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How Do “Religion” and “Spirituality” Differ? Lay Definitions Among Older Adults

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Research and public interest in religion and spirituality is on the rise. Consequently, there is an increasing need for rigorously obtained information on what individuals mean when they use these terms. This study examined how 64 older adults living in three retirement communities (including one Christian-based community), a relatively understudied population, conceptualize religion and spirituality. Participants defined “religion” and “spirituality,” and their narrative definitions were coded and compared using a framework derived from Hill et al.'s (2000) conceptualization of religion and spirituality. Despite considerable overlap, participants' definitions differed on several dimensions. Participants were more likely to associate religion than spirituality with personal beliefs, community affiliation, and organized practices. Moreover, spirituality appeared to be a more abstract concept than religion, and included nontheistic notions of a higher power.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Michèle M. Schlehofer is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD. 2: Allen M. Omoto is Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University., Email: 3: Janice R. Adelman is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2008


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