent of the spiritual but not religious — say they have been touched,
moved or inspired within the last week while listening to a song or piece of

is obviously a concept that can be difficult to pin down. The GSS — the General
Social Survey (by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of
Chicago) — is a large data set. And it asks, ‘Do you consider yourself a religious
person, do you consider yourself a spiritual person?’ That’s not the approach that
we took,” Cox said.

The Pew
Research Center, he added, also asks respondents to identify themselves as
spiritual or religious or not, and comes up with a higher percentage than did
PRRI. Therefore, the 18 percent figure can’t be compared to a number arrived by
a different survey using different measuring methods.

they growing, are they shrinking? We don’t know,” Cox said. One thing is for
sure, he noted: “Interest in spirituality is increasing. There’s some signs of

Americans who are spiritual but not religious still identify with a religious
tradition,” said the survey report, released Nov. 6.

Catholics, who made up 18 percent of the 2,016 subjects in the phone and online interview
pool this spring, 32 percent are both spiritual and religious, 31 percent are
not spiritual but religious, 22 percent are neither spiritual nor religious,
and 15 percent are spiritual but not religious.

split according to religious affiliation, unaffiliated respondents were highest in being
neither spiritual nor religious (65 percent) and being spiritual but not religious
(29 percent, with non-Christians at 28 percent), and lowest on being both
spiritual and religious (1 percent). 

Black Protestants were highest at being
not spiritual but religious (39 percent) and lowest at being neither spiritual
nor religious (8 percent) and being spiritual but not religious (tied at 5
percent with white evangelicals). White evangelicals were highest at being both
spiritual and religious at 54 percent, and non-Christians were lowest at being
not spiritual but religious, at 9 percent.

survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

– – –

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article