What is Spirituality?
As already noted, spirituality and related concepts such as religion/ religiousness have come to be the focus of increasing amounts of research within the health and social sciences (e.g. medicine, nursing, psychology, social work, counseling). As an ostensible manifestation of the empirical work, significant efforts have been put forth to devise scientifically useful definitions and at present there are a wide array of standardized assessment instruments available. For instance, in literature surveys I completed in the mid-to-late 1990s, my colleagues and I uncovered over 100 measures of spirituality and related concepts [17,18] and several more have appeared since then.
However, despite the ready availability of measurement tools, there exists considerable controversy surrounding how to best conceptualize and measure spirituality with the main issues revolving around (a) its relation to religion (e.g., are spirituality and religion the same or different?), (b) the utilization of metaphysical concepts and terms in its definition which cannot be rendered open to conventional modes of inquiry and investigation (e.g., do we need such notions as divine, sacred, and God in order to define spirituality?), (c) its contamination with other health constructs, particularly well-being, (d) whether it is best measured quantitatively or qualitatively, and (e) its universality across cultures [19-25]. Some scholars have been so frustrated with the persistence and seeming intractability of these issues that they have suggested the abandonment of spirituality as a topic of study .
I myself have spent the better part of the past 20 years working in the area of spirituality with most of my efforts directed at measurement. While I am very aware of the aforementioned issues (and have been among the more vocal members of the scientific community in highlighting them), this has not discouraged me from advocating for spirituality studies. Rather, these problems have served to motivate me to adopt a thoughtful and methodical stance toward the science and to proffer approaches to research which show sensitivity to the complexities of studying spirituality. Considering the vast number of available instruments and the lack of apparent consensus regarding how to best conceptualize the construct, my efforts have been most centrally directed identifying and operationalizing robust core features of spirituality as they are embodied in existing tests so as to bring some degree of order to what the empirical literature is actually telling us about spirituality.
These efforts resulted in the development of a multidimensional measurement model based upon the conjoint statistical analysis of a wide sampling of extant measures . The dimensions themselves appear to embody broad domains of spirituality which have found expression in the scientific, philosophical, and spiritual literature. Succinctly stated, the dimensions are Cognitive Orientation toward Spirituality (i.e., beliefs about the existence and importance of spirituality to one’s daily living), Experiential/Phenomenological Dimension (i.e., non-ordinary experiences and states of consciousness of a spiritual nature which involve some alteration to one’s sense of self), Existential Well-Being (i.e., a perception of self as having meaning and purpose and the capacity to deal with the existential adversities of life), Paranormal Beliefs (i.e., beliefs in the validity of parapsychological phenomena), and Religiousness (i.e., beliefs in the existence of a higher power and involvement in practices and activities typically associated with devout religious life such as meditation and prayer).