In 2017 Jesse Preston and Faith Shin published their research on spiritual experiences in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.1
Points from Preston and Shin’s article
- Spirituality is associated with awe (wonder and amazement) and it involves:
- A feeling of smallness to something greater than oneself – God, the grandeur of nature, or some greater force in the Universe.
- Humility in relation to that greater something.
- Connection to that greatness — feeling part of a greater whole.
2. Spirituality is different to religiosity.
- Religiosity is defined in terms of affiliation and adherence to a prescribed set of beliefs and practices.
3. Spirituality can be felt outside of religious affiliation.
4. Religious/non-religious people recall different kinds of spiritual experiences:
- Religious people mention events that are more explicitly religious.
- Non-religious people report more alternative spiritual sources (e.g. nature, yoga, meditation, science).
5. Religious/non-religious spiritual experiences share the features of point 1 above.
Frequency of spiritual experience types
Following are the types of spiritual experience reported most frequently in Preston and Shin’s research.
The most frequent type (41%) of spiritual experience for religious participants was religious, i.e. the experience had a direct connection to an explicit religious activity or belief such as attending church. In contrast, only 15% of the spiritual experiences reported by non-religious people were religious.
Life and death experiences
Life/death experiences (e.g. birth of a child, death of a loved one) were the second most frequent (32%) spiritual experience for religious people and the third most frequent (22%) for non-religious respondents.
For religious people this was the third most frequent (15%) spiritual experience but the most frequent (27%) spiritual experience for non-religious individuals. In other words, it seems that religion is spiritually much more important than nature for religious people, but nature is much more spiritually important than religion for non-religious people.
Practical relevance of these findings for helping Nature
These findings are consistent with my impression of religious vs non-religious people concerning our ecological crisis. Among followers of the Abrahamic religions whom I personally know (mostly Christians and Jews), none show high awareness or concern about the ecological collapse, few can even identify common birds other than the most common (robin, house sparrow, carrion crow, etc) and even fewer are making a meaningful effort (examples on home page) to try conserve God’s creations. In fact nearly all the religious people I know are decidedly consumerist, i.e. they are part of the problem.
Among the religious people I know who are at least slightly aware of the mass extinction, nearly all express low felt responsibility for addressing the problem (recycling plastic bags and prayer while continuing to pig-out in consumerist ways doesn’t count) and are instead waiting for God to intervene. In the meantime, most of the people I know who are knowledgeable about nature and making a real effort to try save God’s endangered creations, are not religious.
In contrast to our ancestral religion of Paganism, which venerates Nature,2 it seems that the Abrahamic religions’ lack of concern for nature has been disastrous for nature and therefore humans. Why then are so many people still following these religions? Is it because religious people actually don’t give a f**k about God’s creations?
1. Preston, J. L., & Shin, F. (2017). Spiritual experiences evoke awe through the small self in both religious and non-religious individuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2017.