Spirituality Replacing Religion? NYC Panel to Discuss Growing Trend

Most Americans profess a belief in God, yet a 2010 survey revealed that 72 percent of the nation's young people identify as "more spiritual than religious" – why is that? Courtney Bender, Matthew Hutson, and Sally Quinn will tackle the issue in a NYC panel discussion titled "I'm So Spiritual."

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(Photo:Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)A man holds a bible during church services in this Feb. 18, 2007 file photo.

Gallup poll released data last summer indicating that more than 9 in 10 Americans "believe in God," while at the same time showing that young Americans, liberals, and Easterners were the least likely to confess such a belief. Another poll released earlier this year also shows that Americans' faith in organized religion is at an all-time low.

"The turn towards being 'spiritual but not religious' in spite of the claims of (Christopher) Hitchens et al, points at the decreasing observation of doctrine and strict rules and a broader relationship to sentiment and 'Jesus and me' on the one hand alongside the rise of yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and a blend or smorgasbord of eastern practices with the idea of being loosely / broadly spiritual – yet not in any specific context or foundation of the Trinity, Seven Deadly Sins, Karma, Nirvana or any of the pillars or branches of belief," shared Alan Miller, moderator of the event, in an email to The Christian Post.

"We think also that the idea that there are many 'truths' has come to dominate the landscape and that has impacted the idea of an omnipotent universal Truth," he added.

Miller is moderating the Oct. 1 event and is Co-director of The New York Salon, which is hosting the event in partnership with The New School.

Featured panelists for "I'm So Spiritual" include Bender, associate professor of religion at Columbia University; Hutson, a science writer, former editor of Psychology Today and author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane; and Quinn, a journalist and editor-in-chief of The Washington Posts' "On Faith" section.

Panelists will address what it may mean when someone proclaims "I'm not religious – I'm spiritual" and whether "self-styled spirituality" is just a different form of religion, a threat to tradition religion, or whether it may represent a fundamental departure from what is commonly accepted.

"Around 80 percent of Americans identify with a religious denomination – overwhelmingly Christian – while 40 percent say they attend weekly services and 58 percent pray at least once a week. This high level of religious observance, symbolized by America's bustling 'megachurches,' is unique in the developed world," Miller added in a press release.

He also noted suggestions that religious literacy in the U.S. also appears on the decline, especially among younger Americans, which may be a contributing factor.

"So does the persistence of high-profile religiosity mask a more profound decline in religious faith? And how does the turn to the spiritual fit into the picture? In Britain, numbers attending church have been decreasing continually in the postwar period, but there too there still seems to be a desire to have some kind of 'spiritual' outlook – often involving a pick-and-mix approach to eastern religions as well as Christianity itself," Miller added.

The New York Salon and The New School have undertaken a four-part series investigating some of the "key areas of contemporary life," with half of the series tying in to the Battle of Ideas 2012, a two-day festival at London's Barbican Center featuring more than 350 international speakers and 2,000 attendees. The Battle of Ideas Satellite Festival runs from October-November across Europe and New York.

"I'm So Spiritual" will be held Monday, Oct. 1 at The New School's Theresa Lang Community and Student Center in NYC.