Spiritual But Not Religious – in the news…

I recently talked to some students about the term ‘Spiritual But Not Religious ‘ and my notes may, or may not, be of interest.. They are below. You may notice that I take a much more measured tone than in the book..


We began by wondering: 

Who are the SBNR?

*         We don’t wholly know.. But..

*         New Age..

*         Agnostics

*         Disillusioned with institutions

*         Spiritual self-selecter

*         Anxious Buddhists (for example)

Why claim to be SBNR?

*         Rejection / discomfort with authority..

*         Sense of something bigger, but a (postmodern) suspicion of ‘grand narratives’

*         A Socio-cultural guess?

People wish to disassociate from the type of belief which is tainted by religious extremism and fundamentalism. Nonetheless, they want to identify not as a shallow egotist (with a mere mechanistic world-view) but as someone with depth and sensitivity.

Studies / evidence?

*         Most important: http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx

*         What does Pew Forum report say on this?

*         Well – they tweeted the detailed stats in a table :

*         https://twitter.com/pewforum/status/256397579892449280

Profile of the “Spiritual but not Religious”  Who are the “spiritual but not religious,” and how do they compare with those who reject both labels as well as those who do consider themselves religious?
Profile of the “Spiritual but not Religious”
Who are the “spiritual but not religious,” and how do they compare with those who reject both labels as well as those who do consider themselves religious?

*         Also for some interesting analysis of this data see http://irritually.org/2012/10/11/belonging-to-a-religion-without-being-religious/

*         So – of  those who described themselves as SBNR – 39% also called themselves Protestant..

*         See aforementioned analysis blog – but tells us that religious (or spiritual) identification is complex: people may feel affiliated with a tradition in some senses, but perhaps want to distance themselves from the ‘toxicity’ associated with being religious – in some ways..

*         But then there was more – in January this year: we saw a rash of headlines:

Mental Health?

*         http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/09/the-spiritual-but-not-religious-likely-to-face-mental-health-issues-drug-use-study-says/

*         http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2013/jan/09/spiritual-but-not-religious-dangerous-mix

*         http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2013/01/mental-health-problems-more-common-among-spiritual-but-not-religious.html

*         http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unique-everybody-else/201301/troubled-souls-spirituality-mental-health-hazard

*         All based on this study:

*         http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/202/1/68#BIBL


*         This study is based on interviews from a study:

*         https://catalogue.ic.nhs.uk/publications/mental-health/surveys/adul-psyc-morb-res-hou-sur-eng-2007/adul-psyc-morb-res-hou-sur-eng-2007-apx.pdf

*         Dig into appendix d for the questions on religion, and things get much less clear..

*         Surveys? I asked a psychologist who knows about these things to look at the data.. He blogs about ‘spiritual intelligence’, etc – http://jonathanschips.blogspot.co.uk/ so I knew he’d be interested..

The Actual Question:

By ‘religion’, we mean the actual practice of a faith, e.g. going to a temple, mosque, church or synagogue. Some people do not follow a religion but do have spiritual beliefs or experiences. Some people make sense of their lives without any religious or spiritual beliefs.

 Would you say that you have a religious or a spiritual understanding of your life?
1 Religious
2 Spiritual
3 Neither

*         SO: they can be Religious, Spiritual, Both, Neither.

*         Seems fair – but: IF the person says only option 2: survey treats them as not religious. They haven’t said they are – but they haven’t said that they really aren’t either.

*         This is not that big an issue in original study, but when new study then uses this data – correlates with mental health and religiosity: it sees that those who said option 2 (only) have higher incidence of issues.

*         Then we get news stories.. But these people may well be religious, but identified as spiritual. They may have implied SBNR by answers : BUT they never actually identifed using the term ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’…

*         As my psychologist friend put it: “Their responses have been framed by the questions asked, they have not chosen to self identify as spiritual but not religious.”


*         The mental health stories generated huge comment: be it pagans insisting they were religious, people disputing the claims / inclusions – they were very active..

*         The video had “Why I Love Jesus, but Hate Religion” has had 23 Million views – maybe, whatever we think of it, it may give us some clues:

*         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY&noredirect=1

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