Inspiration Report

Guest Post from the University of Missouri News Bureau

Few studies have examined the differences between spirituality and religion in adolescents. Now, a University of Missouri researcher is exploring these differences by determining how youth define and practice spirituality separate from religion. Defining spirituality can help reveal its impact on adolescent development. Initial findings reveal that youth define


spirituality in terms of positive behaviors, feelings and relationships.

“Ultimately, we want to determine the impact of spirituality on positive youth development, including self-esteem and pro-social behavior, and if it buffers against negative or risky behavior,” said Anthony James, a graduate student in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). “To begin that research, we first need to identify how youth define and practice spirituality.”

James examined adolescents’ responses to the question, “What does it mean to be a spiritual young person?” The responses reveal that youth describe their spiritual behavior in terms of seven categories related to personal and social development, including:

·  To have purpose

·   To have the bond of connections, including those to a higher power (typically God), people and nature.

·  To have a foundation of well-being, including joy and fulfillment, energy and peace

·   To have conviction

·   To have self-confidence

·   To have an impetus for virtue; for example, having motivation to do the right thing and tell the truth


In addition, James created an “unable to define” category. The category includes responses, “Not sure,” or “I don’t know,” from youths who self-reported being “spiritual.” This reveals that there may be a disconnect between classifying oneself as spiritual and defining what that entails, James said.

“Although the assumption is that many people are ‘spiritual,’ spirituality is not something that is easy to articulate and define,” James said. “People have a hard time separating spirituality from religion, but the differences are important to understanding behavior and development.”

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