Religion and spirituality are intertwined but quite different. Spirituality has seen a spike in interest over the years, as seen by Google’s use of the world “spirituality”.
The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” and spirituality as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”. Yet religion often teaches about the soul and rejection of an excess of material goods, and spirituality can consist of beliefs.
Religion and spirituality are not at odds with each other and have areas of historic and doctrinal overlap. However, as it is understood today, spirituality gives the individual autonomy over his or her interpretation of the soul or spirit, whereas religion implies participation in a communal practice and interpretation of divine belief and worship.
An easy way to differentiate between the two today is via structure. Religion typically has set creeds and teachings, a long history of scholars and texts and clear leadership. Religion places an emphasis on communal gathering, communities of faith that organize around a shared belief. It requires membership and embodies practices and beliefs shaped over the course of history. Although it can vary widely between groups, religion often has some sort of leadership structure – whether within a specific and local community of believers, or a global structure similar such as the Roman Catholic Church.
Spirituality gives the individual autonomy over his or her interpretation of the soul or spirit, whereas religion implies participation in a communal practice and interpretation of divine belief and worship.
It should be noted that many religious traditions contain a “spiritual” element to them. For example, in Christianity the Holy Spirit is one part of the Holy Trinity. In Islam, a strong mystical tradition can be found in Sufism; in Judaism, one can look at Kabbalah.
An easy way to differentiate between the two today is via structure. Religion requires membership and embodies practices and beliefs shaped over the course of history.
Today, many people often speak of spirituality as a personal self journey that connects one with a deeper meaning, without the clearer and more rigid boundaries of institutional religion. Spirituality can be thought about as a market-based system of “religious” consumerism, with individuals piecing together a mosaic of religious and secular teachings and philosophies to better one’s own non-material life. This often coopts religious practices or beliefs, with Christianity and Buddhism often combined in the West. Since the individual is the sole actor for this interpretation of spirituality, there is no leadership structure or communal gathering.
The difference between religion and spirituality is an important question and one that will only continue to be asked more and more. The line between the two is blurred, but I have found the most helpful distinction between the two is by seeing who has the agency to create meaning making for life beyond the material – is it a specific community of people and teachings, or is it left to the autonomy of the individual?
There can be no unity in religion because it is based on beliefs i.e. your beliefs, my beliefs, the other persons beliefs. Because beliefs are based on theoretical and hypothetical notions that have no basis in fact. The evidence of this is the many bewildering religions that exists in the world who are unable to unify mankind. The bible is not an absolute knowledge of God because it was based on a theory of beliefs that was gathered by King James V during the seventeenth century and his good friend William Shakespeare. For example, the Christian religion as well as all religions in the world are not good models of unity as can be observed by their divided venues that are not unified because of the lack of centralized principles that can unify them. For example, all humans in the world are unified when doing arithmetic that are ruled by the four principles of multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. There is no argument here about arithmetic and no war will be fought over arithmetic. The same cannot be said about the religions of the world who do not follow any centralized principles as non of them follow any unifying principles, only beliefs. Beliefs have no principles, only the theoretical and hypothetical notion that there is a God. This can cause discontent and war between them that has been happening for millenniums. Until this is changed, we can count on having destructive wars between us because beliefs will clash. There are no solid arcane principles in beliefs. Until this is recognized, religion will continue to divide mankind. Religious beliefs run in a three hundred degree circle while Spiritual Knowledge is laser focused because of principles not of mankind's making.
I recommend two books that contributed to my spiritual growth, The "Divine Pymander," translated from ancient Arabic by Dr. Everard from England and translated by Pascal Beverly Randolph in the eighteenth century that was based on Enoch's life during the dawning of the ages. Not much was written in the bible about Enoch. "The Kybalion" was written by the "Three Initiates" and first published in 1912. If we want to know what the truth is, it will be necessary to look back into our distant past before the truth became tainted by the divided religious"beliefs" that we see today. Unity cannot be established by beliefs, but specifically by knowledge because religious beliefs have no principles.
I must compliment Austin Tiffany on his answer. He could add to the list of differences the existence or not of a canon or holy book in which given or accepted beliefs are given, such as the thousand different Christian Bibles, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, the Talmud and Torah, and the Buddhist Tipitaka. In spirituality, there are no central texts. Indeed, there cannot be one else spirituality would become another religion.