What are spiritual beliefs

Spiritually and / or religiously? Modern beliefs, personality and meaningful life.

Schnell, T. (2012) Spirituality with and without Religion — Differential Relationships with Personality. Archive for the Psychology of Religion 34 (2012) 33-61 -> free pdf

Do you believe in God? Or would you prefer an indefinite supernatural power? So would you describe yourself as religious or spiritual? Which statements can be made about your personality based on this? Are other things important to religious people than to spiritual people? The article presented here tries to shed light on these questions.

You chose spiritual because it seems more familiar to you to describe your attitude to ... well, to WHAT actually ...? Or do you just like the term better because when you think of religious you always think of church? More and more people seem to want to differentiate themselves from them at the moment - not just conceptually. Perhaps they also belong to the spreading species that turns its back on the institutions of faith and tries to get through the thicket of the spiritual market alone to enlightenment? “Being able to experience instead of having to believe” seems to be not only the motto but also the reason why these people turn away from the church and its rituals such as church services and prayers - towards meditation, yoga or Far Eastern mysticism.

Spiritual or Religious? You may be wondering: what's the difference? Several studies have shown that the majority of respondents see themselves as both - spiritual and religious. Although almost all religious people see spirituality as an integral part of their faith, the representatives of the species mentioned above call their faith spirituality precisely because religion is not part of it for them. It is also interesting that both terms overlap in their meaning. The turn towards a reality beyond the material world. This is not just about terms, but about people - religious and spiritual. But how do the two groups differ? In order to find out, the 135 participating students were asked in the present study to assess how religious or spiritual they are, whereby spirituality was defined here as the belief in the supernatural. In addition, various types of personality traits were recorded using questionnaires.

An important criterion for assessing personality traits is their stability. One therefore differentiates dispositional properties and characteristic adaptations:

Dispositional personality traits relate to fundamental individual differences in thinking, experience and behavior (see box: BIG 5).

BIG 5 The term stands for a personality model that distinguishes five basic dimensions of relatively stable personality traits:

  • Neuroticism (Frequency of negative emotions, emotional stability)
  • Extraversion (Sociability, activity, lust for sensation, enthusiasm, self-assertion)
  • openness (for experiences, Tendency to independent, unconventional, imaginative experience and behavior)
  • compatibility (Altruism, trust, cooperation)
  • conscientiousness (Self-control and organization, planning ability, reliability)

They occur regardless of the respective situation and usually remain stable over a long period of time. Personality dispositions influence our behavior fundamentally and unconsciously - sometimes even against our will: Anyone who has ever firmly resolved to be less nervous, e.g. at an appointment or an interview, can confirm this.

In contrast to this are characteristic adaptations typical behavioral tendencies that occur depending on the situation and the social role of a person. They are less stable than behavioral dispositions and are influenced by our values, goals and intentions. Characteristic adaptations are, so to speak, the translation of goals and ideals into concrete behavior. The meanings of life raised here are such "values ​​that have come into action" and potential sources to experience meaning in life.

In the first step of the investigation, it was examined which personality traits tend to be associated with spirituality or rather with religiosity. It is noticeable that both spiritual and religious people rate themselves as above-average sociable, agreeable, trustworthy and emotional. Religious people, however, appear more indulgent, more willing to submit to others, and more conscientious. There are also major differences in terms of openness. Not only do spiritual people tend to have more vivid imaginations than religious people, they also tend to be more open to new, unusual experiences and ideas.

Both spiritual and religious people show a high degree of self-transcendence, both vertically (connected to a higher power) and horizontally (willingness to take responsibility and commitment to society, nature and personal growth). Self-knowledge - that is, the conscious confrontation with one's own strengths and weaknesses - seems to be particularly important to spiritual people even more than to the religious. They are also characterized by a high level of creativity. Harmony and mindfulness - with oneself and in the sense of a conscious interaction with one another - seem to be of above-average importance to both orientations, but are more pronounced in the case of the spiritual.

The next step investigated which of the two types of personality traits had a greater impact on a person's beliefs. It was found that personal convictions and values ​​(= characteristic adaptations) have more influence on the spirituality or religiosity of a person than typical behavioral dispositions. This means that a person's belief is more strongly shaped by their individual experiences and the goals and values ​​resulting from them than by their unconscious and inherited behavioral components.

With the aim of comparing two different types of spirituality, the study participants were divided into two groups in the last step:

a) Persons who claim to be both religious and spiritual

b) People who claim to be spiritual but not religious

Contrary to expectations, “only” spiritual people do not have a more open attitude than religious-spiritual people. Compared to the average, openness is more pronounced in both groups. This means that spirituality - whether with or without religious orientation - seems to be connected with the need to experience new things and to let one's thoughts and creativity run free. The data indicate that people who are spiritual but not religious are more likely to be neurotic. This means that they suffer from anxiety and depression more often and may be reluctant or even hostile towards others. Spiritually non-religious people were also found to be less sociable compared to spiritually religious people and the average.

So far it has been assumed that "only" spiritual people, in contrast to spiritual-religious people, could not find meaning and support in religion and are therefore still looking for orientation. This assumption has so far been supported by the pronounced openness of spiritual people, but the results of this study show that religious-spiritual people are also open - without showing neurotic tendencies. This does not explain why such open-minded and experience-oriented people often feel insecure, fear rejection or even suffer from anxiety and depression.

There may be a connection here to the chaos on the spiritual market described above. Perhaps particularly open-minded people are overwhelmed by this oversupply. Many of the philosophies of life advertised there come from other religions and cultures. Torn out of their actual context and not applied correctly or only superficially, they may not have an effect. That is why it is important to “shop” consciously and consciously on the spiritual market and to check the quality of the offer and the provider. You won't find any bargains here, because spirituality, like religiosity, is spiritual orientation and life practice that is lived out individually - i.e. without a fixed religious institution and community, requires a special degree of patience, practice and regularity.

Summarized by Christoph Hörmann