The other night at dinner with good friends, the subject of religion versus spirituality came up.
In recent years, I have filled a file with notes and papers on this subject; but I have only just recently identified what I judge the clearest and best description of the difference between them.
It is found in Chapter Two of Joan Chittister's book, Called to Question (p.19):
Religion is about what we believe and why we believe it. It is about the tradition, the institution, the system. Constructed over centuries--more than five thousand years ago for Hinduism, the first formal religion--religion draws for the world a portrait of creation and relationships. It gives us creeds and dogmas and definitions of God. It gathers us in worship and reminds us of a world to come.
Spirituality is about the hunger in the human heart. It seeks not only a way to exist, but a reason to exist that is beyond the biological or the institutional or even the traditional. It lifts religion up from the level of the theoretical or the mechanical to the personal. It seeks to make real the things of the spirit. It transcends rules and rituals to a concentration on meaning. It pursues in depth the mystical dimensions of life that religion purports to promote.
Sister Joan then ends the chapter on page 24 with this:
Religion, the finger pointing at the moon, is not the moon. Simply keeping the rules, accepting the conventions, and loving the pomp that comes with religion will not get us there. For that we need a spirituality of search.