Spiritual But Not Religious – Characteristics & Categories  

Perhaps you would have come across the phrase “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) that focuses on living a life with the principles of spirituality. It doesn’t consider “organized and institutionalized religion” as the single source of optimizing your spiritual growth. Today, we’ll discuss spiritual but not religious in detail, its characteristics, and categories.

Historically speaking, people used to employ both terms spirituality and religion synonymously. But the focus of spirituality has changed recently on your personal life and growth and well-being of mind-boy-soul. The emphasis of institutionalized religion is on establishing the community and communion.  

Spiritual But Not Religious – Explanation 

Experts like Mathew Hedstrom, professor of religion at the University of Virginia said that the term “religion” or “church” implies strict regulations, well-organized, and outdated fashion hymn. On the other hand, spirituality has a larger canvas and it allows you to explore answer various questions freely.

Origin of SBNR

Approximately 92% of the American people that have a Christian religious background and most of them from such conventional tradition would like to identify as “spiritual but not religious.” The term SBNR originated in the early 2000s by the popularity of online dating. A person had to tell about one’s beliefs and check the box of SBNR. It was a simple and nice category that suggested that you aren’t the cold-hearted person or the strict religiously moralizing followers. You’re simply spiritual, nice, and friendly, but not religious.


Often your parents define your religion and the belief you follow. Mainly, it focuses on how you see yourself and how others see you. For instance, if your parents tell you’re Italian-Catholic from the time of your birth and you live in the neighborhood of Italian Catholic. If they have decided your identity for you, then you don’t have to wonder about yourself who you are, and what you should believe in.

But this trend is changing nowadays because young people choose a certain type of community that fits their values, rather than following the belief system of their parents.


People like to use the term spirituality as they identify themselves with it because it has a positive connotation attached to it. It means that you have got a deep understanding of yourself as a human being, consider life sacred, and you live a meaningful life. However, People believing in spirituality are not blind followers by accepting everything coming from their parents. You are also not rejecting the idea of higher powers.

Atheists usually use the term spirituality for themselves and they like to identify themselves with it. The term atheist is not intense in some communities. For instance, some people don’t like dogs and they identify themselves as an atheist. It’s a taboo and perception

Statistics about SBNR

Some of the statistical figures found by the research of Pew Research Center are as follows;

  • The number of US citizens who like to identify them without any religion has increased from 15% to 20% during the period of 2007 to 2012
  • One-fifth of the US adults under the age of 30 don’t have any association with any religion and they follow spirituality
  • 37% of the people that don’t have any association with any religion, like to identify themselves as spiritual but not religious
  • 58% of the people say that they have got a deep connection with Earth
  • And 68% of the people say that they strongly believe in God

Characteristics of SBNR

Some of the main characteristics of SBNR are as follows;

Not Anti-Institution

SBNR doesn’t mean that you’re rejecting the religious beliefs and the authority of religion, and it simply means that you don’t want the restrictions of the religion. Linda Mercadante said that SBNR has taken the anti stand against organized religion. It suggests that the beliefs of any religion are not necessary, and it could harmful and dangerous to spirituality.

Intellectual Freedom

There is tension and conflict between the people who believe in spirituality and the membership of any organized belief system. Many people want intellectual freedom and prefer the experimental approach rather than the authoritative approach towards religion. In fact, some critics say that the approach of institutional religion is the enemy to authentic spirituality, but the practices of spirituality are highly private and personal and they aren’t public.


If you identify yourself as spiritual, then it implies that your focus is on achieving personal empowerment and finding the deepest inspiration and motivation of life. Some cultures are very cautious about the institutional structure of any belief system because their focus is on autonomy and personal freedom. Spirituality has positive connotations in terms of personal growth and development.

Categories of SBNR 

Some of the main categories and types of the people that identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are as follows;


Dissenters are such people that make the intentional and conscious effort to stay away from organized religion.

  • Protesting Dissenters: they’re such people that have shut off their association because of their bad experiences
  • Drifted Dissenters: they’re away because of various reasons like they got out of touch and don’t like to go back there
  • Conscientious Objector Dissenters: they’re very critical of the organized institution and they don’t consider it necessary


Casual people view the practices of spirituality and religion as the primary function of life. Following spirituality is not their main concern in their lives, and their focus is on getting emotional support, relieving stress, and improving their health and well-being.


“Spiritual Wanderlust” is another name for them, and they’re always looking for new practices of spirituality in order to satisfy their curiosity, cope with disappointed feelings, and understand the journey of life. They don’t have the permanent commitment to stay on the spiritual path, instead, their focus is on taking comfort from the journey.


They look for a permanent home from spirituality in order to recover from the state of the earlier identification of the religion. They accept spirituality as a whole but they don’t like the label of religion.


They’re such people who find themselves in the realm of spirituality and try to adjust themselves to the new identity. In simple words, we can say that they’re new to the spiritual environment and they have yet to feel comfortable there.

Conclusion: Spiritual But Not Religious – Characteristics & Categories 

After an in-depth study of spiritual but not religious; characteristics and various categories; we’ve realized that SBNR is a growing trend. If you identify yourself as SBNR, then you keep in mind its various categories and traits that make you do so.