Secular spirituality

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Main article: Spirituality

Secular spirituality refers to the adherence to a spiritual ideology without the advocation of a religious framework. Secular spirituality emphasizes the inner peace of the individual rather than a relationship with the divine. Secular spirituality can be understood as the search for meaning outside of a religious institution; in regards to ones relationship with the: self, others, nature and whatever else one considers to be the ultimate.[1] Often, the goal of secular spirituality is living happily and/or to help others.[2]

According to Robert C. Solomon, an American Professor of Philosophy, "spirituality is coextensive with religion and it is not incompatible with or opposed to science or the scientific outlook. Naturalized spirituality is spirituality without any need for the 'other‐worldly.' Spirituality is one of the goals, perhaps the ultimate goal, of philosophy." [3] Spirituality can be experienced through a secular or non-religious world view, without the need for a concept of 'higher power' or a 'supernatural being.' Some traditionally religious practices have been adapted by secular practitioners under a strictly spiritual understanding, such as yoga and mindfulness meditation.


Secular spirituality emphasizes humanistic qualities such as love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, responsibility, harmony and a concern for others.[4]:22 Aspects of life and human experience which go beyond a purely materialistic view of the world, without necessarily accepting belief in a supernatural reality or divine being. Mindfulness and meditation can be practiced in order to cherish, foster, and promote the development of ones empathy, and more effectively manage selfish drivers of behaviour, with solicitude and forgiveness. This can be experienced as beneficial, or even necessary for human fulfillment, without any supernatural interpretation or explanation. Spirituality in this context may be a matter of nurturing thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony, with a belief that everything in the universe is mutually dependent. Scholar Daniel Dennett suggests spirituality to be connected to "awe and joy and sense of peace and wonder," suggesting "people make a mistake of thinking spirituality... has anything to do with either religious doctrines... or the supernatural," instead claiming spirituality can be and is often entirely secular.[5]


Cornel W Du Toit[edit]

Cornel W Du Toit is currently a professor at the University of South Africa, who completed his studies at the Institute for Theology and Missiology. Toit defines “secular spirituality” as a contemporary phenomenon of spirituality experienced in spheres separate from structured, institutionalized religion.[6] Toit cites McGrath’s definition of spirituality in his discussion of the secularly spiritual, arguing that spirituality generally concerns: “the quest for a fulfilled and authentic life, involving the bringing together of the ideas distinctive of… [some] religion and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of that religion.”[6] Toit argues that secular spirituality is different than earlier spiritualities, as developments in the prevailing worldview affect spirituality.This is because Spirituality experienced in a world of phantoms and magic, gods and demons where humans believed to be at the mercy of forces they cannot control is different from spirituality experienced in the current technoscientific world.[6] Toit believes that the increase in explanations for what was previously seen as spiritual, “unexplainable” instances of awe, has increased individual's tendency to call any experience that seems special, “spiritual.” Toit argues that any realm can evoke an instance of spirituality, whether through reading a novel, watching a movie or going on a hike.[6]

Secular spirituality is not a new religion, but rather the potential for all experiences to assume a spiritual quality, not limited by a religious or transcendent realm. While industrialism has led to increasing urbanization, creating an individualistic culture of modernism that underpins secularism in the West, Toit argues that secular spirituality is inherently communal.[6] Toit believes that instances of awe-filled emotions may be experienced individually, but they should ultimately contribute to the collective if they are to be considered secular spiritual experiences. Toit argues that “the spiritual experience was never an end in itself...Any spirituality that does not produce service is false.[6]

Peter Van der Veer[edit]

Peter Van der Veer defines secular spirituality as being based on the combination emphasis on group national and political identities through secularization and the desire for a unifying spiritual belief. For Van der Veer, secular spirituality arose in communities through the simultaneous rise of secularism and spirituality in the nineteenth century.[7] He identifies spirituality, the secular, and religion as three interacting but independent concepts. For Van der Veer the combination of the spiritual and the secular allows a bridge of discursive traditions in a global-historical context that preserves transnational identities.[8] This global difference develops from the uneven integration of spirituality into secular society on the levels of social, market and political integration.[9] Secular spirituality is not bound to tradition and is able to identify with the ideas of nineteenth century secularity. It does not reject the ideas of liberalism, socialism or science but instead understands itself as occurring in parallel with these aspects of contemporary society.[7]


Online Spirituality[edit]

Religions and religious movements have a strong online presence, which are often sorted into two categories: "religion-online" and "online-religion."[10] As coined by Christopher Helland, "religion-online" is understood as "importing traditional forms of religion online," and "online-religion" is uniquely secularly spiritual, in that it adapts "religion to create new forms of networked spiritual interactions."[10] The internet is ubiquitous in its ability to "cross social and cultural borders," creating a "non-threatening environment" that is ideal for anonymous users to engage in "spiritual searching."[11] Spiritual discussion and consideration without the label of a particular religious movement is often thought to have began with and be most influenced by "Communitree," a "California-based online social networking system."[12] The "Origins" board on Communitree promoted "open-ended forms of religious discussion," resulting in an unofficial “set of religious and quasi-religious beliefs and practices that is not accepted, recognized or controlled by official religious groups."[12] Communitree is often associated with personal religiosity and individualized spirituality, as this entirely secular platform allowed for conversation to occur without a "set doctrine, code of ethics or group of religious professionals to regulate belief and practices."[12] Outside of Communitree, the Internet contains countless forums, websites, and messaging systems. These platforms allow for information regarding spiritual ideas to be accessed, and connections to be made between spiritual beings who are offering or seeking advice.[11]


A defining feature of secular spirituality is that instances of secular spirituality can occur in any realm. In the present techno-scientific age, instances of secular spirituality are increasingly mediated through technology. For many religious people, technology can be seen as an alienating force, “the encapsulation of human rationality” that offers a means of competing with religion and spirituality as opposed to mediating/facilitating it. As follows, the spiritual dimension assigned to technology represents a recent shift in the discussion. According to Newman (1997:110-111) “technology’s very success is contributing to the realization of ideals such as freedom, knowledge, happiness, and peace." This may lead people to believe that "technology is a proper successor to religion,” but this is certainly not the case, as general levels of religiosity in the West have barely declined since the Enlightenment period. As follows, the current “attribution of spiritual meaning to the digital realm” represents a remarkable change in how spirituality has traditionally been mediated. Secular spirituality is a phenomenon that recognizes the link between technology and spirituality, as opposed to viewing technology as in competition with spirituality.


in the West is integrally linked to secularization.[13] This secularization began in India in the 1930s, when yoga teachers began to look for ways to make yoga accessible to the general public.[13] Yoga has undeniably Hindu roots, first mentioned in the Katha Upanisad.[14] Despite these roots, yoga has been secularized, and often referred to as being “ancient Indian,” “Eastern,” or “Sanskritic,” rather than as Hindu due to a desire to avoid any religious connotations.[15] Modern Western yoga is thought to "not require adoption of religious beliefs or dogma," despite Hindu origins.[16] In the West, yoga has been "modernized, medicalized, and transformed into a system of physical culture." [17] This system of physical culture has transformed yoga "into an individualized spirituality of the self," creating an activity that is very popular within secular societies, drawing off portrayals of yoga as "mystical, experiential and individualistic." [18][19] Western yoga students cite health, fitness, and stress reduction as reasons for yogic practice, rather than traditional Hindu motivations and goals such as enlightenment.[20] However, many practice in order to reach "contemplative states of consciousness and spirituality," a goal that falls within the realm of secular spirituality.[16] In a study of Ashram residents, researchers found residents were more likely to respond they had an “experience of oneness" during or after a yoga class and felt more "in touch with divine or spiritual” after a class than control groups, leaving researchers to believe yoga practice enhances transformational processes, including spiritual states.[21]


While meditation is traditionally considered a component of Buddhism, mindfulness meditation has become a way to exercise secular spirituality, particularly in the West.[22] Meditation is considered a "spiritual alternative" to conventional values and goals, such as those found in traditional religious situations.[23] Mindfulness-based stress reduction, while traditionally linked to the Buddhist understanding of Samadhi, has become medicalized in the secular aim of reducing illness, rather than the traditional Buddhist goal of religious liberation.[24] As such, this medicalized, secularized version of spiritual meditation has been allowed into secular institutions within Western society, such as hospitals and schools.[25] Research done at Bowling Green State University has shown that mindfulness practitioners who identify as spiritual, as opposed to non-spiritual, benefit more fully from mindfulness practice, more significantly decreasing their anxiety, increasing the positivity of their moods and increasing their ability to tolerate pain.[26] The Dalai Lama has suggested exportation of meditation as a "human practice," rather than strictly religious.[27] As such, the secular nature of meditation "for the goal of universal human benefit" is emphasized, allowing for secular, spiritual but non-religious participation.[27] While meditation is entirely individual, it also relies on and creates social connection, building community through shared spirituality despite secular contexts.[23]


Marisa Crawford points to the importance of including secular spirituality in the Canadian curriculum.[28] Crawford argues that a push for a secular public education system deprives students of the opportunity to explore life’s “ultimate questions of heart and soul.”[28] Crawford believes that there is a way to integrate spirituality into the secular sphere, without indoctrinating, but rather allowing students to investigate how individuals and cultures have addressed spiritual concerns and issues.[28] Public schools in Canada generally exclude the spiritual or transcendent dimension of human life from their explanation of religion and have thus bought into a brand of secularism that has excluded spirituality, giving students the false impression that spirituality has never been an important part of the human experience.[28] Crawford argues that the deflection of students’ inner questions about religion or spirituality is commonplace and contributes to misunderstandings and ignorance about religion and spirituality.[28]

According to Crawford, knowledge about religion and spirituality is essential for understanding and living in a pluralistic society.[28] While textbooks include explanations of the rituals and practices that certain religious groups practice, textbooks rarely discuss religion’s role in shaping human thought and action.[28] In British Columbia, the School Acts states that public schools must be conducted on “strictly secular and non-sectarian principles,” thereby alienating young people to “questions that both enliven and vex the human spirit.”[28] Lois Sweet argues that “public schools must begin to examine ways to include the spiritual dimension of human existence in a non-indoctrinating way,” through teaching worldviews that are sensitive to religious differences and emphasize the features of religion and spirituality that overlap.[28] Sweet points to the fact that the requirement for secularism in Canadian public schools simply signals the need for “educational decisions and policies, whatever their motivation, to respect the multiplicity of religious and moral views that are held by families in the school community,” not ignore their discussion.[28]

According to a UNESCO report on education: “It is thus education’s noble task to encourage each and every one, acting in accordance with their traditions and convictions and paying full respect to pluralism, to lift their minds and spirits to the plane of the universal and, in some measure, to transcend themselves.”[28] According to Crawford, excluding religion from the curriculum, endorses a passive hostility towards all religious point of view. According to Thomas Groome, nurturing a sacramental cosmology – an awareness that each aspect of life manifests visible signs of invisible grace, educators can promote an attitude of gratitude to and reverence for the world.[28] Through doing so, Groome argues that educators can encourage students to “bring light to the thousands of wonders and transcendent signals in the ordinary things of life ...contemplating the world with a gaze of faith that encourages seeking meaning and celebrating instances of awe.”[28] Through integrating a sacramental Cosmology into the Canadian Public Education system, Groome argues that students will be provided more opportunities to understand and appreciate the web of humanity – including love, friendship, exploring the intricate and consistent designs and patterns of science... leading to contemplative wonder that is rooted in compassionate and loving relationships that embrace meaningful knowing.”[28] Crawford argues that the curriculum will have to avoid promoting one particular religious or areligious point of view. The curriculum would have to introduce students to a diversity of world views and spiritual options “allowing them critical access to alternative traditions so that informed insight and wisdom may flourish through the development of spiritual literacy.”[28]

Chicano Spirituality[edit]

Chicano spirituality is a form of Mexicanism; a nationalist spiritual ideology that developed in Mexico and the Southern United States in the 1960's as a response to political and cultural mistreatment.[29] Chicano spirituality uses a combination of rituals from Mexica, popular Catholic traditions and secular Mexican traditions to forge an identity for the Chicano people, in between that of indigenous and Hispanic people, as an independent ethnic minority.[30] The Chicano identify as heirs to Aztec lineage, and use this to justify their demands for territory and recognition in civil rights.[31] Aztlán is the imagined territory that is the centre of the Anhuac tribes of whom the Chicano claim to be the descendants.[32] It was the Anhuac settlement of origin in North America before they migrated south to form the Aztec Empire. Chicano spiritual practice includes the celebration of Mexican civic holidays, and uniquely Chicano-Mexicanist rites of passage. One ritual, called Xilonen is a rite of passage celebrated by fifteen year old Chicano girls, to symbolically teach them the social order and role of women in families. In the context of the modern Chicano movement it is used as an identity that transcends modern national boundaries, connected by a shared connection to Aztec ethnic identity, and the abstract idea that their homeland existed in territory that is now the southern United States.[31]

The idea of the Aztlán homeland is imaginary, but supported by factors in pre-Hispanic history and allow the Chicano to stake a more firmer for the place of their spiritual identity. The origins of the tribes that later inhabited Mexico were in North America, and these tribes later migrated to Mexico, meaning that the Nahua tribes could have inhabited territory that includes parts of modern Mexico and the United States. Another factor in the Chicano claim to territorial place is that until 1848, much of what now forms the United States was territory included in Mexico. Finally, the flow of migrant populations in the twentieth century meant that a number of Mexican nationals moved between the United States and Mexico seasonally, forming a ties to both locales.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elkins, D. N., Hedstrom, L. J., Hughes, L. L., Leaf, J. A., & Saunders, C. (1988). Toward a humanistic- phenomenological spirituality. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 28, 10.
  2. ^ "The Lost Art of Being Happy; Spirituality for Sceptics" Tony Wilkinson. Findhorn Press 2007. ISBN 1-84409-116-3
  3. ^ Spirituality for the Skeptic: The Thoughtful Love of life Robert C. Solomon. Oxford Scholarship Online 2003. ISBN 9780195134674
  4. ^ Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, NY:Riverhead Books, 1999
  5. ^ "Daniel Dennett Discusses Secular Spirituality | Big Think". Big Think. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Sabinet - Secular spirituality versus secular dualism : towards postsecular holism as model for a natural theology". Retrieved 2015-11-07. 
  7. ^ a b Van der Veer, Peter (Winter 2009). "Spirituality in Modern Society". Social Research: An International Quarterly: 1101. 
  8. ^ Veer, Peter van der (2011-03-01). "Spirit". Material Religion 7 (1): 124–130. doi:10.2752/175183411X12968355482330. ISSN 1743-2200. 
  9. ^ Van der Veer, Social Research: An International Quarterly. "Spirituality in Modern Society". Social Research: An International Quarterly: 1098. 
  10. ^ a b Helland, C. (2000). Online-religion/religion-online and virtual communitas. In J. K. Hadden & D. E. Cowan (Eds.), Religion on the Internet: Research prospects and promises (pp. 205-223). New York: JAI Press.
  11. ^ a b Campbell, Heidi (2006). "Religion and the Internet". Communication Research Trends. 
  12. ^ a b c Beaman, Lori G. (2012). Religion and Canadian Society: Contexts, Identities, and Strategies. anadian Scholars’ Press. p. 376. 
  13. ^ a b Carrette, Jeremy; King, Richard (2005). Selling spirituality : the silent takeover of religion (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. p. 117. ISBN 0415302099. 
  14. ^ Shattuck, Cybelle (1999). Hinduism. London: Routledge. p. 29edition=[Online-Ausg.]. ISBN 0415211638. 
  15. ^ Jain, Andrea R. (2014). Selling yoga : from counterculture to pop culture. Oxford University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0199390243. 
  16. ^ a b Büssing, Arndt; Hedtstück, Anemone; Khalsa, Sat Bir S.; Ostermann, Thomas; Heusser, Peter (2012). "Development of Specific Aspects of Spirituality during a 6-Month Intensive Yoga Practice". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012: 1. doi:10.1155/2012/981523. 
  17. ^ Jain, Andrea R. (2014). Selling yoga : from counterculture to pop culture. Oxford University Press. pp. 61–2. ISBN 978-0199390243. 
  18. ^ Carrette, Jeremy; King, Richard (2005). Selling spirituality : the silent takeover of religion (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 0415302099. 
  19. ^ Carrette, Jeremy; King, Richard (2005). Selling spirituality : the silent takeover of religion (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. p. 116. ISBN 0415302099. 
  20. ^ Jain, Andrea R. (2014). Selling yoga : from counterculture to pop culture. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0199390243. 
  21. ^ Büssing, Arndt; Hedtstück, Anemone; Khalsa, Sat Bir S.; Ostermann, Thomas; Heusser, Peter (2012). "Development of Specific Aspects of Spirituality during a 6-Month Intensive Yoga Practice". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012: 2. doi:10.1155/2012/981523. 
  22. ^ McMahan, David L. (2012). Buddhism in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 241. 
  23. ^ a b Gottlieb, Roger S. (2012). Spirituality: What It Is and Why it Matter. Oxford University Press. 
  24. ^ McMahan, David L. (2012). Buddhism in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 278. 
  25. ^ Wilson, Jess (2014). Mindful America. Oxford University Press. p. 77. 
  26. ^ Wachholtz, Amy B.; Pargament, Kenneth I. (2005). "Is Spirituality a Critical Ingredient of Meditation? Comparing the Effects of Spiritual Meditation, Secular Meditation, and Relaxation on Spiritual, Psychological, Cardiac, and Pain Outcomes". Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 
  27. ^ a b McMahan, David L. (2012). Buddhism in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 283. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Crawford, Marisa; Rossiter, Graham (1996-06-01). "The Secular Spirituality of Youth: Implications for Religious Education". British Journal of Religious Education 18 (3): 133–143. doi:10.1080/0141620960180302. ISSN 0141-6200. 
  29. ^ De La Torre, Renee; Gutiérrez Zùñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano Spirituality in the Construction of an Imagined Nation". Social Compass: 219. 
  30. ^ De La Torre, Renee; Gutiérrez Zùñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano Spirituality in the Construction of an Imagined Nation". Social Compass: 222. 
  31. ^ a b De La Torre, Renee; Gutiérrez Zùñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano Spirituality in the Construction of an Imagined Nation". Social Compass: 220. 
  32. ^ De La Torre, Renee; Gutiérrez Zùñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano Spirituality in the Construction of an Imagined Nation". Social Compass: 223. 
  33. ^ De La Torre, Renee; Gutiérrez Zùñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano Spirituality in the Construction of an Imagined Nation". Social Compass: 224.