End of ADS-L Digest - 3 Mar 1998 to 4 Mar 1998


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ADS-L Digest - 2 Mar 1998 to 3 Mar 1998 98-03-04 00:00:10
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There are 22 messages totalling 942 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

1. Religious/spiritual (Was Re: Semantic distinc. betw. "crick" and "creek"?
2. Zori and the lost generation (LONG)
3. Mellon Grant (2)
4. Business terms (hot potato, dead cat, copper) (2)
5. Semantic distinc. betw. "crick" and "creek"?
6. Religious/spiritual (and opinions/judgments)
7. Man in the Street (Was Re: Business terms (hot potato, dead cat, copper))
8. "elevator bar" (3)
9. A new use of Ms? anecdotal! (3)
10. RE "elevator bar"
11. A New Use of Ms?
12. Watch your judgment
13. "Long Bullets"
14. Man in the Street (Was Re: Business terms (hot potato, dead
cat, copper))
15. ERIC website
16. zori redux


Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 00:16:27 -0500
From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU
Subject: Religious/spiritual (Was Re: Semantic distinc. betw. "crick" and

At 12:54 PM 3/2/98 -0500, "Bethany K. Dumas" dumasb[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]utk.edu wrote:
Greg noted:

Over the years, when the subject of religion comes up in some
connection, students in my classes seem to make very decided
distinctions between "religious" and "spiritual." But each of them seems
to have made up a somewhat different version of the distinction....

I have a very decided distinction between those two words. To me,
"religious" connotes "institutional," while "spiritual" does not. I.e.,
you are religious if you go to church, observe the practices of your
religion, etc. You may be spiritual and not religious -- certainly you can
be religious and not at all spiritual.

So what other distinctions do your students make, Greg?

Well, I'm not sure this is necessarily US-specific, but quickly -- Many of
the distinctions that seem to be made between these two words, in my
admittedly limited experience, float around the institutional/individual
distinction you mention. But I think that to account for all such usages
that I've seen, there's a more basic distinction than that, and a greater
variety of details. Everyone that I've run into so far who has made a strong
distinction between the two words, rather than seeing them as related or
overlapping, has tended to see "religious" as more negative and "spiritual"
as more positive.

So it really seems, functionally, to be roughly the distinction between
"bad" and "good." ("I don't like it" vs. "I do like it.") Since
individualism has become ever more important as a cultural value since the
onset of modernity, those looking to find more individualized versions of
religion or spirituality or whatever one calls these phenomena will tend to
see individualistic versions as good/positive and institutional ones (to the
extent we individualists may therefore see them as alienating) as
one-size-fits-all and thus bad. I by the way am NOT taking any position on
these matters; I'm just trying to analyze a usage I have noticed. In fact, I
just noticed in writing this that OED's entry for "spiritual" has lots of
definitions that overlap, some quite strongly and explicitly, with "religious."

I don't have time to go into the whole array of different kinds of traits
that get attached to the positive "spiritual" vs. pejorative "religion"
distinction, but they always seem to go back to an idea that religion is
external and traditional and doesn't have anything to do with the user of
the term's positive values, while the spiritual is used for anything deeply
felt and seen as authentic. But the details of (A) what is seen as external,
irrelevant culture and (B) what is seen as authentic vary a good deal from
speaker to speaker. I saw a quote in catching up on the Sunday New York
Times this evening, about people who choose to go to coffeehouses rather
than bars where alcohol is served: "They're a little more health conscious,
a little more spiritual, more into themselves versus a crazy social scene."
I.e., "spiritual" seems to have become a pretty wide net, especially when
one recalls that the etymology of "spiritual" implies that it has to do with
nonmaterial rather than material things, and many folks who use the word in
the spiritual-as-against-religious sense either actively disbelieve in a
nomaterial aspect of reality or are agnostic about it.

Not being possessed of especially strong opinions on these matters, I don't
always resonate, myself, with the adamance individuals often exhibit in
asserting their particular sense of the distinction against others in a
class where the topic comes up, usually in the course of discussing some
literary or philosophical document. Isn't there that couplet in the Essay on
Criticism that goes something like:

Tis with opinions as with watches, none
runs quite the same, yet each believes his own.


Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]nyu.edu or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]is2.nyu.edu