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Education Series: Vocabulary

Siztah Charise and I say it all the time: to be able to articulate your feelings, identity, and overall existence should not be considered a luxury; it should be an imperative. When we lack the language to say who or what we are, it feels like taking a spelling test without any knowledge of letters. How could we possibly connect with one another (or ourselves) in a meaningful way if we’re unable to conceptualize the “why’s” and “how’s” of our lives?

Religious identity is a paradigm deeply engrained in our society. In the United States, Christianity is considered a default belief system for many people. (Note: we will discuss Christian privilege and minority worldview marginalization tomorrow). While Christianity itself is not inherently problematic, the cultural normalization of Christianity and religion in general makes it challenging for people with other worldviews to thrive without fear of marginalization, discrimination, or misunderstanding.

Because words do matter, I want to outline working definitions for the main vocabulary we’ll be employing in this series. Some of these definitions may clarify the potentially separate, potentially overlapping, but undeniably complex scope of worldview identity.


WORLDVIEW is an all-encompassing, inclusive term to describe a person’s approach to existence (literally = view of the world). (Example: Instead of asking, “What is your religion/faith?”, we can ask, “What is your worldview?”) because

  • Religion is not inclusive to everyone because not everyone identifies with an organized religion.
  • Spirituality is not inclusive to everyone because not everyone identifies with spiritual practices.
  • Faith is not inclusive to everyone because not everyone is a person of faith. (We could categorize religious individuals as well as spiritual individuals as “people of faith,” or people who have faith in a greater power or being–but this is not inclusive to people who do not believe in a greater power or being.)
  • Non-faith-based identities, such as Atheism, are considered equally included and legitimate identities alongside faith-based identities under the term worldview.
  • Intellectually questioning identities, such as Agnosticism, are equally included and legitimate identities under the term worldview because they do not require a person to support or refute the existence of a greater power or being.

There are many additional worldview categories under faith, non-faith, or intellectually questioning systems, but this breakdown is a general spread demonstrating how the term worldview allows for the non-assumption of a person’s identity.

Religion vs. Spirituality

Many people wonder what, if any, difference exists between these two terms. While the definitions for both terms are distinct, people might identify with any combination of these two words:

RELIGION is the communal, institutional, and organizational practice of a defined set of attitudes or beliefs, likely influenced by a historical text; it offers a formulation of principles to guide practice and action.


SPIRITUALITY is one’s interior life of faith; it is the personal, open-ended expression of belief beyond proof. It can be described as the search for meaning, purpose, and transcendence outside institutional boundaries.

Therefore, a person might identify many different ways:

  • Religious and spiritual: a person whose search for meaning and purpose is practiced primarily through the context of an institution
  • Spiritual but not religious: a person whose search for meaning and purpose exists outside institutional boundaries
  • Religious but not spiritual: a person who adheres to principles based on an institutional identity but does not actively search for meaning and purpose
  • Neither spiritual nor religious: a person who does not actively search for meaning and purpose independently or within an institution

According to Belief Without Borders, spirituality and religion consist of four basic components:

  1. Belief in some kind of larger reality, some transcendent or sacred force, something greater than the individual.
  2. A desire to connect with this larger reality or greater force.
  3. The promotion of rituals and practices as an aid or witness to this connection.
  4. The expectation of particular behaviors (whether called “moral” or not) that foster or demonstrate the desired connection.

Why these distinctions matter

Honey, they matter for a million reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Many people on this planet believe they have to be religious or nothing; this is not true! There are so many worldviews! Like many others, my story is one of exiting religion and not realizing until much later that there could be another way to believe in the purpose of my existence beyond the promise of heaven or hell.
  2. Many religiously-identified people can tap into their spiritual identity that might not be developed within their institutions. Again, these terms are not exclusive of one another, but many religious folks might not realize that mindfulness, meditation, healing energy work, and other spiritual concepts can overlap with their religious identity without contradicting it.
  3. If people of faith (religious + spiritual) can acknowledge a shared belief in something greater despite our different use of language to describe it, our differences suddenly become commonalities. In 2017, there is no excuse for religious discrimination for many reasons, but especially when you consider the fact that we’re all talking about the same shit.
  4. In a time (in the U.S.) when we are finally becoming inclusive to marginalized racial, gender, sexual, ability, language, country of origin, and socioeconomic class identities, we need to acknowledge the blindingly obvious discrimination not only to religious identities, but to many non-dominant worldview identities. People of faith must learn to be comfortable with the fact some people don’t believe in an afterlife or divine intervention. Christians in the U.S. must learn to be comfortable acknowledging their privilege. We all must understand how our worldviews encourage or discourage connection based on our ways of being.

Stay tuned for more!


Mercadante, Linda A. (2014-02-05). Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (pp. 5-6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.


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