The Semantics of ‘Spirituality’ and Related Self-Identifications: A Comparative Study in Germany and the USA

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Summary

Culturally different connotations of basic concepts challenge the comparative study of religion. Do persons in Germany or in the United States refer to the same concepts when talking about ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’? Does it make a difference how they identify themselves? The Bielefeld-Chattanooga Cross-Cultural Study on ‘Spirituality’ includes a semantic differential approach for the comparison of self-identified “neither religious nor spiritual”, “religious”, and “spiritual” persons regarding semantic attributes attached to the concepts ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in each research context. Results show that ‘spirituality’ is used as a broader concept than ‘religion’. Regarding religion, semantics attributed by self-identified religious persons differ significantly from those of the spiritual persons. The ‘spiritual’ and the ‘religious’ groups agree on semantics attributed to spirituality but differ from the ‘neither spiritual nor religious’ group. Qualifications of differences and agreements become visible from the comparison between the United States and Germany. It is argued for the semantically sensitive study of culturally situated ‘spiritualities’.

The Semantics of ‘Spirituality’ and Related Self-Identifications: A Comparative Study in Germany and the USA

in Archive for the Psychology of Religion

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Figures

  • View in gallery
    The Semantic Field of ‘Spirituality’ vs ‘Religion’ (Osgood Differentials). Here, the semantic field is visualized as scatter plot for each sub-sample, based on Osgood’s Semantic Differential. The scatter plots display a vector space spanning between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, locating the single adjectives according to their position relative to both concepts, highlighting general trends for Germany and the USA.
  • View in gallery
    Highly Spiritual, Low Religious (Osgood Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for the comparison of the American vs German subgroup of the respondents self-identifying as Highly Spiritual, Low Religious (HSLR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.
  • View in gallery
    Highly Religious (Osgood Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for the comparison of the American vs German sub-group of the respondents self-identifying as Highly Religious (HR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.
  • View in gallery
    Neither Spiritual nor Religious (Osgood Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for the comparison of the American vs German sub-group of the respondents self-identifying as Neither Spiritual nor Religious (NSNR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.
  • View in gallery
    The Semantic Field of ‘Spirituality’ vs ‘Religion’ (Contextual Differentials). Here, the semantic field is visualized as scatter plot for each sub-sample, based on our Contextual Semantic Differential, displaying a vector space spanning between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. By locating the single adjectives according to their position relative to both concepts, general trends regarding shifts of the semantics of both concepts become visible for each research context.

    Note. The position of the dots is determined by the means for “spirituality” (y) and “religion” (x) resulting from a paired t-test with the contextual semantic differential items in the U.S. (n = 1802) and German (n = 703) samples.

  • View in gallery
    Highly Spiritual, Low Religious (Contextual Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for comparison of the American vs German sub-groups of the respondents self-identifying as Highly Spiritual, Low Religious (HSLR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.
  • View in gallery
    Highly Religious (Contextual Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for comparison between the American vs German sub-groups of the respondents self-identifying as Highly Religious (HR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.
  • View in gallery
    Neither Spiritual nor Religious (Contextual Differentials). The black line shows the polarity profile of ‘religion’, the grey line shows the polarity profile of ‘spirituality’ for comparison between the American vs German subgroups of the respondents self-identifying as Neither Spiritual nor Religious (NSNR). The asterisks show the levels of significance for each paired t-test: **p < .001, *p < .05.

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