Spiritual… But Not Religious

Mental health and happiness are just as positive for spiritualists as traditional believers

(RxWiki News) Many people find solace in their religious faith. The same goes for those believing in a spirituality outside the major religions. But psychology has sometimes viewed these differently.

Past research includes findings that those who are "New Age" or follow "Paganism" may also experience more mental health conditions, even if they are harmless.

Not so, finds newer research. Non-traditional spiritualists are just as likely to be happy and secure as anyone of a more traditional faith.

"Don't worry - go enjoy the day."

The study, led by Miguel Farias, PhD, MSc, and Raphael Underwood, both of the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford in England, aimed to investigate the validity of past research on nontraditional spirituality.

In the past studies, the unusual beliefs of some spiritual people made it seem as though their responses to questions aligned more closely with people who were psychotic or had delusions or hallucinations.

The past studies sometimes classified people with unorthodox spiritual beliefs as "benign schizotypal personality" or as having an "insecure attachment."

Having an insecure attachment means the individuals did not feel securely attached to their parents and may have sought out a different spirituality to compensate for that poor relationship.

"Benign schizotypal" means a person appears to have symptoms related to those who have a psychosis or have schizophrenia but that the person's symptoms are harmless.

In this study, Professor Farias compared two different groups of people, ranging from age 15 to 73. One group included 114 individuals who identified themselves as modern spiritual believers. The group had 84 women and 30 men.

A little over a third of these individuals said they were Wiccan, and about a third said they were "Spiritual but not Religious." The others were Druids, Shamanists or identified as "other."

The other group included 86 individuals who believed in a traditional major religion. Most of these — 93 percent — were Christian, plus three Muslims and three Jews.

The individuals were recruited through online social networking sites related to modern spirituality or traditional religion.

All the responders' first language was English, though they represented different nationalities: primarily British and American with smaller percentages of Canadian, Australian, Irish and South African.

They completed a serious of standard psychological scales to determine their life satisfaction, their symptoms of psychosis, their concentration and decision-making skills, their levels of self-control and of introversion and their social anxiety.

They were also tested for symptoms of depression and to see what kind of anxiety they had associated with a fear of death.

All of this was compared with the results of a survey about their religious and spiritual practices, such as how often they prayed, attended services or read scriptures.

The researchers found that faith filled the same functions for the "spiritual" individuals as it did for the traditionally religious individuals.

"Our results reinforce the need to de-stigmatize spiritual ideas and experiences," the authors wrote. "The results show that spiritual believers report high social support satisfaction and this variable predicts involvement in modern spirituality."

The researchers also found that having unusual experiences or ideas were the most likely predictor of whether a person would be engaged in modern spiritual practices.

Meanwhile, those who regarded themselves as spiritualists or as spiritual were no more likely to have anxiety, depression or attachment issues than the traditionally religious respondents were.

The spiritual individuals were actually a little less likely to have anxiety about death.

"Overall, the results strengthen the association between modern spirituality, good mental health and general well-being," the authors wrote.

The study was published August 17 in the British Journal of Psychology. Information regarding funding or disclosures was not available.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2012