Foolish as the theory of Durkeim may be in confusing what is religious
with what is social, it yet contains an
element of truth; that is to say that the social feeling is so much like
the religious as to be mistaken for it.
(Simone Weil, 1951).
Psychiatrists concern themselves with human mental suffering. Behind
the consulting room door
they reflect with their patients on questions of meaning and existence,
issues that concern
philosophy and religion as much as psychiatry. It is striking, therefore,
that psychiatrists regard
spirituality and religion as, at best, cultural noise to be respected but
not addressed directly, or at
worst pathological thinking that requires modification (Larson et al.
Despite two millennia of debate we are little nearer a consensus on
the meanings of spirituality
and religion. The word ‘religion’ has as many definitions as
writers. Spirituality and religion are
often used interchangeably. Spilka (1985) doubts that a single definition
is even possible. Dittes
(1969) argues that religion contains so many unrelated variables that it
cannot be considered as a
unidimensional concept in research. We would argue that religion is the
outward practice of a
spiritual system of beliefs, values, codes of conduct and rituals (Speck,
1988). Religious groups may
function like any other with codes of behaviour, political alliances and
‘in’ and ‘out’ group member
ideology (Sherif et al. 1966).
Unfortunately, a concentration on the religious variable has led to
a failure to appreciate the
broader concept of spiritual and the presumption that if someone does not
profess a recognized,
religious faith, they have no spiritual discernment or need (Speck, 1988).
We propose a definition
of ‘spiritual’ as a person's experience of, or a belief
in, a power apart from their own existence. It
may exist within them but is ultimately apart. It is the sense of relationship
or connection with a
power or force. It is more specific than a search for meaning or a feeling
of unity with others. People
may use the word ‘spiritual’ to describe intense emotional
pleasure when moved by natural beauty
or by an important relationship. Spiritual belief is more specific than
that. Some people may use the
word ‘God’ to describe this power; others may be less specific.
Spirituality differs from belief in
other powers, such as nuclear power or magnetism, in its ‘set apart’
quality and the degree to which
it is revered and ritualized, the quality which Durkheim (1915) refers
to as the sacred.