SBNR….

The objections there have been, in places I have seen and some others that I suspect exist, to Dispirited, seem to partly have coalesced around my concerns over the term Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR).

Another is my seemingly conflation of SBNR and ‘new age’ practices/beliefs. This is simpler to address. There are parts of the new age movement that see themselves as part of religious traditions, and identify as religious. Those that don’t (and this is a non-trivial portion of the new-age) seem to, by default or explicitly, fall within the SBNR category: it is a form of spirituality that asserts a non-religious affiliation

Which brings me back to the original point. I suggest in Dispirited that being spiritual is a religious undertaking. It is part of what being religious actually means. Of course there are other aspects, such as the formal, social and institutional aspects of religion: but at the heart of what religion is, what makes it a religion, rather than a belief system of another type, is the belief in a world which lies beyond the apparent material. If you assert a belief in the spirits of the dead, or angels (or, yes, even unicorns as spirit beings), or heavenly realms: I would consider these as religious claims. Of course they may also be empirical claims, but religion has always made empirical, historical and other claims. To only consider as ‘religious’ the institutionalised aspects which you happen to dislike, or have concerns about, is to ignore the actual nature of religious traditions and their history…

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4 comments

  1. i think it’s more about who identifies as “New Age”, “SBNR” or other things, and from what discourses these identities emerge.

    An analogy: it would make no sense to say that goth, punk, gothic punk and steampunk are all the same thing, or all “pop”, when clearly they emerge out of different literary genres and counter-cultural concerns, and they have different identities.

    1. I don’t thikn you’ve read your friend’s book. :)

  2. I am partly swayed by this approach: but it remains the case that pretty much any reasonable definition of what it is to be religious includes these beliefs often put forward as SBNR. We are perfectly familiar, historically, with disorganised religion, anti-authoritarian religion, heretical and mystical religious traditions and well beyond.

    I think that the SBNR self-identification is a note-worthy rhetorical strategy that seeks to sidestep current cultural discomfort with ‘religion’, but that often it is just a way of saying “religious, but not like that way of being religious…”

  3. There is a use of the term “spirituality” which medical doctors seem to like which just is supposed to refer to a deep philosophical undertaking: finding out who one is, thinking about purpose in life, etc. It is opposed to everyday and material concerns, but not spiritual in your sense of otherworldly.

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