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Distinguishing between the individuality of spirituality and unity of religion

Gold and brown graphic of man meditating on rock with lake and mountains in background.

Although the differences can be subtle, BYU–Hawaii faculty and students said there are important distinctions between religion and spirituality, and said the two depend on each other for someone to be fulfilled.

There can be many ways to identify the distinction between spirituality and religion, but there is a distinction between the two, said Stephanie Marcum, an adjunct faculty member in the Faculty of Religious Eduction.

Marcum described spirituality as internal. “I think about spirituality as being a connection between you and God.” 

Spirituality is the personal effort people make to get in touch with the matters of the soul, said Mark Maslar, a sophomore from California majoring in theater education. He said spirituality is individual and based on people’s unique experiences. 

Religion, on the other hand, is the efforts made by groups and communities to get in touch with matters of the soul, said Maslar. “Here, we support and uplift one another through tried and tested means of spirituality: i.e. prayer, scripture study, church attendance, etc.”

The idea of spirituality being the same as religion is a common misconception, said Mia Boice, a senior from Georgia majoring in psychology. “To me, spirituality is the internal, while religion is the external, in regard to someone’s beliefs.”

To me, spirituality is the internal, while religion is the external, in regard to someone’s beliefs.
Mia Boice

Maslar said religion and spirituality both need each other to thrive. He said religion without spirituality is empty. “This is why people often grow disillusioned with religion because they did not receive what they needed from it spiritually.”

According to Maslar, spirituality is not enough on its own, and cannot reach its full potential without religion alongside it. “The structure and direction we gain from religion is one which can inspire and provide purpose for our spiritual journeys.”

Marcum dug deeper into this idea. “You can be religious and [go] to church, but not be spiritual if you don’t have that connection to God.” Marcum said it can be a tricky situation, and people may ask themselves, “[If] I’m spiritual ... why do I need church?”

She answered this by citing the ability religion has, through covenants, to connect people to God, “not occasionally, but eternally.” Marcum said God gives people rules and directives, one of which is to keep the commandments. She said, “If we want to have God in our life, we have to do something. So that’s usually where religion helps guide us.”

If we want to have God in our life, we have to do something. So that’s usually where religion helps guide us.
Stephanie Marcum

Maslar said the foundation for a full and rich religious experience rests on the individual. “They must make a commitment. This commitment can take many forms, but it is the willingness … that helps the individual take action.”

The best way for people to build up their own spirituality is to put in work on their own, said Marcum. This includes scripture study, prayer, and meditation she explained. 

Marcum related building one's spirituality to the parable of the 10 virgins. She said just as the 10 virgins had to secure their own oil and could not share it with the others, people need to find their spirituality on their own because it is a personal matter.

When people have strong spirituality, they often ask why they need religion if their relationship with God is strong, said Marcum. “The answer to that would be God expects us to make and keep covenants. And to do that, there has to be some outward things that happen. … Those covenants come in the form of the sacrament, always remembering Him, [and] keeping His commandments.”