L57 RelPol 430

Spiritual But Not Religious: The Politics of American Spirituality

Spring 2023, W 2:00–4:50PM

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 claim 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?? The seminar focuses on a series of debates that have arisen over this “new spirituality” in American culture: the religious blessing of consumer culture, the rise of therapeutic models of meditation and mindfulness, the politics of Euro-American appropriations of Native American and Buddhist religious practices, the negotiation of religious pluralism, and the relationship between spiritual seeking and social justice.

Course History:

  • Fall 2016: taught by Prof. Leigh Schmidt
  • Fall 2021: taught by Prof. Leigh Schmidt