Not long ago, I was visiting an art exhibit called “Longing, Grief, and Spirituality.” As I was contemplating works of art such as Zarina’s Veil, Michael Tracy’s Cross of the Sacred Peace, Mel Chin’s Our Strange Flower of Democracy, Andy Warhol’s Camouflage Last Supper, or James Lee Byars’ Halo, among others, I realized that I was, in a nutshell, contemplating a visual equivalent of my research on spirituality. There, for everybody to admire, be moved, or question, was a sampling of the many meanings of spirituality. Here was the grief of the cross, the awe of the angels, the making of the community, the mystery of the beyond, the devotional and the iconoclastic, the beauty and the ugly, and so much more.
And that begs the question: If spirituality is all of that, what is it really?
As the title of the exhibit suggests, spirituality might have to do with, or might be activated by, longing and grief, lack and pain. Or maybe spirituality is what happens when we feel big emotions, like falling in love, giving birth, experiencing music, nature. Maybe spirituality is what happens in the secret of our heart, the silent prayer, the candle we light, the meditation.
In fact, according to many researchers, “there is no single, widely agreed-upon definition of spirituality. Surveys of the definition of the term, as used in scholarly research, show a broad range of definitions with limited overlap” (McCarroll, O’Connor, and Meakes 2005, 44).
In a famous study from 1997 called Religion and Spirituality: Unfuzzying the Fuzzy (Zinnbauer et al. 1997, p. 550), the authors cite an array of definitions like “a human response to God’s gracious call to a relationship with himself,” “a subjective experience of the sacred,” or “the vast realm of human potential dealing with ultimate purposes, with higher entities.” In a recent interview, Michael Pollan (nd) defined spirituality through his psychedelic experimentations as “having a profound connection with something larger than you…it’s a kind of love.” Others define spirituality from a faith perspective, for some it has to do with the beyond; yet others emphasize the emotional and private aspects, and many connect spirituality with a sense of personal development.
The most recent academic definition given by the French sociologist Lionel Obadia states: “(Spirituality is) an ethereal and fluid space of resources of meaning and actions for humans, likely to nourish their aspirations, sacred or not, on earth and beyond, which unfold below or beyond established religious traditions” (Obadia 2023). This definition aims at rendering the many aspects of spirituality, its multidimensionality and fluidity, its relationship to the self and to the whole, to the human and to the divine. It also places spirituality in relationship to ‘religious tradition’ as ‘below or beyond’ but not mingled together. This reflects the biggest evolution of the concept of spirituality since its origin.Download Article 1K Club