Q. I’ve heard you mention “spirituality” in your presentations and sometimes even give examples of how scripture and science align (for those who like to read scripture), but I have rarely—if ever—heard you talk about religion, especially any specific theology. Does this mean that you consider spirituality and religion as synonymous?

A. Good question. I definitely consider spirituality and religion as two separate concepts. Sometimes they are combined in an individual’s life and sometimes not. Neurotheologians Newberg and Waldman, in their book Why We Believe What We Believe, point out that the human mind may be “naturally calibrated to embrace spiritual perceptions.” There seems to be some consensus that, whatever else the human brain is, it is relational, sexual, and spiritual.

  • Organized religion: groupings of individuals who have chosen to affiliate with a denomination that typically espouses a defined set of doctrines or beliefs along with regular worship practices and rituals
  • Spirituality: the spirit in which one lives life, the practice of love-based attitudes integrated into daily living that can be shared with others but does not require organized groupings for their practice

My working definition of spirituality goes like this: Spirituality encompasses the spirit in which you live life, including ethical and moral choices; a sense of something greater than yourself; the recognition of a meaning to existence that transcends immediate circumstances; a sense of awe, vision, or goals to achieve the highest possible levels of brain-body health and a Longevity Lifestyle—for as long as it is possible to do so.

In the past most research studies lumped religiosity and spirituality together—although these words describe different concepts. There is now a move to separate these two concepts, insofar as it is possible to do so, in an effort to study the impact of each on health and longevity. Some of the inherent challenges of defining and measuring spirituality lie in separating religiosity from spirituality, which is particularly important when studying participants who consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious.

A brief overview of history shows clearly that religion and spirituality do not always align. Just check out information on the religious crusades or "‘holy wars" that killed many an individual simply because the person didn’t believe or practice rituals in the way the crusaders did. (Some believe that some of the current wars being fought may have similar underpinnings.)