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Blog UF Mind #17: Spiritual But Not Religious

By Sabine Grunwald

The trends in American and other Western cultures of spiritualizing religions as “#spiritual but not religious(Parsons, 2018) and personalizing religions to fit a #secular social world (Moore, 2014) have been pronounced. According to the Pew Research Center (2017), ‘New Age’ spiritual beliefs are common among both religious and nonreligious Americans. These ‘New Age’ beliefs include astrology, psychics, the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects like trees or mountains, and reincarnation. A quarter of Americans identify themselves as “#spiritual but not religious” with a sharply increasing trend over the past few years. People explore, practice, and embrace the beliefs of multiple spiritualities and religions that result in #spiritual diversity and fluidity, such as Jew-Buhs (Jewish and Buddhist), Christian-Buddhists, Pagan-Shamanism mixed with Tantra, and more. Bartunek (2019) provided numerous reasons that inspire spiritual seekers (e.g., search for healing, community, safety, joy, or enlightenment). Some spiritual seekers on a personal, individualized spiritual path have turned away from dogmatic and authoritative #religions to search for spiritual freedom and liberation from the drag of life, new meaning, and purpose. Both secular and non-secular people have embraced the practice of mindfulness meditation and a wide variety of mind-body practices rooted in different Eastern and Western traditions. According to Wang et al. (2019), the use of #mind–body practices has increased significantly between 2002 and 2017 from 5.8% to 14.5%, respectively, in the United States due to the popularity of practices such as yoga, breath meditation, qigong and tai chi that were moved from Asia to Western nations. In Wang’s comprehensive survey, the reasons participants (sample number of N = 116,404) noted for using mind–body practices entailed that they were viewed as beneficial to supporting health, consider the whole person, and are natural (i.e., involved no medications or psychopharmacology). Participants showed less interest in the specific spiritual beliefs undergirding mind–body practices and instead were most interested in their individual well-being and health.

On a closing note, I invite you to reflect on your own on the following questions:

· What is the main reason you practice meditation?

· If you identify as a spiritual or religious seeker, what are you seeking?

· Do you view your meditation and/or mind-body practices as spiritual, religious, or secular (detached from any spiritual or religious tradition or church)?


Bartunek, J. (2019). Spiritual but not religious: The search for a meaning in a material world. Tan Books.

Moore, T. (2014). A religion of one’s own: A guide to creating a personal spirituality in a secular world. Gotham Books.

Parsons, W. B. (Ed.). (2018). Being spiritual but not religious: Past, present, future(s). Routledge.

Walsh, Z. (2016). A meta-critique of mindfulness critiques: From McMindfulness to critical mindfulness. In R. Purser, D. Forbes, & E. Burke (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness: Culture, context, and social engagement (pp. 153–166). Springer.

Wang, C. (Chunyun), Li, K., Choudhury, A., & Gaylord, S. (2019). Trends in yoga, tai chi, and qigong use among US adults, 2002–2017. American Journal of Public Health, 109(5), 755–761.


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