What does it Mean to Study Spirituality?

Galen Watts
PhD Student, Cultural Studies

This is a question I keep coming back to.

More Canadians than ever before identify as “spiritual” as opposed to “religious,” and talk of “spirituality” is becoming increasingly prevalent in mainstream discourse.

In 2014 I decided to devote my time and energy to figuring out what spurred this shift in the religious and cultural landscapes, and what precisely “spirituality” means.

Up to now I’ve interviewed thirty-three Canadian millennials (aged 18-36) who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious,” some of whom I have interviewed up to three times over the course of three years.

I’ve learned a lot about the spiritual lives of these young Canadians. I’ve heard intimate stories that revolved around struggles with depression, family troubles, life changing events, and even all night raves. I’ve watched interviewees shed tears, burst out laughing, and speak with a passion so intense it was contagious.

I’ve learned that to study spirituality is not simply to study spirituality, but to study the intersections of subjectivity, society, history, politics, and economics—to study spirituality is to study the human condition.