What is spirituality, science of spirituality

What is spirituality?

Again and again I hear the reproach that spiritual phenomena are not studied scientifically. That is not quite right. Spiritual science is indeed a small flied, but it showed a lot of results already. In my studies at the University of Salzburg, I was fortunate enough to attend the lecture ‚Psychology of Spirituality’ by Anton Bucher. The Swiss theologian is a renowned researcher of happiness and spirituality. With this article I start a series on the topic ‚Science of Spirituality’, in which I pick up aspects from the lecture with Anton Bucher. I will show you the most important findings of spirituality research.


Spirituality versus Religion

The time is long gone when you had to explain that you can be spiritual even without religion. But what is the difference between the two?

church 2464883 1280 300x200 - What is spirituality?Religion is institutionalized, oriented on a dogma or world view and claims to have found the only truth. Furthermore, religions follow tradition. That is why they are not open to innovations and changes. Religions follow established practices and rules.

Spirituality is an individual matter. Everybody creates his worldview based on his or her experiences and often integrates aspects of different religious traditions. At the same time, the eyes remain open for changes and new experiences. Spirituality is not a fixed structure, but developable, liberating and innovative.

Spirituality Religion
individual regulated through institutions
oriented on experiences oriented on a dogma
integrates many religious traditions exclusive claim of truth
searching for innovations traditions
open predefined
liberating regimented


Spiritual Experience versus Psychosis

The thin line between a psychosis and a spiritual experience is often difficult to pinpoint. The transitions are just too fluid. Science therefore provides us with some parameters by which we can classify the true nature of an extraordinary experience.

surreal 2905438 1280 300x225 - What is spirituality?Thus, the following distinctions were made by the researchers Mike Jackson and K. W. M. Folford:

Spiritual experiences can be controlled in contrast to psychosis. However, it is objectionable that some spiritual experiences happen without intention, but one can at any time “exit” through the connection to reality and come back into an everyday consciousness. This is not possible with a psychosis.

Even healthy people have hallucinations. The the one hand in psychosis auditory hallucinations (sounds, voices) are perceived. In a spiritual experience, on the other hand, visual hallucinations are seen and understood as such. Additionally those visual impressions can be stopped at any time. An example of this would be shamanic journeying.

Another important point is the differentiation between ‘integrative’ and ‘disintegrating’. This means that a psychosis usually throws the victim completely off track. A spiritual experience enriches life.

Spiritual experiences Psychosis
controllable uncontrollable
sensual elements as mental constructs sensual elements as physical reality
mostly visual hallucinations mostly auditory hallucinations
content is criticizable uncorrectable content
integrative disintegrating


What does Spirituality mean?

Scientifically, one has not yet agreed on a definition of spirituality. Therefore I would like to share my own conception of spiritual life with you:

Spirituality (Latin: spiritus = Spirit) is an intellectual practice with the aim to connect with a higher reality (higher being, transcendence, original source, god). If you live spiritually, you strive for a higher purpose and align your life accordingly.

In my life, this is expressed as followed:

  • I try to sensitize my abilities to feel other people better.
  • I try to feel connected to everything and everyone.
  • I try to practice mindfulness (brushing my teeth, eating, walking …)
  • I try to be in harmony with the world around me and myself and develop self-confidence.
  • I try to live in the presence. This I reach with pranayama (yogic breathing techniques ->Read here: What is Yoga?)

I deliberately used the word “try”, because I do not always succeed to meet my highest goal. But you need to practice to become a master 😉

Spirituality is an exciting journey with many travel partners, means of transport and stopovers, but with only one destination: YOURSELF!

I wish you a wonderful journey!

railway line 3121544 1280 1024x682 - What is spirituality?

More about this topic you can find in Anton Bucher’s book: Psychologie der Spiritualität (Currently only available in German)
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