Spirituality: a useful and inclusive definition

Thames at night (3)

I often hear the distinction made about being spiritual but not religious. However, spirituality is hard to define.

I came across a useful working definition of spirituality by Simon Robinson;
‘Awareness and appreciation of the other (including the self, other person, group, environment or deity)
Capacity to respond to the other
The development of significant life meaning based upon these relationships’

This kind of meaning, Robinson argues, includes ‘the development of faith and hope, both in a generic sense, life purpose and reconciliation.’

This rings true for me when I think of the many conversations with students and staff who are reflecting on their growing understanding of how they relate to the full range of their own experiences, how they relate to others, and how they are making sense of God, nature, or the cosmos (for this definition the ultimate ‘Other’ does not have to be God).

Religion, Robinson argues, involves ‘a particular, systematic practice of spirituality, with shared doctrine which focuses on the Divine’. The difference is having ‘shared doctrine’. Of course, ‘doctrine’ can be secular as well as religious.

Simon Robinson is Professor of Applied and Professional Ethics at the Leeds Metropolitan University.

Robinson, S and Katulushi, C (eds.) (2005)Values in Higher Education. Leeds: Aureus & The University of Leeds.
Robinson, S. (2008) Spirituality, ethics and care. London: JKP.
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‘Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?’

This is the title of Brian MacLaren’s latest book. It’s the best theological writing I have seen for Christians about the practice of building good relations between people of different faiths.

MacLaren suggests ways to create a strong and deep Christian identity that does not need to be hostile to people who have different beliefs and views. He calls this ‘non-oppositional Christianity’.

He argues that much contemporary Christian identity is  based, wrongly,on a strong and hostile opposition to certain ideas, groups and people – anything ‘other’ than ones own limited tribal version of Church.

Why has this become acceptable Christianity? Especially when Jesus constantly sees ‘other’ people from outside his own tribe/group as being part of  the Kingdom of God.

MacLaren offers a way of being Christian that I wish more of us Christians could enact and that more people who are not Christians would get to see first hand.

Here he is with a trailer for his own book. But you have to read the book to find out what does happen when everyone crosses the road – no great surprise if you are already into dialogue!