Robert Fuller generalizes that those who claim to be spiritual believe in a Higher Power and aspire to “enter into a more intense relationship with this Higher Power”. However, including a Higher Power in understanding spirituality is not necessary.


Fuller, RC. 2001. Spiritual but not religious: Understanding unchurched Amarica. New York: Oxford University Press, 7.

How do we judge that a certain practice is indeed a spiritual practice?

We interview subjects and then accurately reflect on their characterizations of the practice.

We need a neutral taxonomy to process what subjects say about them and their practice.

Evaluating certain practices as spiritual seems to be problematic since many of these practices can be simply described as aesthetic, ethical, physical, or psychological practices.

Wade Clark Roof offers an interesting understanding of what spirituality is. Spirituality is simply the process through which individuals tap into a diverse “spiritual marketplace” and choose certain practices that they customize for their own life to create an “inner feeling” that lifts and moves them.


Roof, WC. 1999. Spiritual marketplace: Baby boomers and the remaking of American religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 137.

Taylor argues two important claims:

  1. Spiritual problems are distinguishable from ethical problems.
  2. Spirituality is normatively contained by religion.

The first claim encourages the development of a philosophy of spirituality. The second claim encourages an examination of spirituality independent of religion.


Taylor, CT. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Taylor argues that all cultures have a conception of “human flourishing”. However, many of them offer another thing: an indespensable element that is independent of human flourishing.

This indespensable element is related to transcendence. Transcendence can be theoretically articulated in different ways. But many religious and spiritual seekers agree that transcendent experiences are moments when the aspiration to a truly flourishing life is achieved.

There might be a need for spirituality if Mark Johnston is correct when he said that, “there are certain large-scale structural defects in human life that no amount of psychological adjustment or practical success can free us from.”


Johnston, M. 2011. Saving God: Religion after idolatry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

An argument against the necessity of spiritual or religious attributes

This is the line of thinking of Nicholls and Salazar:

Large-scale structural defects exist.

If these defects can be addressed by the most robust for of ethics, then there is no need to speak about spiritual or religous attributes.

Aristotle’s argument:

Aristotle argued that the best and most complete form of human life is a life that has achieved eudaimonia. However, even a person who has achieved eudaimonia is not immune to misfortune. At first glance, this could mean that eudaimonia seems to not be the final completion. However, Aristotle posits that once a person has achieved eudaimonia, it is impossible for him to be dettered of misfortune as he is able to integrate the misfortune into his wisdom and continue living.

If this main problem is easily solved this way, then there is no need for spiritual or religious attributes. However, if indeed responding to misfortune and the large-scale structural defects is a problem that is distinctively spiritual, then spirituality and flourishing should not be put together on one conceptual space.

Taylor argues that the spirituality of Buddha and Jesus consisted of a radical change of identity that does not negate eudamonia or flourishing but makes a profound inner break from its goals.

What is preventing spirituality from being taken seriously:

  • Its vocabulary intersects with the core concepts of religion and ethics.
  • Its vocabularly further intersects with aesthetics, science, and the like.
  • The populist tendency to constantly expand its conceptual reach without proposing normative limiting criteria

Chapter 1

Understanding Spirituality

Heather Salazar and Roderick Nicholls


Salazar, H., & Nicholls, R. (2019). The Philosophy of Spirituality: Analytic, Continental and Multicultural Approaches to a New Field of Philosophy (Vol. 322). Brill-Rodopi.