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“Being Religious” or “Being Spiritual” in America: A Zero-Sum Proposition?

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Recent discussions of religious attitudes and behavior tend to suggest—and in a few cases, provide evidence—that Americans are becoming “more spiritual” and “less religious.” What do people mean, however, when they say they are “spiritual” or “religious”? Do Americans see these concepts as definitionally or operationally different? If so, does that difference result in a zero-sum dynamic between them? In this article, we explore the relationship between “being religious” and “being spiritual” in a national sample of American Protestants and compare our findings to other studies, including Wade Clark Roof’s baby-boomer research (1993, 2000), 1999 Gallup and 2000 Spirituality and Health polls, and the Zinnbauer et al. (1997) study of religious definitions. In addition to presenting quantitative and qualitative evidence about the way people think about their religious/spiritual identity, the article draws implications about modernity, the distinctiveness of religious change in the recent past, and the deinstitutionalization of religion.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Samford University, Birmingham, AL 2: Office of General Ministries, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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