Spirituality and religion

Spirituality relates to religion in a similar way to how science relates to materialism. Religion is an organised set of fixed beliefs, while spirituality is empirical in a sense of transpersonal experiences and consequently more exploratory and less dogmatic. As the etymology of the word religion indicates, its purpose is to bind people together by a system of beliefs and rituals. Religions are characterised by their cosmologies, moral code, rituals, the architecture of their temples, their revealed literature, and so on. So, religion refers to more public (or exoteric) forms of spiritual practice, but there is also an esoteric core. The diversity of religions is a norm, while many spiritual experiences tend to be cross-cultural[3]. If the circumstances are favourable, if it is a historically ripe moment, some esoteric experiences can trigger a religious paradigm shift. They are adapted to particular circumstances as the means of (re)organising society or even achieving social control and power. If the new view is accepted, an official doctrine is created that becomes an established reference point for generations to come. In other words, another framework of social reality is formed. It provides a sense of security (to individuals), and also unifies by offering a common aim (to the society). However, as science does not need to adhere to materialism, spirituality does not require a religious framework. In fact, esoteric and exoteric aspects do not always go hand in hand. It is common that as soon as the latter (a new religion) reaches a point of power, it sees the former as a threat and tries to suppress it in order to preserve its status[4] (as materialist ideology often obstructs the development of science in order to preserve its own privileged position). It is a misconception, for example, that in the past the Christian church fought primarily science. In fact, it first and foremost fought spirituality and mysticism (the craze of burning ‘witches' and ‘heretics' is one example among many) and eventually allowed the growth of science (within its ranks) to help in this fight. The importance of spirituality in challenging religious dogmas should not be undermined. There have been a great number of people who have put much courage, effort and self-sacrifice into exploring reality beyond accepted doctrines.

  • [3]. An American mathematician, Jaya Srivastava makes an even stronger claim: ‘Each great religion has two aspects, a spiritual part and a ritualistic part. As is very clear, the spiritual part of all religions is the same' (in Singh, 1988, p.176). Such an assertion is probably an exaggeration and can hardly be defended. A tendency towards universality does not presuppose the sameness.
  • [4]. A poignant allegory about this strife between religion and spirituality can be found in Dostoyevsky's fable ‘The great inquisitor', where even Jesus, who returned to the Earth, was prosecuted by the Church.