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“Spiritual But Not Religious”: Spirituality in America

What does “spiritual but not religious” mean, and why has it become such a pervasive self-description in contemporary America? This interdisciplinary course surveys spirituality in America, with a particular eye for the relationship between spirituality and formal religion, on the one hand, and secular modes of understanding the self, such as psychology, on the other. Along the way we’ll study everything from AA to yoga to Zen meditation, with stops in Christian rock, Beat poetry, Abstract Expressionist painting, spirit photography, the feminist movement, environmentalism, and recent film. The study of spirituality forces us to confront many of the central concerns of modern American life: psychology, self-help, and therapeutic culture; global religious and cultural encounters; gender and sexuality; and consumerism and mass culture. In the end, we’ll come to see spirituality in America as a complex intermingling of the great world religions, modern therapeutic psychology, the politics of movements for social change, and a crassly commercialized, billion-dollar culture industry. Is this the fate of religion in a modern, capitalist, globalized society?


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Matthew S. Hedstrom

University of Virginia

Public College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

Religious Studies, American Studies, History

Buddhism, General Comparative Traditions, Hinduism, New Religious Movements, Protestant
Religous Tradition

Gender/Women/ Sexuality, He​alth/Death, Popular Culture/Media/Music/Sports, Science/Technology/Environment

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