Is there a difference beween being religious and being spiritual? Or for that matter, is there any such thing as a "Spiritual Atheist"?

Writings supporting the idea that the two are different:

According to Wikipedia, Spirituality may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience. It is often separated from organized religious institutions, as in the phrase "spiritual but not religious".

According to aguaac, the word Spiritual does not refer to religious matters, so-called. All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social-if it is in advance of his present state is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of the inner divine entity.

Writings supporting the idea that the two are the same or are similar to each other:

According Jose Bulao,

First, both believe in a higher power of some kind. Religion believes in God the Father or Jesus, or Allah, or Brahman, or Tao. Spirituality believes also in this God or it may conceive of God as a universal or primal energy. Both believe that such being possesses power higher and greater than what we have.

Secondly, both religion and spirituality desire to have a relationship with this higher power. Although the nature of the relationship is different in religion than in spirituality, the desire for this relationship is there. Religion connects with this higher power with fear and trembling. Spirituality connects with this higher power with love and affection.

Thirdly, both religion and spirituality have rituals and practices which deepen one's religiosity or spirituality. Religion usually has sacred rites or sacraments. Spirituality has meditation or yoga sessions.

Fourthly, both have respect for the sacred, the other worldly. This is not just respect for God. This is respect for the reality that is beyond our senses and reason. When religion pushes this respect to its extreme, it becomes superstition. When spirituality pushes this respect to its extreme, it becomes religious spirituality.

Fifthly, both have fear of failure. In religion this failure is punished by hell fire or repetition of existence or some other worse fate. In spirituality this failure is the inability to realize one's true worth or value and the destiny of a life of meaninglessness. Hell, repetition of existence, non-existence, meaninglessness are forms of punishment for failure, either in religion or in spirituality.

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    This may well wind up closed as "primarily opinion-based," not that I am advocating that. Both terms are highly contested. Some religious folk scoff at others' professions or pretensions to being spiritual without being religious. Some atheists also scoff at such professions, regarding spiritual as simply a watered-down weak-tea hippie-touchy-feely version of religious. Sep 5, 2015 at 22:56
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    Perhaps "spiritual agnostic" (or you may refer to "spiritual practice of agnosticism"). Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claim, - especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether or not God, the divine or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable.
    – Graffito
    Sep 5, 2015 at 23:14

1 Answer 1


So long as we are discussing the english words and not some particular creed to which someone might adhere I'll take a crack at answering this in the spirit of ELU.

Both of these words have intrusive meanings that can worm their way into almost anything. However, they are not the same.

Religion can be deeply spiritual but it doesn't have to be. Religion can survive just fine on tradition alone.

Spirituality can come from and support one's religious beliefs but it also doesn't have to. Spirituality can be nothing more grand than using something other than cold logic to reason.

So I'd have no trouble believing in the existence of a "Spiritual Atheist". But then I also believe in Santa Claus.

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