“Spiritual, but Religious: ‘Spirituality’ among Religiously Motivated Activists in North America.”

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Based on ethnographic research with feminist political activists who identify as Catholic, United Church Protestant, or Neo-Pagan, this article examines the familiar distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. This contrast engages issues of secularization and the role of religions in the public sphere. In such a distinction, ‘religion’ is associated with institution and societal pressure, whereas ‘spirituality’ relates to personal experience, privacy, and individuality. I argue that, within social justice activist circles, the language of ‘spirituality’ becomes useful in talking across institutional and ideological boundaries. While ‘religion’ is considered too limited, linked to public behaviour and institutionalization, ‘spirituality’ becomes acceptable in public discourse. This usage completely reverses the distinctions that most scholars, popular culture in general, and my participants in particular, would make between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, as well as public and private. With this reversal, ‘spirituality’ can be welcome in public space in a way that ‘religion’, as a personal variation on a more universal ‘spirituality’, cannot.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-69
JournalCulture and Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007


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