A Framework for Understanding Spirituality

Spirituality refers to a search for a greater meaning in life, a connection to something bigger than oneself and an inner peace. Often, this feeling is associated with a specific religion but many people consider themselves spiritual even if they do not belong to any organized faith. This is because being spiritual allows for a personal interpretation of the truth that all humans share. Being a spiritual person can thus be very different from religion but also carries the same core values.

The article explores the different definitions of spirituality found in scientific journals and proposes a framework that operationalizes this concept to better guide research and clinicians. It is based on the idea that we can understand spirituality in three axes/domains. The first axis (upper white section) consists of beliefs, practices and experiences that promote a sense of interconnectedness with other human beings or nature. Examples include religious beliefs, mindfulness meditation, praying, community service, singing devotional songs and volunteering. This axis can be assessed using validated instruments such as the Spirituality Scale (SS; Delaney, 2005).

The second axis is composed of feelings of purpose in life, well-being and support that arise from being connected with something that is beyond oneself. Examples include sensations of a divine presence, life meaning and purpose, a deeper sense of meaning in one’s daily activities and a feeling of love and compassion towards others. This axis can be assessed using validated scales such as the Spiritual Well-being Scale (SWBS; Hyman and Handal, 2006). Finally, the third axis is concerned with how people are influenced by their spirituality in their everyday lives. This can be seen in things such as the way one acts and speaks, how they treat their fellow humans or animals, the way they spend their free time and their overall approach to life.