Spiritual but not religious

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"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) is a popular phrase and initialism[1] used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that rejects traditional organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth.[2][3]

The term is used world-wide, but is most prominent in the United States where one study reports that as many as 33% of people identify as spiritual but not religious.[4] Other surveys report lower percentages ranging from 24%[5] to 10%.[6] The term has been called cliché by popular religious writers such as Robert Wright,[7] but is gaining in popularity. The SBNR lifestyle is most studied in the population of the United States[citation needed]. The similar Dutch concept of ietsism is becoming more widely used in Europe instead of SBNR.[8][9][unreliable source?]


SBNR is commonly used[10][11] to describe the demographic also known as unchurched, none of the above, more spiritual than religious, spiritually eclectic, unaffiliated, freethinkers, or spiritual seekers.

In 2013, Rabbi Rami Shapiro introduced the phrase "Spiritually Independent" as a new term to replace "SBNR" with a more positive statement which looks to the "politically independent" as a role model.[12] Younger people are more likely to identify as SBNR than older people. In April 2010, the front page of USA Today claimed that 72% percent of Generation Y agree they are "more spiritual than religious".[10]

Those who identify as SBNR vary in their individual spiritual philosophies and practices and theological references, referencing some higher power or transcendent nature of reality, without belonging to a religious affiliation.[citation needed] In the USA most SBNR people without a religious affiliation believe in God.[13]

Religion and spirituality[edit]

Historically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion.[14][15] Gradually, the word spiritual came to be associated with the private realm of thought and experience while the word religious came to be connected with the public realm of membership in a religious institution with official denominational doctrines.[16] Zinnbauer and Pargament (2005) write that in the early 1900s psychology scholars such as William James, Edwin Starbuck, G. Stanley Hall, and George Coe investigated religiosity and spirituality through a lens of social science.[17]

Books such as Sven E. Erlandson's Spiritual But Not Religious: A Call To Religious Revolution In America (ISBN 0-595-01108-X - Published in July 2000 [18]) and Robert C. Fuller's Spiritual but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (ISBN 0-19-514680-8 - Published in December 2001 [19]) highlight the emerging usage of the term.

In January 2012, Jefferson Bethke furthered the SBNR movement among evangelical Christians with his YouTube film "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," in which he criticized organized religion as superficial and hypocritical.[20] More traditionalist Evangelicals have countered that it is possible to have a spiritual relationship with God and follow organized religion. Some have argued that discarding religion is dangerous in that it removes the needed standards of doctrine and the Bible, which they claim are the avenue to true spirituality.[21]

In the field of psychology, spirituality has emerged as a distinct social construct and focus of research since the 1980s. With the emergence of spirituality as a distinct concept from religion in both academic circles and common language, a tension has arisen between the two constructs.[17] One possible differentiation among the three constructs religion, religiosity, and spirituality, is to view religion as primarily a social phenomenon while understanding spirituality on an individual level.[22] Religiosity is generally viewed as being rooted in religion, whereas this is not necessarily the case for spirituality. A study of the differences between those self-identified as spiritual and those self-identified as religious found that the former have a loving, forgiving, and nonjudgmental view of the numinous, while those identifying themselves as religious see their god as more judgmental.[23] Among other factors, declining membership of organized religions and the growth of secularism in the western world have given rise to this broader view of spirituality.[24] The term "spiritual" is now frequently used in contexts in which the term "religious" was formerly employed.[25] Both theistic and atheistic camps have criticized this development.[26][27]


Some representatives of organized religion have criticized the practice of spirituality without religiosity. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has called the SBNR lifestyle "plain old laziness",[28] stating that "[s]pirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community".[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schott, Ben (2010-06-16). "Sbnr". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark (July 18, 2014). "Examining the Growth of the Spiritual but Not Religious". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  3. ^ Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, Oxford University Press 2001, p. 6
  4. ^ "Americans' Spiritual Searches Turn Inward". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  5. ^ "Newsweek/Beliefnet Poll Results". Beliefnet.com. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  6. ^ Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe, Baylor University Press 2005
  7. ^ Rosenbaum, Nancy (2010-02-24). "Spiritual But Not Religious". On Being. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  8. ^ http://www.kuleuven.be/thomas/page/ietsisme/
  9. ^ http://systempsychology.ru/journal/2012-6/115-tkachenko-av-itsizm-kak-osnovnaya-forma-religioznyh-predstavleniy-sovremennoy-molodezhi.html
  10. ^ a b "Survey: 72% of Millennials 'more spiritual than religious'". USA Today. 2010-10-14. 
  11. ^ "'Spiritual but not religious' becoming more common self-identific". Statesman.com. 2010-05-31. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  12. ^ "Welcoming the Spiritually Independent". Patheos.com. 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  13. ^ "BBC News - Viewpoints: Why is faith falling in the US?". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  14. ^ Hill, P. C.; Pargament, K. I.; Hood, R. W. Jr.; McCullough, M. E.; Swyers, J. P.; Larson, D. B.; Zinnbauer, B. J. (2000). "Conceptualizing religion and spirituality: points of commonality, points of departure". Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 30 (1): 51–77. doi:10.1111/1468-5914.00119. 
  15. ^ McIntosh, D. N., & Spilka, B. (1995). Religion and the family. In B. J. Neff & D. Ratcliff (Eds.), Handbook of Family Religious Education (pp. 36-60). Birmingham, AL Religious Education Press.
  16. ^ Robert C. Fuller, ‘’Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America’’, Oxford University Press 2001, p. 5
  17. ^ a b Brian J. Zinnbauer and Kenneth I Pargament, Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, Chapter 2: Religiousness and Spirituality, Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park (ed.), Guilford Press 2005, ISBN 978-1-57230-922-7
  18. ^ http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-but-Not-Religious-Revolution/dp/059501108X
  19. ^ http://www.amazon.ca/Spiritual-but-not-Religious-Understanding/dp/0195146808
  20. ^ "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word". YouTube. 2012-01-10. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  21. ^ "Christianity Is Not a Religion?". SharperIron. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  22. ^ WR Miller, CE Thoresen (January 2003). "Spirituality, religion, and health: An emerging research field". The American Psychologist 58 (1): 24–35. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.24. PMID 12674816. 
  23. ^ Woods and Ironson (as cited in Miller & Thoresen, 2003)
  24. ^ Michael Hogan (2010). The Culture of Our Thinking in Relation to Spirituality. Nova Science Publishers: New York.
  25. ^ Gorsuch 1999.
  26. ^ Amy Hollywood. "Amy Hollywood - Spiritual but Not Religious | Harvard Divinity Bulletin". Hds.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  27. ^ "The Problem With Being 'Spiritual but Not Religious' | TIME.com". Ideas.time.com. 2013-03-21. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  28. ^ "Are there dangers in being 'spiritual but not religious'?". CNN.com. 2010-06-09. 
  29. ^ Martin, James (2010-03-11). "Spiritual but not religious - Not so fast!: Making the case for moving beyond your own personal God". Busted Halo: an online magazine for spiritual seekers. Retrieved 2010-09-19. Spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community.