Social scientists frequently juxtapose spirituality to religion and identify the former by way of what it lacks in comparison to the latter. In particular, spirituality would appear to lack institutions, authority structures, community, and even history—all of which are considered integral to religion, such as it is widely understood today. Congregational identity, membership, and attendance are key markers for studies of Americans’ religious convictions, and the congregation, therefore, is taken to be an especially important, if not the definitive, site for the political and social mobilization of religious Americans. Against this backdrop, the rising number of “religious nones” (as well as shifts in congregational styles [see Chaves 2009]) emerge not only as new empirical facts but, insofar as their presence is measured against a norm of voluntary participation, also appear to engender a certain anxiety on the part of the scholars who study them (e.g., Olson 2010; Putnam and Campbell 2010). Though “religious nones” may be believers, they appear to lack the kinds of social connectivity that are recognizable to scholars, and that the latter have deemed essential to voluntary political participation. Insofar as spirituality emerges as a term associated with such individuals—and one that seems to sound the alarms about the problems of individualism—it appears as either the weak cousin or the crazy uncle of the norm that continues (or that should continue) to endure (see, e.g., Bellah et al. 1985), or as the spark of regeneration and the movement toward a “new” social order (e.g., York 1995).
more from Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts at The Immanent Frame here.