Spirituality versus Religion

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How cool was it to hear President Obama reference Hindus and non-believers in his inaugural remarks? You know how many Presidents have done that before? That's right: zero.

I don't consider myself religious but I'm not sure I consider myself a non-believer either. I consider myself "still figuring it out." Lots of moms I know struggle not only with how to introduce religion to their children but also whether they should in the first place. It's become almost cliched to explain "I consider myself spiritual but not necessarily religious"--something I have been guilty of saying, regardless of the fact that I try not to say the word "spiritual" as a rule, if only because it conjures up this crystal I insisted on wearing in the eighth grade. My parents strove to expose me and my sister to all the religions of the world--a sort of Encyclopedic approach to the topic--which is the way I thought I would like to raise my kids. Neither my husband nor I consider ourselves particularly "religious," and, amongst the myriad things I have on my "Let's Worry About This" list, the place of religion in my kids life has never made a cameo. However, this new study makes the case that your children will actually be happier if you raise them with some concepts of spirituality. And who doesn't want happy kids?

The interesting thing about the study is that it makes a clear distinction between "religious practices" (think: going to temple, praying, meditating) and "spirituality." Religious practices, the study says, are not predictors of "happier" children. Spirituality is.

I was dubious. (It's that word--"spirituality"--it just conjures up too many hackey-sack playing wannabe Robert Thurmans I have met). And I wasn't really won over by the finding that "the study shows that children who feel that their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships — both measures of spirituality, the researchers claim — are happier." Sounds like proving your point with a bunch of platitudes to me--who says that feelings of meaningfulness and deep relationships are indicators of spirituality? Aren't there myriad secular ways to show your children meaningfulness, and to foster deep relationships?

But this got me thinking:


"Enhancing personal meaning may be a key factor in the relation between spirituality and happiness," the researchers stated. Strategies aimed at increasing personal meaning in children — such as expressing kindness towards others and recording these acts of kindness, as well as acts of altruism and volunteering — may help to make children happier, Holder suggests."

Again, it seems conclusory to label such practices as "spiritual." Then again, if you think of "spiritualism" as some sort of moral compass--something that guides us in our never-ending quest to make our children good people--then the construct starts to work for me.

What do you think? Are you raising your children "religiously"? "Spiritually"? Do you think there is a difference?

(Thanks to Dhrumil and his rawness for showing me this study)
18 comments:
Geeta said...

It's a question we think about often. Neither of us are religious, but I was raised doing all of the pomp and circumstance, which made me SURE i wouldn't subject my children to such hollow ritual. But now that I'm a mom I am not so steadfast and am coming to see the positive aspects of everything i considered "hollow" before. Would love to know everyone's thoughts on this.

Savitri said...

We plan on raising our children Hindu in the way that we are Hindu--which I suppose would be more "spiritually" so than religiously. THat's one of the great things about the religion (less of the ritual, more of the spiritual).

RDUTTA said...

Interesting study but I agree, the indices of "spirituality" in the study are very vague and broad and there are many ways to offer them to your kids (or have them in your own life) that may not be seen as typically "spiritual." In fact, it comes back to what I've always believed which is that the golden rule (do unto others) and the ability to put yourself in somebody esles's shoes (empathy) are as much guiding principles as any religious OR spiritual doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Funny, Obama's speech made me think about religion/spirituality too. Mostly because I felt so included by his shout out to Hindus, even though I'm not actually a practicing one.

I think anything that makes people feel involved/included is good. I think I want my kids to ahve it, even though I didn't and don't really miss it. But I"m not sure.

Anonymous said...

my husband is Christian and I am hindu. We hope to expose our two kids to the best parts of both. We don't think anything bad can come from more choices versus less.

Jasmine said...

I think "spirituality" is really just a moral code. I like that the study makes the distinction that it's not yoga/meditation, which is waht so many people equate with spiritualism these days. At this point, yoga is really just exercise in America! Spirituality, to me and hopefully to my children, is the ability to see the world as bigger than you, and the desire to harness that perspective productively.

Anonymous said...

We've been taking my daughter to temple since she was born, since we try to go as often as possible. For us, it's just a way of life and I think it will be the same for her.

tani said...

I would do practically anything to ensure the happiness of my kids. Hand over the crystals!

V. Gupta said...

It's a good question. When I am thinking about it, my first reaction is "of course": Of course it would be good to raise my son with "spiritual values." But in reality, the day is full of logistics, and preschool, feedings and naps. Will I really be able to interject a "spiritual component" to his day unless it flows naturally from what I and my husband already believe? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure it's the most important thing to do either. Food for thought though for sure.

Janie T said...

haha you must have gone to college with me, even the sight of a hackey sack still makes me cringe!

i like the conclusion of the study but the methodology seems flawed for the ways you point out, and how can you really measure "spirituality" anyway? plus, at the end of the day, there is alot of overlap between spirituality and religion no?

Purva said...

It makes sense. Think about how adults feel when they "give back", do charity work, etc. I can totally see the value of instilling that sort of stuff into kids at an early age. Calling it "spirituality" though? It seems like a stretch.

JP said...

i think the definition of spirituality is unique to each of us. our goal is to raise a gentle, kind boy who has a global perspective. as if that isn't hard enough in this world! i think we have some time (at least i hope we do!) before we start instilling all of these practices...maybe when they can understand the concept of giving/sharing (which i read somewhere isn't until 5 or so).

my husband and i have made a list of things we want to do with our son once we feel the time is right, like take him to volunteer activities (obviously age appropriate, like beach clean up) and since he loves cooking, we thought making dinner for a homeless family and having him come with us to drop it off.

it would be great to get more ideas and hear what has been gratifying for others.

Lilu P said...

I was just about to write something similar to the above poster. Would love to hear ideas for how to instill these kinds of values into small kids. Is it even worthwhile yet? I look back on the things I did with my baby when he was 1,2, (museums etc) and realize I didnt "need" to do that sort of thing till later. He enjoys that kind of thing so much more now and before, i now know, it was really more for me! I am wondering if it is the same with spirituality, religion, empathy, all these things.

Anonymous said...

Like the idea for a list. I always seem to have these ideas I think I will remember later, when my kids are ready for them, and of cousre I never do remember.

My neighbors volunteer with their kids and often get ideas through this organization. I have yet to do it but it will go on my list!

http://www.compassionatekids.com/volunteering.shtml

Anonymous said...

I can see how the things defined as "spiritual" in this study can produce happier children. Less material objects, more personal, human experience. As for how to actually convey such values, it's of course easier said than done and I think the best thing to do is set an example yourself. Doing something one day a year doesn't really make an impact. You gotta live it.

Indian Road Romeo said...

Religion is a very individual thing and I think parents has every right to raise their children the way they want. Whatever makes them happy. As the kids grow up, they will figure out what's right for them on their own.

Archana said...

Great post! I want to look at that book. I'm Hindu and my husband's Catholic, and we're both vegetarian. We talk a lot about how to extract the best from both as we raise our baby...

Anonymous said...

Finding things to do with other friends has been great for us. We all take our kids along and even though they don't get what we are doing, we are starting traditions of helping others which will hopefully carry on till when the kids do understand. Start small. Park clean ups are a great way because you can get a bunch of people together, have a picnic, clean the park--full saturday. But seriously, one of the best things we have done is getting others involved with us.

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