Spirituality is a tricky field. Its language muddles with philosophy, psychology, religion, health, etc. What separates it from all the others? Is there a logical necessity to construct another word such as this?
Giving a name to something means we are claiming that it is “different” from the others. Otherwise, why would we name it in the first place? A name is a differentiator.
Differentiation, in turn, requires building boundaries. All the other old disciplines have established their boundaries in relation to other disciplines. Reality is far from being bounded, but differentiation is a necessary step in productive thinking. It helps thinkers think and divide the labor.
For example, psychologists can tackle the issue of consciousness as it relates to human behavior. But at some point, they will stop asking questions about consciousness: What is consciousness? Does it exists? How are we sure? These are questions for philosophers. Interdisciplinary thinking is good and it is encouraged in academic circles. But for a particular field to exist and be recognized, it has to have hard boundaries. These boundaries serve as signals for people who are looking to join the discourse in these fields.
How do we establish boundaries between fields? Boundaries are established through defining the “problem” or problems that the field attempts to solve. Usually, there is a major problem and a few subproblems related to it. These problems can be expressed through a question or a subject matter. For example, the subject matter of psychology is the experience and behavior of an individual. A question based on this subject matter could be “Why does an individual act the way he does?” On the other hand, philosophy would ask questions like, what is action? What is experience?
In order for Spirituality to be a field of its own, it has to prove that the problems or questions it is trying to solve are indeed “spiritual” in nature. It has to define what is spiritual and differentiate it from the non-spiritual. This means that its problems and questions should not be psychological, philosophical, or religious. This is problematic because a lot of “spiritual” practices seems to tackle aesthetic, ethical, physical, and psychological problems.
Spirituality can differentiate itself from other disciplines if it can prove the following: Transcendence exists.
Almost all cultures have an idea of “human flourishing”. This is a turf that psychology has already held. Philosophy can permeate to almost all topics (because it asks questions like “what is it?”).
But there is another thing that that is independent of human flourishing and seems indispensable: that is transcendence.
This differentiation between flourishing and transcendence finds the biggest litmus test: fortune (or more accurately, misfortune).
In reality, there are “large-scale structural defects” or features that we can’t really address. The biggest of these features is misfortune. There are things we just can’t control.
Psychology claims that a human life that has flourished is the most complete form of human life (what Aristotle called eudaimonia). However, even a person who has achieved eudaimonia is not immune from misfortune. This could imply that human flourishing is not the final completion, that there is something beyond it.
Psychologists would argue, using Aristotle’s arguments, that a human being who has flourished will not be deterred by misfortune, as he can integrate the misfortune into his wisdom and continue living. If this problem is easily solved by psychologists then there is no need for spirituality.
But if there is something beyond this, then spirituality deserves its own conceptual space.
Spirituality does not negate eudaimonia or flourishing but makes a profound inner break from its goals.