L57 RelPol 430

Spiritual But Not Religious: The Politics of American Spirituality

Fall 2024, T 3:00–5:50PM

This seminar focuses on the formation of “spirituality” in American culture from the Transcendentalist world of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman on through more recent expressions of the “spiritual-but-not-religious” sensibility.


What does it mean to be “spiritual but not religious”? What are the social and political consequences of foregrounding spiritual seeking and religious experimentation over the “organized religion” of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples? How did this contemporary view of spirituality take shape historically? The seminar focuses on a series of debates that have arisen over spirituality in American culture: the entwining of religious practices with consumer culture and corporate capitalism, the rise of therapeutic models of meditation and mindfulness, the politics of Euro-American appropriations of Native American and Buddhist religious practices, the implications of embracing religious variety and eclecticism, and the relationship between spiritual seeking and social justice.

Course History:
Fall 2016: taught by Professor Leigh Schmidt
Fall 2021: taught by Professor Leigh Schmidt
Spring 2023: taught by Professor Leigh Schmidt