Religion vs. Spirituality: The Difference Between Them

You may have heard or even used the terms religion and spirituality interchangeably. But while they are not diametrically opposites, they are not the same either. Learn to discern the difference between religion and spirituality.

For thousands of years, humanity has passionately pursued the truth with a capital W – the ultimate answers to life and the universe. This eternal knowledge forms the answers to the so-called soul questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I want?
  • What is my purpose?
  • What is the meaning of life?

Historically, from the soul’s perspective, there have been two primary ways to discover these truths: religion and spirituality. Although they share many similarities and there is a relationship between the two, there are differences between religion and spirituality.

Religion: By definition, religion is a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; the service and worship of God or the supernatural.

Spirituality: Spirituality, on the other hand, means an experience of connection with something greater than yourself; living everyday life in a reverent and sacred way. Or as Christina Puchalski, MD (a leader in attempting to integrate spirituality into healthcare) puts it: “Spirituality is that aspect of humanity that relates to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the ways they experience their connection to the moment, to themselves, to others, to nature, and to the meaningful or sacred.”

Origins of Religions and Spirituality

Religion: Religions are most often based on the life, teachings and beliefs of a historical or archetypal figure (e.g. Christ, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Mohammed.) The details of their lives as sacred or highly evolved beings have been carried to us through the mists of time through oral traditions and written scriptures.These figures are objects of worship and devotion and form the basis of religion more practices and rituals in a community.

Spirituality: In contrast, spirituality is more often based on the practical application of the Founder’s teachings. Spiritual aspirants heed the advice of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho: “Don’t try to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Find what they’ve been looking for.”

Blurring the Boundaries

If you feel like these definitions are blurring and overlapping, you’re not alone. For example, you may know people who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Conversely, there may be people who are very religious but are not what most would consider deeply spiritual.

Let’s try to clear things up by taking a closer look at the main ones Throw differences between religious and spiritual paths. Remember that there are no absolutes in these distinctions. They are merely general markers intended to better examine the qualities between two equally valid approaches to the search for truth.

Objective vs. subjective experience

Religion : An Overall, a formal religion is often an objective experience. In other words, there is usually more emphasis on the outside:

  • Houses of worship (e.g. a church)
  • Books of Scripture
  • Eternal Rituals
  • Observations

This is the equivalent of object reference, where your attention is drawn to the objects in your experience.

Spirituality: However, spirituality tends towards self-centeredness or internalizing your soul consciousness. Spirituality is an inner journey that involves a shift in consciousness rather than any form of outer activity. As such, spirituality is much more about inner understanding than outer worship. This is not to say that worship is not a part of spirituality; it’s about where devotion and worship are directed:

  • To an outer practice, object, or figurehead
  • To your soul, your higher self, or your inner divinity

Organized vs. informal

Religion: One of the hallmarks of religion is its organization. It is a structured, often rule-based construct that, to some extent, governs the behavior of its members. Moral rules, laws, and doctrines, as well as specific codes and criteria, create the organized structure that contains the religion’s specific belief system. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In earlier, more uncertain times, the rules and dogmas of organized religion helped bring a sense of certainty to society and helped guide and comfort those whose faith was lacking.

Spirituality : Spirituality, however, breaks free from the limitations and rigid structures sometimes associated with traditional religion. The spiritual aspirant realizes that he or she is on a “pathless path” of self-discovery. They do not follow a set of external rules, but their own inner call to the Spirit.In this way, spirituality can sometimes feel like an act of rebellion, to go alone and leave the tribe, much in the spirit of American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said: “In a world that is constantly trying to self-defense doing something different is the greatest achievement.”

Traditional vs. evolutionary approach

Religion: Due to their centuries to millennia-old history, religions are inherently often deeply rooted in tradition, ritual, belief and doctrine. Religious institutions conservatively protect their practices and values, and strictly adhere to the past and the original interpretations of the Founder’s teachings. This is understandable, as all religions wish to preserve the essence of their teachings so that they can be accurately transmitted through history.

Spirituality: In comparison, spirituality is often less focused to the strictly traditional approach and often prefers an evolutionary mentality. This refers both to a more flexible and adaptable mindset towards the core teachings of the great wisdom traditions, but also reflects an understanding that spiritual growth, as the name suggests, is an evolutionary process. Spirituality involves change and the evolution of consciousness. With spiritual practice, ideas and interpretations change as individuals, societies, and the world evolve.

Exclusive vs. Inclusive

Religion: Traditional religious beliefs, sometimes based on rigid interpretations of key doctrines, can create an exclusive worldview that isolates those who may not share their views or interpretations. Unfortunately, this “ingroup” religious mentality can be used to justify the exclusion of minorities or those deemed unworthy of God’s favor.

Spirituality: Spirituality does not do such distinctions. Instead, she favors an inclusive approach. In the realization that pure spirit is a unifying force, no one is left out. You are part of the universal hologram, all gods and goddesses in disguise. As Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 4, verse 11: “When people approach me, I receive them. All roads, Arjuna, lead to me.”

In other words, from a spiritual point of view, no one has a monopoly on the truth. All are welcome in God’s eyes.

Faith vs. spiritual experience

Religion: At its core, religion is about belief. That is, believing in something based on unconditional acceptance of the religion’s teachings. Contrary to the scientific worldview, religions do not need evidence to validate their claims. Through religion you are taught to believe in God or the scriptures as the infallible and ultimate truth of reality. Acceptance and surrender to the Divine are taught as the path that leads to ultimate salvation.

Spirituality: Spirituality does not reject belief; however, it often relies more heavily on the direct experience of the soul or divinity. Spiritual practices such as meditation, yoga, stillness, and contemplation allow you to consciously connect with expanded states of consciousness, helping to validate the teachings through experience rather than just accepting them by faith. You know something because you’ve tasted the experience yourself and allowed it to resonate instead of taking someone else’s word for it.

Fear vs. Love



Fear vs. Love


b>: Despite the best of intentions, religions can sometimes have a subtle ( or not-so-subtle) undercurrent of fear woven into their teachings. The concepts of original sin, divine judgment, the wrath of God, or eternal punishment can create a mental environment fraught with worries and anxieties about your worthiness and whether your actions will result in divine retribution or karmic punishment. Your destiny in the afterlife can loom like a specter in the back of your mind, affecting your thoughts and behavior in subtle ways.

Spirituality: In contrast, spirituality usually discards the traces of fear and worry in favor of a more loving, compassionate approach to life—and death. Spirituality encompasses a consciousness-based worldview that supports all human beings on their journey to awakening in unconditional love and kindness. Your decisions and behavior are not guided by fear of punishment, but by a desire to end suffering and create a peaceful and loving world for all.

As you can see, there are clear differences between spirituality and spirituality. Religion; However, these comparisons are not intended as absolutes or as an attempt to polarize one against the other. Religious beliefs and spiritual beliefs differ in the way they are practiced. However, each exercise serves as a vehicle to bring you closer to the truth you seek. Whichever path or combination of the two you follow is the personal and subjective expression of your journey of awakening.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced meditator, the Chopra app has you with personalized exercises and guided meditations for everyone, available now.


Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

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