Monday, April 18, 2016

Are you religious?

Detail of frame Library of San Marco, Florence
Next fall I'm teaching in the college's 360 program again, as part of a cluster of courses on contemplative practices - in Buddhism, in the Abrahamic traditions and in the secular world.  It's an incredible program to be a part of, as it criss-crosses disciplines as well as continents. We spend time in a silent retreat house in the US. We go to rural Japan.  We read papers about f-MRI and Carmelite mystics, and take a look at what happens when Buddhist practices get pulled from their roots and turned into treatment modalities.

Previous courses also got me thinking about my own faith and its practice. I wrote last time that taking a hard academic look at what I simultaneously live and breathe feels a bit like autologous dissection.

At the end of an information session about the course, a student came up to me and asked me point blank if I was religious or spiritual.  I admitted to being religious, and that I thought that the two were not mutually exclusive, so it was "and" rather than "or".

I know that "spiritual not religious" is a well-worn category, but "religious not spiritual" seems an oxymoron to me. Or at least it should be.


  1. I think the cultural meme of fire-and-brimstone would express "religious not spiritual."

    1. Perhaps...or at least as experienced. But part of me doesn't want to suggest that someone else lacks a spiritual life. Luke Timothy Johnson lays out some of these issues in a great piece "Dry Bones" at Commonweal some years back.