Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

The Concept Of Spirituality Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4950 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

That Religion has both a positive and negative effect on human behaviour is widely accepted (Batson, Scoenrade and Ventis, 1993; Paloutzian and Park, 2005; Zinnbauer and Pargament, 2005). Psychology has an important role in understanding the basis of belief, experience and behaviour, (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003), which suggests that how it is taught and how power is apportioned should be carefully considered particularly if, as suggested, religions are authoritative spiritual traditions. Despite clear importance and contradictory effect on human behaviour religion remained a fringe research area for the first seventy five years of the 21st Century and furthermore it was nonexistent in the research activity of Psychology between 1930 and 1960 (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003; Gorsuch, 1988). A suggestion for the non evolution of the study of religion suggests that the emerging new science wanted to distance itself from its philosophical fathers and their occasional radical theories about religion, in all its forms were not necessarily compatible with the modernist scientific paradigm that was emerging (Gorsuch, 1988; Hood, Hill and Spika, 2009). In addition Emmons and Paloutzian, (2003) commented on their tendency to avoid taboo subjects.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Despite the fact that religion was ignored by psychologists, society’s changing attitude towards religion has been cited as having occurred concurrently with two historical events. Durkheim date claimed that both the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution which also marked the rise of democracy and personal freedom, instigated the breaking down of the social classes which governed religion thus leading to the new society questioning of blind faith, (cited in Pals, 1996). The hippie era which emerged in the 1960’s opened up new possibilities to a rebellious youth that initiated a societal turn to ‘new age’ thoughts. Roberts (2004) suggested this to be a secularisation in the evolution of religion, since the pre-industrial age had been a period when religion was regulated by governing bodies, whilst the industrial era featured a religious comparison with other organisation and finally the post industrial era marked identification as spiritual rather than religious. The post industrial age also marked the establishment of religion as a personalise system of meaning which suggests this was the beginning of a transformation of religiousness; however, the scientific establishment had not transformed its views of religion and spirituality. McPhillips (2002) considers this return to spirituality in the form of ‘new age’ and religion as a reaction by society to secularisation and a societal search for re-enchantment which has been lost through individualism. However spirituality is still being viewed from the western perspective and does not explain the transformation of what is practiced. Furthermore it also assumes that eastern religions which are newly practiced in the west retain the same original meaning and are expressed and practiced the same as by the original practitioners. When the study of religion did re-merge in the 1960’s with a new group of researchers their prime interest was prejudiced behaviour rather than religious behaviour it marked the rise of the measurement paradigm which became the main method of study of religion.

Problems do exist with the study of religions and spirituality. Gorsuch, (1988) suggested research in religion is at high risk of personal distortion. The lack of development demonstrates that the study of Religion has been socially managed, which indicates that politics are a factor, implying that the study remains in the realm of imperialism despite the general consciousness moving on as suggested by Durkheim (date cited in Pals, 1996). The effect of a personal agenda is again indicated through the resistance to the addition of spirituality within the title of APA division 36 psychology of religion (div 36). Its rejection is not based on empirical evidence but rather a claim that spirituality is fashionable (APA div 36, 2005) and has not amassed the same large body of evidence that its religious counterpart has done and therefore did not duly desire any credit. However, the western concept of religion marginalises spirituality, which includes much older eastern religions but again without empirical evidence (Dubuisson, 2003). The fashionable term ‘new age’, which is often the banner under which spirituality is defined has in response to this emerging negative view, moved away from the use of ‘new age’ according to Lewis, (1992) who further suggests that no new label should be found. A move away from the ‘new age’ concept however could have both positive and negative effects on the study since it will allow the integration into spirituality of suitable forms of belief and experience however without the label they are difficult to locate .

Interestingly Humanist psychology Div 32 puts a far greater emphasis on spirituality and bifurcates it from the supernatural, which it claims is the domain of religion (Elkin, 2001). Another key factor which needs to be considered when studying religion is a participant’s susceptibility to answer questions according to societal expectations or norms that is not only in relation to practices but also regarding personal experiences, (Batson, Scoenrade and Ventis, 1993). The study of religion became mainstream within psychology by the 1980’s which was marked by a plethora of books being published however spirituality didn’t emerge in mainstream research or in the title of any published books until the year 2005. Furthermore, Lewis (1992) suggests the overall consciousness of the general public has altered and this change has escaped the attention of psychologists who find it easier to conduct inventories within defined groups rather than addressing the general alteration of spiritual commonsense ideas. This general change in the consciousness has led to a crossover of the distinction of what is practiced such as following a traditional religion and practicing yoga. Without taking this change into account inventories are flawed. However what one person defines and argues to be rational could be another person’s irrationality, (Gorsuch, 1988) which is particularly important when considering these scales since the subjectivity of rationality is particularly true due to the complex nature of religion and spirituality. Furthermore as cited in Gorsuch, (1988) Colins (1986) suggests that a neutral objectivity of religion is difficult particularly since neutrality for some religions is regarded as being anti-religious. A further issue is that experience is also subjective and ill defined, (Hood, Hill and Spika, 2009). For some individuals it is considered to be ‘out there’ and tangible whilst for others experience includes what actually occurs within the mind, (Reber and Reber, 2001). Gadamer defines being experienced as radically undogmatic “The man knows that all foresight is limited and all plans uncertain. In him is realised the true value of experience.” Further experience is defined as, “openness to new experience” and symbolic of a search for new knowledge lack of expectation of having attained ultimate knowledge. (Gadamer, Weinsheimer and Marshall, 1989 p351)

In the past twenty five years the study of Religion has flourished (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003) and is often added as a defining variable in much empirical research, (Gorsuch, 1988). This is true particularly in relations to mental and physical wellbeing as Emmons and Paloutzian, (2003) suggest the applied areas of clinical, counselling and health have taken the lead in the study of links with religion which has instigated a move forward in the understanding of the importance of religious and spiritual behaviour in relation to physical and mental health. However the study of religion in relation to social psychology is relatively new (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003) since little is known about why or how people are religious or spiritual or about the criteria by which their choices are made and as a result the understanding of experience has not improved per se.

The experimental approach assumes that social situations are always objective and concepts such as Religion, and religiousness are ‘out-there’ waiting to be measured with religion as the umbrella term. Spirituality, which is considered more as an individual quest, is marginalised and considered to be associated in some unknown way to religion but it is far too subjective to be studied scientifically. Critical social psychologists however, suggest social constructs are always subjective even when a person is mindlessly acting according to stereotypical societal norms and heuristics, furthermore it is their claim that social norms have been purposefully created and are evolving throughout history (Stainton-Rodgers, 2003). Formalised religion requires group cohesion and cannot exist without society (Pals, 1996), and it was Freud (1927) who suggested that the individual is the enemy of society since society flourishes when individuals suppress their personal wishes which further indicates why spirituality is marginalised within traditional religions. The individual pursuit of religion is further criticised by the suggestion that the quest for spirituality outside the framework of religion is motivated by narcissism, (Hood, Hill and Spika, 2009) however, the humanist approach considers the innate core of religion to be the spiritual experience which is dressed up in the language and symbols of a culture or belief system (Elkins, 2001). Experimental researchers further claims that personality, attitudes and identities are stable and discourse is a true reflection of them. Even though a database search reveals more than 1000 papers relating to religion, it is rarely the focal point of the studies and often only one item measurement is used, (Gorsuch, 1988) which doesn’t take religion seriously and rarely features in a review of the literature thereby suggesting even more un-quantifed research is available.

Using ,the method of questionnaires the measurement paradigm created 125 inventories, (Hill and Hood, 1999) to define and classify religious aspects and activities with a view to understanding religion and spirituality more fully, however much confusion still remains and the number of different inventories furthers this confusion. Rather than consolidating existing research, researchers have devised new inventories instead of adapting old ones which suggests that each paper is based on a different definition of religion, (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003) therefore due to a lack of consensus there is an excessive amount of data available but virtually no theories have been formulated. Hill, (2005) suggests that no new scales should be created until greater clarity is understood. This range of scales has increased an understanding of conventional western religious behaviour, however an understanding of spirituality and experience can only have decreased since it is more subjective in nature and when taking into account it more ancient origins. Zinnbauer and Pargament, (2005) observe that spirituality encompasses not only religiousness but also many other concepts of spirituality both formal and informal. What can be established from this lack of consensus is that an ultimate consensus is necessary or at least as Emmons and Paloutzian, (2003) suggests a minimum consensus however parameters maybe easier to establish. Further criticism that inventories have received is due to their narrow understanding of what religions experience entails, that they do not recognise unconventional practise which have been categorised as ‘new age’ despite many such as Buddhism and Hinduism including yoga having much more ancient origins, not taking into account cultural differences or supernatural experiences which questionnaires cannot adequately measure. Belzen and Hood, (2006) have suggested a move away from the measurement paradigm. A new framework has been proposed ‘the multilevel interdisciplinary paradigm’ which incorporates all levels of research from all domains, and promotes the acceptance of all data and for non reductive assumptions to be made, (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003).

The theory behind this research stems from critical social psychology which considers concepts such as Religion, Gender and Sexuality as socially situated, which Faucault, (1971) suggested has been constructed by society through the use of regulations and technologies of the self which are used to self regulate. Durkheim (cited in Pals, 1996) in relation to society, called it mechanical Solidarity. This discursive approach was used by Edley and Whetherell, (1997) who explored the socially situated construction of masculinity. Through analysis a repertoire emerged of the ‘new man’ however a reference point remained of traditional values also in the discourse suggesting them to be the master and slave while constructing their identity. James (cited in Stainton-Rodgers, 2003) suggested the self to be made up of the ‘I’ ‘self as knower’ and the ‘Me’ ‘self as known’ however another construct of the self, the ‘inter-subjective self’ (Stainton-Rodgers, 2003) doesn’t divide the self quite as simply as James, but incorporates what Mead (1927) called the reflective self. It considers the self to be subject to inter-subjectivity, made from the following elements; reflectivity (reflective on their own behaviours), connectedness (interrelated to others and society), intentionality (purposeful and strategic), being-in-the-world (constantly influenced socially and contextually) or as James suggested a dynamic ‘flow of consciousness’ that is constantly being changed moment by moment.

This dynamic self was explored in the transcripts of Diana Princess of Wales interview by Abel and Stokoe, (2001) who found she constructed an inner ‘true self’ and outer ‘royal self’ which were reconciled as ‘an ambassador for the people’ however she constructed two selves in very different ways suggesting that the experimental inventory method of questionnaires cannot fully capture the nature of identity. Not only has the identity of self been deconstructed by critical psychologists but also the concepts used for membership categorisation such as religion, sexuality and gender, masculinity and feminism. Many suggest that the study of Religion and Spirituality is incompatible with the scientific method (Bateson, Schonrade and Ventis, 1993) however both incorporate the study of identity which critical psychologists also suggest is incompatible with the experimental method (Stainton-Rodgers, 2003) a first step however is to employ that which has been lacking to date, namely a universal understanding of both religion and spirituality by either definition or set parameters.

A discursive discussion of the definition and distinctions between religion and spirituality originated when, Starbuck (1899), defined spirituality as an instinct, whereas James (1902) considered religion in relation to pragmatics and defined religion and spirituality as institutional and personal religion respectively. Maslow (1976) the Humanist introduced similar descriptions, those being organised religion and personal spirituality however his approach suggested an innate human need rather than free will of behaviour. Maslow further considered spirituality to be naturalistic rather than super natural which is in contrast to the psychology of religion that regards spirituality as being focused on the un-measurable supernatural. A major feature of traditional religion is the following of teachings and a moral code however different forms of spirituality also have an intrinsic learning system (Lewis, 1992). Hall, (1904) considered religion more as a moral code and the facilitation of education of the young. Cognitive developmental research has suggested that children in keeping with Piaget’s stage theory have a concrete understanding of religion but not until the teenage years and more importantly, if ever, do humans develop an abstract symbolic understanding of religion, (Gorsuch, 1988) though there is very little research. In 1912 Leuba found 48 different definitions of religion (cited in Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, 1993) with the diversity of religion and spirituality therefore it is not surprising that no single definition is in existence. Zinnbauer and Pargament, (2005) reviewed several definitions and call the situation a ‘flux over meaning’.

In debate over the construction of spirituality Pargament’s defines spirituality as ‘Sacred’ (1999a 1999b) with Emmons and Crumpler, (1999) differentiating sacralisation as both an internal and external sanctification the internal being the transformation of persons to become holy and pure and external sanctification as that of places, people and objects with the emphasis still being placed on god and religion. McPhillips, (2002) considers the sacred to have been created due to a need for enchantment however it is still based on western practices. Furthermore, this taps into the gender debate since religion predominates with sacred masculinity of God, Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, for example whereas spirituality incorporates that of a feminine energy, sacred goddess, or a divine mother. Lee (2000) who considered spirituality in relation to feminism cited Ferguson, (1995) who claimed women are alienated by a masculine dominated religion which however suggests that all religions and spirituality are engendered. However as Lee (2000) suggests when spirituality is considered within the feminine domain there is a susceptibility of merely reiterating the gender division rather than creating a rebalance. Spirituality however generally refers to both genders, Hinduism has both gods and goddesses and Buddhism refers to the un-gendered Buddha within. Stifoss-Hanssen, (1999) considered focusing spirituality on sacred to be more subjective than necessary and related more to an individual’s personal definition of their religion rather than a general explanation implying that what is deemed sacred to one person, is not necessarily sacred to another. Stifoss-Hansen, (1999) claimed that Pargament, (1999) uses general terms intentionally to eliminate forms of spirituality which entirely exclude religion. Having disregarded the concept of sacred Stifoss-Hanssen (1999) argued spirituality as existential and related to meaning, placing spirituality as the more global term. Zinnbauer in, Zinnbauer and Pargament, (2005) agreed with the global difference however defined and differentiated “the search for the sacred” by religion being within a traditional framework. However Pargament in the same paper remained with religion but considers spirituality as the search for the sacred and religion as a search for the significance in ways to sacred.

Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, (1993) proposed different definitions for function and substance. This split in the definition of function and substance implies that by defining and distinguishing between religion and spirituality an ideological dilemma exists between its use and content. Further examples of possible ideological dilemmas appear in Zinnbauer and Pargament, (2005) which they refer to as the rise of opposite and polarisation. The rise of spirituality (Hill et al, 2000; Zinnbauer and Pargament, 2005) religion is being described as “substantive, static, institutional, objective, belief-based and bad” and opposed to spirituality which is conceived as “functional, dynamic, personal, subjective, experience-based and good”. However this viewpoint maintains the imperialist, westernised concept of religion and spirituality as spirituality didn’t necessarily rise, rather the scientific study of religion finally recognised spiritualities’ prior construction. Dubussion (2003) claims religion is a western invented concept, which influences the way religion is defined by constructing western religions as ‘true’ and thus marginalising eastern religions which do not conform to the western ideal. Wulff (1997) suggested that what had occurred was a change of reference to religion from a verb to a noun. Religion has been defined by Reber and Reber, (2001) an institutionalised system of belief or traditional pattern of ritual and ceremony and is considered to have been devised due to the innate need to understand the human condition. This definition draws on the suggestion that religion is a belief based doctrine and implies any doctrine not only traditional western religious but any form of doctrine should be considered a religion, so a distinction between western Religion and Eastern spirituality is not suitable since many forms of spirituality also contain doctrines. Reber and Reber’s, (2001) definition further conceives religion as a function of a meaning system which places religion as a function of essentialism (Paloutzian and Park, 2005). Stifoss-Hanssen, (1999), however considers spirituality a function of a meaning system. Robert (2004) claimed the emerging American return to religion and the emergence of the ‘new age’ is based on a new search for ‘personal meaning’ rather than a general, implied and instructed societal meaning system which suggests that not all cultures are at the same evolutionary point with regard to understanding religion and spirituality. James (1902) highlighted the importance of context to meaning and suggested that experience rather than institution should be studied since institutions are a product of experience whereby suggesting a spiritual focus on substance rather than function. Furthermore Zinnbauer and Pargament, (2005) revised the possible distinction to religion as being reduced to its static function and spirituality as dynamic. However a search for meaning (function) does not indicate that the use of religion gives meaning (substance) or what is eventually accomplished by experience is meaning. It may simply be that meaning is the idea that draws some participants in (function) and their experience (Substance) is something else or vice versa depending on the individual. Furthermore there is no evidence that the sole function of religion or spirituality is for the purpose of meaning or that as the Humanists assume, there is a need for meaning.

Following on from the meaning system, Lewis (1992) suggests spirituality as a social and individual transformation however the transformation of both society and the individual may not solely have a spiritual basis since one may be affected by the other. Furthermore no one single model of transcendent reality can be chosen to define spirituality, (Reich, 2000) although transcendent reality can be defined as one concept which explains the experience of spirituality. In the UK the research on eastern spirituality is conducted by (BPS subsection) transpersonal psychology which draws on the humanistic aspects of the debate. Both transformation and transcendence focuses on the individual, which is another factor that often emerges in debate which could be considered as just one aspect of spirituality. Transpersonal psychology does however also incorporate the self help and mind, body and spirit concept which incorporates a ‘how to’ concept which can still be considered a doctrine that would draw aspects of it closer to religion as opposed to spirituality. Furthermore religious experience could be suggested to also incorporate personal transformation (Lewis, 1992) this adds to the argument that both religion and spirituality have a learning focus.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Other concepts emerge however within the debate ‘connectedness’ (Emmons et al, 2003; Hill and Pargament, 2005; Paloutzian and Park, 2005; Pargament, 1999a; Reich, 2000; Stifoss-Hanssen,1999) is a major concept used to construct spirituality (Keisling et al, 2006; Knight, 2002; Lee, 2000; 2007; Lee and Marshall, 2002; Person, 2002) although what is connected is not so clear cut. Reich, (2000) suggested the connection to be to others, nature and a higher being whereas Lee (2000) found that participants in feminist spirituality constructed connectedness as to the feminine goddess however by connecting to the feminine it doesn’t discriminate the possibility of other connectedness or claim that this form of spirituality was for everybody. There is also some use of ‘oneness’ which is constructed as ‘collective’ of many different forms. Lee and Marshall (2002) further propose links between spiritual ‘oneness’ and popular cultures such as ‘the rave scene’ of the 80’s and ‘DIY culture’ whereby lack of need for personal gain is constructed as ‘spiritual enough’ however many other popular activities can be linked such as ‘the sporting zone’ (Douillard, 2001) gifts such as music, writing and art which are often considered to occur with a connection to something else are often called ‘a muse’.

The concept of religious instinct, that Paloutzian and Park, (2005) constructed as a compulsion, Lee and Marshall, (2002) suggest is the spiritual construction of instinct as a different kind of knowing which uses the ‘vehicular body’ not just the mind and further as a way of connecting the body and mind and an initiation of transcendence and accessing ’embodied knowledge’ and connection to a universal energy (Lee and Marshall, 2002). Hinduism is a particularly good example of this construction together with its incorporation of yoga, as well as meditation within spirituality. Elkin, (2001) also claimed one of the characteristics of spirituality is a ‘mysterious energy’, Reich, (2000) called it a higher being and points out that in religion the higher being is god. Dubussion (2003) suggested everything religious to be defined as ‘cosmographic formations’ which suggests connections through cosmic alignment.

Traditional and non-traditional Religions are much better concepts in order to distinguish traditional western religion from spiritual religion such as, ‘new age’ and eastern religions and spirituality could be defined as experience whether religious, non religious or spiritual. Emerging factors of religion and spirituality rather than a definition are as follows; finding or receiving meaning, religious institution and spiritual self, belief system, doctrine, teaching system and moral code, experience is more closely aligned with being spiritual, and behaviours being distinguished as religious or spiritual. Emerging interpretative repertoires specific to spirituality are as follows; transcendence, transformation, connectedness, instinct, embodied knowledge, higher energy or being rather than specifically a god.

There is a dearth of research into spirituality, which is holding back its acceptance as being equal to Religion in research. The discursive debate of interpretative repertoires does not however explain their usage and construction. Engler, (2005) claimed constructionist commentary in the form of discursive discussion of spirituality is weak but plentiful but adds little to the understanding and constructionist research in the form of discursive analysis is strong but in short supply. What is required is strong constructionist work, which considers how spirituality is constructed, however to ignore Religion when considering spirituality is not beneficial. A discursive analysis of the experiences of spirituality is required considering how people construct their spiritual identity and the identity of spirituality.

This study has considered the constructive qualities of religion and spirituality, which have emerged from the literature and has found key themes of gender, power and being or doing. Religion is strongly influenced by following a doctrine and by doing religion putting faith in a powerful higher being whereas spirituality is described more by being spiritual and connected and the power coming from within however contradictions in research into mind body and spirit literature also suggests a doing rather than being activity which perhaps is what is confusing the meaning of what spirituality entails. This research will explore what is the nature of spirituality and factors affecting it through discursive analysis of semi-structured interviews with those practicing a particular form of non-institutionalised, non-organised earth based spiritual activities.

Research questions/aims:

Exploring the meaning of spirituality, and the possible relation to gender and power and how participants construct their identity as a spiritual being.

Contrasting peoples experiences of spirituality with psychological research into religious experience and ‘body, mind and spirit’.

Bring a new perspective to the study of spiritual experience and exploring possible difference between being and doing spirituality.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: