The distinction between being spiritual and being religious has become more pronounced in the last hundred years. Whereas until the 20th century the two terms were used interchangeably, present day studies show a clear divergence of the terms and the characteristics of those who hold the two types of beliefs.
A three-year international study involving 57 researchers in 20 countries (1) found that humans are predisposed to believe in some sort of eternal being and an afterlife irrespective of their culture or teaching. Children below the age of three believe that their mothers and God can see inside a box, for example, but by the age of four they realize that their mothers are not all-seeing. Yet many continue to believe in an all-seeing God throughout adulthood. Adults across many different cultures believe in a duality of spirit and body, the former surviving beyond death.
In a study from Rice University (2,3), researchers found that more than 20 percent of scientists consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious. They used terms such as “individual, personal and personally constructed” to describe spirituality, whereas terms such as “organized, communal, unified and collective” were terms used to describe religious thought. They see both science and spirituality as “meaning-making without faith,” and spirituality as “seeking a core sense of truth…consistent with the work they do as scientists.”