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Perception of Spirituality and Civic Life

Volunteers planting trees

Higher measures of spirituality are highly correlated with more active civic and political lives, but people’s perceptions about the relationship between the two are more complicated.

In conversation, we heard people affirm, reject, or grapple with how they perceived the relationship between their inner spiritual lives and outer action. We watched focus groups of six strangers debate their divergent perspectives: A few would staunchly defend how their spirituality informed their community or political engagement; a couple others would assert how the two were altogether unrelated; and the rest would share how they’d never thought about it before. 

Two in three people believe that their spirituality guides how they act in the world. 

Focus group and interview participants who identified as spiritual and religious often described the importance of aligning their faith, or belief in God or Jesus, with their actions. 

Spirituality isn’t just internal, but is all of my engagement in the world and trying to be like Jesus, and with Jesus, and shaped by Jesus in that.” 

Elizabeth, 44 

Very spiritual / Very religious (Protestant) 

Three in five people say that spirituality inspires them to give back to their community. 

Many described a sense of moral obligation that comes with the connection with their community. 

In my church, of course, we move to do more for the community than the church. So it’s like, ‘You’re so spiritual, you feel a certain way, let’s take that energy and push it out to the community. Let’s help or build something for the community.’

Dante, 37 

Very spiritual / Moderately religious (Christian) 

Just under half of people say that their spirituality influences their political views, and even fewer say it influences their political activities.

Some described spirituality and politics as naturally related, while others adamantly defended the division between spirituality and politics.

“The choices I make as a voter, I’m going to choose to support the common good. [...] So my political views are always coming from my spiritual views and how I see the world.”

Nancy, 54

Very spiritual / Moderately religious (Episcopalian)

“You can sit there and pray all you want to and sometimes He’s just not going to tell you if you should have a soda tax or not.” 

Sara Lynn, 67

Very spiritual / Very religious (Lutheran)

Conversation with others opened people’s eyes to a connection between their own spirituality and the way they engage in the world.

During focus groups, some people began to connect spirituality and civic or political action after listening to others describe their own connection between the two.

Before I came in here I didn’t really think about a connection between politics and spirituality, but this was thought provoking regarding that. I think I see it now.”

William, 69

Moderately spiritual / Not religious at all