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Defining Religion and Spirituality 

Defining Religion and Spirituality
Defining Religion and Spirituality

Michael J. Balboni

, and Tracy A. Balboni

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date: 27 October 2020

This chapter notes two general approaches, the substantive and functional, in how spirituality and religion may be conceptualized. A functional understanding is less focused on the specific content that comprises religion, such as the superhuman or the gods, and instead concentrates on the ultimate concern or greatest love of said religion. Within this functional approach, spirituality and religion are closely related but not identical. Spirituality refers to the immaterial connection between the lover and the object chiefly loved. Religion concerns the external structures that support and enable an ultimate concern or greatest love. Both conceptual approaches hold scholarly legitimacy, but functional understandings, unlike substantive definitions, open innovative ways within an increasingly pluralistic society to interpret the relationship of spirituality and religion within medicine, so that traditional “religious,” “spiritual but not religious,” and deeply “secular” persons may uncover shared values and common ground in the care of the sick.

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