A new study titled “What Does Spirituality Mean to Us?” found that Americans who say they’re highly spiritual are more likely to be civic-minded and want to make a difference in their local communities. The more these people identify their spirituality as some sort of connection — whether to God, another higher power or even just “humanity” — the more likely they are to be active in their communities by volunteering, donating and voting.
The Fetzer Institute funded the study as a way of determining just what spirituality even means in America anymore. And while the study took place before the coronavirus pandemic (which could have a seismic impact on American spirituality in a way that won’t become clear for a few years), it still provides an interesting window into how being spiritual affects the daily life of the average American.
“What the Fetzer study has uncovered is how much people are talking about connection when they talk about spirituality — connection between the inner and outer world and with others in community,” Omar M. McRoberts, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and an adviser to the study, told Religion News Service. “Spirituality is not a solipsistic endeavor where it’s just about individual experience or elevation.”
While spirituality may have an impact on how involved Americans are in their communities, its connection to their actual political beliefs is a little more tenuous. Only 45 percent said their spirituality influences their political views and just 36 percent said it influenced their political actions.
The distinction between “spirituality” and “religion” is a new topic of study and researchers are still wrapping their heads around what people mean when they use one word over the other. In this case, 70 percent of the respondents consider themselves both spiritual and religious, while just 16 percent said they were “only spiritual” and a mere three percent said they were “only religious.” All told, 86 percent said they were at least somewhat spiritual.
The study also asked people to draw a picture of what they thought “spirituality” was. Some common drawings included things like nature, connection with others and symbolic representations of positive attributes like peace and love. The study confirmed that whatever their definition of spirituality, most Americans consider it to be something positive and worth working towards.
“The more someone is spiritual, the more they aspire to be spiritual,” Fetzer Institute program director Gillian Gonda told RNS. “It seems to be a never-ending search and journey that deepens for people over time.”