Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

By Elaine Howard Ecklund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Spiritual Entrepreneurs

Evelyn,1 the chemist we met in Chapter 2, said that when “[religion] doesn’t work, it ends up being a mechanism by which people’s thoughts and lives are controlled or meant to be controlled.” Evelyn feels differently about spirituality. “Spirituality is a much more individual, personal thing,” she remarked with a voice of firm conviction. After saying this, she paused reflectively and then continued, “When I think of a spiritual person, the word ‘judgment’ doesn’t even pop into my mind.” Although she does not consider herself religious in a conventional sense, her spiritual views influence her actions in a number of ways. For instance, she would not contribute to research that might lead to the destruction of the environment, and she tries to bike rather than drive in order to help the environment. This is part of her general philosophy of “mindfulness.” She has taught her son to be a vegetarian, which also seems to stem from her spiritual beliefs. And for her, running is a spiritual and meditative “Zen experience.”

Like Evelyn and the over 20 percent of scientists who see themselves as spiritual but not religious in a traditional sense, more and more Americans are exploring a unique spirituality that may still borrow from traditional religions. Some scholars even think that to be “spiritual-but-not-religious” may indeed be quintessentially American. According to a recent national survey, over 70 percent of American adults consider themselves spiritual to some extent.2 But spirituality by itself evokes a sense of cynicism among the highly religious in some circles; it is considered to be a term used by those who want to partake of some broader framework to find meaning in life but avoid any responsibility to religious communities or fellow sojourners. Scholars and practitioners alike have difficulty defining the term. Religion scholars think that Americans tend to link spirituality to interaction with some form of a higher being. And most Americans actually do see spirituality as including facets of traditional religion. In his book After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s, Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow asked his interview subjects to give their own definitions of spirituality. Their answers ranged from near-death experiences, unseen

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