Religion has a bad name in alternative circles. It’s associated with the Christian church and all it’s crimes (real and perceived). Religion is associated with dogma, stifling rules that don’t fit our day to day lives and worse of all: authority. A preacher to tell me what to do in my personal life? Never!
In my religion classes at Leiden University very different definitions of religion are taught. I’ll use a famous one by Clifford Geertz to sum up the point:
“Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
[Geertz wrote in 1966, just before political correct formulations would have replaced ‘men’ by ‘people’.]
The basic point here is that religion is that which gives direction to our lives, helps us establish priorities (consciously or unconsciously) and helps us understand our lives – in such a way that our worldview and priorities seem uniquely realistic.
That definition actually includes spirituality. We have symbols: Ying & Yang, the Buddha and the Tibetan flag (1). We have ideas about the universe we live in which often include: holism, karma, alternative health, aura’s etc. (3). These ideas about life and the universe seem real to us (4) and therefore the lifestyle that comes with them does too (2, 5).
The obsession with the difference between religion and spirituality comes, I think, from the bad reputation the Christian churches has with many of us. Religion has often been defined as ‘organised religion’.
Spirituality – taking place in yoga classrooms, alternative bookstores and retreats – is not organized in the same clear way. One can be spiritual within any religious system. The main thing is that one hasn’t settled for dogma’s, thinks for oneself and keeps ones own spiritual and ethical growth as a top priority (2).