Academic Minute Podcast

Morgan Shipley, Michigan State University – The Varieties of Spirituality

Spirituality comes in many forms today.

Morgan Shipley, Foglio Endowed Chair of Spirituality and associate professor of religious studies at Michigan State University, surveys the varieties.

Morgan Shipley (Ph.D.) is the Inaugural Foglio Endowed Chair of Spirituality and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Religious Studies at Michigan State University. Author of Psychedelic Mysticism: Transforming Consciousness, Religious Experiences, and Voluntary Peasants in Postwar America (Lexington Books, 2015) and co-editor of The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post-Cold War World (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), Dr. Shipley’s research explores secular spirituality, new religious movements, and individuals who increasingly identify as spiritual but not religious.

The Varieties of Spirituality

For the 85+ million Americans who identify as nonreligious,[1] or the now 27% of adult Americans who claim to be spiritual but not religious,[2] we encounter more than a rejection of God and faith. Instead, we uncover various ways that Americans who reject religious affiliation seek alternatives for fulfilling those aspects of life traditionally associated with religion: virtue, morality, individual awareness, and relational structures (such as those between humans and humans, humans and nature, humans and the sacred).

Efforts to understand this growing segment of the American populace who describe themselves as SBNR forces us to confront a host of identities:

  • from individuals who reject belonging to a religious system but maintain an expression of belief (such as I am saved by Jesus but do not belong to a Christian denomination);
  • to many who appropriate, adapt, and combine spiritual practices (such as yoga and mindfulness) in order to improve individual wellness and collective well-being;
  • to others who reject the foundations of faith-based belief but seek out expressions of secular spirituality and alternative sites for moral codes, such as humanists.

For these groups, spirituality ranges widely, from being inspired by religion, to grounded in a type of nature reverence or aspect of secularity. At times, this directly mirrors religion absent faith in any type of higher divine power, as with atheist churches. Though still small in numbers, these spaces demonstrate how spiritual practice remains direly important for those who deny religious belief. For others, however, to be spiritual but not religious stresses both the absence of religion as well as approaches to confront questions of meaning, seek expressions of purpose, and construct ethical understandings of belongingness. At the heart of this secular spiritual quest is the pursuit of wellness—of mind, of body, and of spirit.

When we consider the growing number of SBNR, it is vital not to forget this diversity, as well as the idea that spirituality is not about belief or the experience of religion, but the quest to be fully human.

[1] See Gregory A. Smith, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religious Unaffiliated,” Pew Research Center, 14 December 2021,

[2] See Michael Lipka and Claire Gecewicz, “More Americans now say they’re spiritual but not religious,” Pew Research Center, 6 September 2017,


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