A Framework for Studying Spirituality


Spirituality is a broad concept that encompasses a belief in something greater than the self, often with a desire to find meaning and purpose in life. It can involve religious traditions centering on a higher power or can be a holistic belief in one’s connection to other people and the universe as a whole. Spirituality may also include a desire for inspiration, reverence, and awe, and it can come into focus in times of stress, physical (and mental) illness, loss or death.

A variety of beliefs and practices are associated with spirituality, including prayer and meditation, but it also can involve a more informal approach to daily life. For example, some people seek a deeper connection to nature or a sense of mystery through activities like staring into the water or hiking on a mountaintop. Others might feel inspired to serve others or help improve the world through volunteerism or activism.

Many of the dimensions identified in scholarly literature are associated with both religion and spirituality, but researchers have trouble distinguishing them because they overlap. This lack of clarity and agreement on definitions makes it difficult to study and understand this dimension. To address this, we propose a framework that organizes the cognitive or philosophic, experiential and emotional, and behavioral aspects of spirituality and that is intended to facilitate research. The framework focuses on the belief that all these aspects are interconnected and cannot be analyzed in isolation from one another.