Spiritual But Not Religious

wade clark roof quadrant


Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) is a popular phrase and acronym 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. The term is used worldwide, but seems most prominent in the United States.

Those that identify as SBNR vary in their individual spiritual philosophies and practices and theological references. While most reference some higher power or transcendent nature of reality, it is common to differ in their ideas of the existence of God as defined by the Abrahamic religions.

SBNR is commonly used to describe the demographic also known as unchurched, none of the above, spiritual atheists, more spiritual than religious, spiritually eclectic, unaffiliated, freethinkers, or spiritual seekers. Younger people are more likely to identify as SBNR than older people. The term has been called cliché by popular religious writers such as Robert Wright, but is gaining in popularity.

Historically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion. 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.

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.

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. 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.

The practice of spirituality without religiosity has been criticized by representatives of organized religion. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has called the SBNR lifestyle ‘plain old laziness,’ stating that ‘[s]pirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community.’ Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College, points to the community aspect of religion and teachings of forgiveness. Minister Lillian Daniel writes: ‘Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.