This list is only meant as a general comparison. There is no one who is strictly religious with no spirituality or the other way around.
After all, religion and spirituality are interrelated and they need each other. Religion is a bridge to the spiritual. It is the language used to communicate spirituality. On the other hand, our spiritual needs and impulses are probably the reason why religions evolved.
A good way to compare religion and spirituality is to compare Salafism and Sufism.
I hope this comparison does not lead to a polarization. For a spiritual person to say, "I am more tolerant than you are" is just as egocentric.
The reason why it is important to be aware of these differences is that spirituality alone has its problems and religion alone has its problems. When we tilt one way or the other, we face imbalances.
Religion: My way is the only way. Not only should you be of my religion, but my brand.
Spirituality: There are many paths and they all lead to the same truth—the oneness and interconnectedness of all things; the focus on positive emotions such as love, compassion, gratitude and joy. Religion divides, spirituality unites.
Religion: Leads more often to egotism than to humility.
Spirituality: Leads more often to humility than to egotism.
Religion: There should be strict rules to ensure that we stay on "the straight path."
Spirituality: There are no rules, although you do need a "compass."
Religion: There is more evil in the world than good.
Spirituality: There is more good in the world than evil.
Note: In the Levant, a dervish (darwish) is used as an adjective to describe a naive person who is oblivious to the evils of the world.
Religion: Kindness is preached but not often practiced.
Spirituality: Kindness is practiced spontaneously as a result of spiritual practices that cultivate humility.
Religion: God is personal.
Spirituality: The Divine is multidimensional. He/She/It can be personal or impersonal. Any attempt at a definition is a limitation.
Religion: Attempts to reduce the universe and/or God to the level of the understanding.
Spirituality: Seeks to expand consciousness to identify the self with the universe and/or God.
Religion: Tribalistic. Relies on religious group identity in making decisions and taking positions. I always have to side with my religious group.
Spirituality: Doesn't not seek to strongly identify the self with a religious group. Avoids identity politics. It is human nature to side with your group, but always remember that we are one.
Religion: Religious laws are written in stone because God knows what is best for us better than we do. Any attempt to modify them will lead us astray because it will be motivated by our desires.
Spirituality: Religious laws should be read from the perspective of their original intent. They can be reinterpreted and modified as long as our intent is that of goodness, justice and wellness.
Religion: Quickly despises other faiths. Focuses on finding differences with others.
Spirituality: Recognizes commonalities with people of different spiritual traditions and realizes that they are the same.
Example: A woman once approached me after a Zumba dance class and said, "You are a spiritual person, aren't you?" I said, "How did you know?" She said, "We know one another."
Religion: The world is heading for the worse. Pessimistic about the present and future.
Spirituality: The world is heading for the better. Optimistic about the present and future. (Example: Doomsday scenarios are common in religious discourses. On the other hand, a New Age interpretation of the 2012 transition posits that during this time Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era of awakening.)
Religion: Creativity is risky. It weakens our foundations.
Spirituality: Creativity is safe. It leads us to improve and grow.
Religion: Suspicious of art, music and dancing. They might be permissible but they are unnecessary.
Spirituality: Appreciative of art, music and dancing. They are avenues for spiritual growth.
Religion: Happiness must be delayed until the afterlife. If you are happy now you should feel guilty about it.
Spirituality: Happiness can only be experienced now. True happiness is spiritual and it is a means to an end. Happiness leads to wellbeing and success.
Religion: If you don't have enemies, create one. Followers will tighten and cohere when they have your cause to believe in and enemies to destroy.
Spirituality: Mystics don't feel the need to have enemies.
Religion: War is the answer to conflicts. More likely to be revengeful. Not usually able to love their enemies.
Spirituality: Peace is the answer to conflicts. More likely to be forgiving. Better able to love their enemies in a healthy and effective way.
Note: War is not necessarily unspiritual. It's just a different type of spirituality. A woman in Jordan once told me that during times of war she feels that life has meaning. During times of peace she feels life has no meaning.
Religion: skeptical about the efficacy of love.
Spirituality: has faith that pure love ultimately triumphs.
Religion: Human nature is basically bad. People cannot be trusted with freedom. Freedom will lead to deterioration and disarray.
Spirituality: Human nature is basically good. People when given freedom will do the right thing because that is their basic propensity.
Religion: Searches for the bad in everything and everyone. More likely to be judgmental and critical.
Spirituality: Searches for the good in everything and everyone. Less likely to be judgmental and critical.
Note: Being judgmental and critical is mostly a genetic trait; but religion, spirituality and other environmental factors influence it.
Religion: Exhibits a "holier than thou" attitude of religious superiority and self-righteously pious.
Spirituality: Does not take a "holier than thou" attitude or look down on everyone else.
Religion: Often takes an all or nothing approach. Revolution is better than evolution.
Spirituality: Recognizes the value of small improvements toward growth. Evolution is better than revolution.
Religion: Takes pleasure in making things hard. It is gratifying to be hard on myself.
Spirituality: Takes pleasure in making things easy.
Religion: God is more punitive than compassionate. He won't forgive me if I say I am too tired to pray.
Spirituality: God is more compassionate than punitive. He knows my weaknesses and does not want me to suffer.
Religion: Prefers to take metaphysical topics at face value.
Spirituality: Appreciates the symbolic and metaphorical value of metaphysics.
Religion: God is in another realm and He is unknowable. There is no way to experience God directly. He is far away and you just have to believe that He exists.
Spirituality: Seeks a direct experience with the Divine or union with a mystery. God is here and now and can be experienced in a way that is not different from ordinary experience.
Religion: Favors a dualistic approach to reality. The seen and the unseen are two separate domains. The metaphysical is beyond our experience and there is no way for us to imagine it. We just have to have faith that it exists.
Spirituality: Favors a non-dualistic approach to reality. The seen and the unseen are inseparable
Religion: God created the universe and created us.
Spirituality: God is the universe and He is us.
Religion: Seeks to experience awe by searching for miracles and other extraordinary phenomena. Frequently shares invalidated news of miracles happening to people and uses them as a source of inspiration.
Spirituality: Seeks to experience awe in ordinary things. Sees everything as a miracle. "If you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder." - Martin Luther
Religion: The main source of knowledge, guidance and morals is from scripture rather than from the experience. If there is a contradiction, experience must be rearranged to accommodate scripture.
Spirituality: The main source of knowledge, guidance and morals is from the experience rather than scripture. If there is a contradiction, scripture should be re-interpreted to accommodate experience.
Religion: Less welcoming of women's presence, creativity and leadership.
Spirituality: More welcoming of women's presence, creativity and leadership.
Religion: Focuses on prayer—asking God for what you think is good for you.
Spirituality: Focuses on meditation—listening attentively for guidance on what to do and what is the highest good.
Religion: Sex is a drive for procreation and physical gratification. It should have no other place in religion, knowledge or life.
Spirituality: Sex is a source of knowledge and inspiration. Sex and spirituality are interrelated. Spirituality awakens Eros, because Eros is a passion for all the beauties of life.
Religion: Likes to preach. Aggressively reaches out to people. Desperate for converts.
Spirituality: Does not like to preach. Waits for people to approach them to share their inspiration. Not desperate for converts.
Religion: God last came down and left a message for humanity 1400 years ago and has never been heard from since. It is only through going back in history that we can search for God's guidance.
Spirituality: God is here and now. He is everywhere, every time, and in everyone. His thoughts can be heard if we listen quietly and contemplate.
Religion: Focuses more on the past and future and less on the present.
Spirituality: Focuses less on the past and future and more on the present.
Religion: Acknowledges that it is important to be thankful for illness, pain, loss and adversity, but struggles to accept it emotionally.
Spirituality: More likely to be genuinely grateful for illness, pain, loss and adversity as a gift that pushes us to see more clearly, grow and heal emotionally, to be closer to God, to be willing to forgive and to feel authentic within ourselves.
Religion: When good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people it is a test. When good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people it is justice. Since I am good and my enemies are bad, there is a simple explanation to everything that happens to me or them.
Spirituality: The universe is not as simple as that. The divine plan always works at the grand level towards the evolution of mankind and the universe, but there is absolutely no way for the human mind to comprehend how a single event fits into the general plan. As humans we want to create meaning, but people of spiritual depth withhold judgment of praise or blame. They are content with the state of not knowing. It can be egotistic to claim to know when people are being punished or rewarded for their actions. Being comfortable with not knowing is the highest level of peace.
Religion: Less comfortable with uncertainty and groundlessness.
Spirituality: More comfortable with uncertainty and groundlessness.
Religion: Searches outside the self for happiness, peace and solutions to problems.
Spirituality: Searches inside the self for happiness, peace and solutions to problems.
Religion: Less likely to be interested in eating healthy, exercising, losing weight, managing stress, and feeling good about their bodies. A recent study found a link between obesity and attending church.
Spirituality: More likely to be interested in eating healthy, exercising, losing weight, managing stress, and feeling good about their bodies. People interested in yoga are more likely to be spiritual.
Note: My guess is that being overly concerned about your health and looks is considered self-indulgence and frowned upon in religious circles, but praised in spiritual contexts because it is interrelated with other aspects of one's being. Also, spiritual people are more likely to have experienced long term suffering and thus feel the importance of taking care of their health.
Religion: Advocates simple, one-dimensional answers to complex problems.
Spirituality: Open to complexity, paradox and new possibilities.
Religion: Less likely to have inner peace and happiness.
Spirituality: More likely to have inner peace and happiness.
Note: Happiness is basically a genetic trait. It is influenced positively by both religion and spirituality (in addition to other environmental factors.) The comparison here is between religion and spirituality, with all other factors equal.
When Religion has an advantage over spirituality
Obviously I am biased towards spirituality, but here some differences where religion has an advantage.
Religion: More effective in reaching wide audiences.
Spirituality: Less effective in appealing to wide audiences.
Religion: More effective in rallying adherents for war when war is necessary.
Spirituality: Reluctant to go to war. The sad reality is that, in politics, hate is a much more powerful motivator than love.
Religion: More likely to be politically active. More likely to be organized.
Spirituality: Less likely to be politically active. Less likely to be organized.
Religion: Attracts people who are suffering or at ease.
Spirituality: Only seems to attract people who are suffering. As it is said, "Religion is for people who want to avoid going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there."
Religion: Attracts both young people and old people.
Spirituality: Attracts old people much more than young people.
Religion: Cultivates anger and judgment and therefore is able to mobilize efforts to change things that need to be changed. Anger and impatience are important in dealing with injustice.
Spirituality: Avoids cultivating anger and judgment and therefore is less effective in mobilizing collective efforts towards change.
Note: Anger is a health energy force if invested wisely and channeled into motivation for doing things.
Religion: Hard work and perseverance are the necessary ingredients for success and subsequently lead to happiness.
Spirituality: Acceptance and non-doing are necessary for happiness and subsequently lead to success.
Religion: More often a Type A personality--highly motivated, competitive, controlling, time-conscious, and impatient.
Spirituality: More often a Type B personality-- relaxed, easy-going, patient, and at times lacking a sense of urgency.
Religion: Existential questions should not be dwelled upon much. We should come to simple answers to them and move on with our lives. This attitude puts an end to vexing unanswerable questions that drive many people crazy.
Spirituality: Pondering existential questions is a necessary part of the spiritual journey. It is often frightening to look inside of ourselves, but that is ultimately how we discover who we are and our relation to the universe.
"ويسألونك عن الروح قل الروح من أمر ربى وما أوتيتم من العلم إلا قليلا"
"They will ask you about the Spirit. Say: 'The Spirit is one of the commands of my Lord. You have only been given a little of knowledge.'" (17:85)
Religious people interpret this ayah as "Don't ask and don't ponder". Spiritual people infer from this ayah that the spirit is God; it should be pondered and explored.
"ثم استوى على العرش"
"Then He (God) firmly established Himself on the Thrown." (7:54, 10:3, 13:2, 25:59, 32:4, 57:4)
Religious interpret it by saying, "The establishment on the thrown is known, but how it happened is unknown. Believing in it is obligatory but asking about it is a heresy."
"الاستواء معلوم والكيف مجهول والإيمان به واجب والسؤال عنه بدعة"
Spiritual people believe that we are called upon to ponder how this happens, and because they appreciate metaphors, they are able to find a perception that is compatible with reality.
Religion: Motivated by hate and love.
Spirituality: Motivated only by love.
Religion: Rules are rules. There should be no individual exceptions. Individual discretion leads to corruption. Strict rules serve as a safe-guard from our desires and temptations.
Spirituality: Rules can be molded to the person or circumstance. The pitfall is that loose rules can allow us to fall victims to the desires of our egos. Mystics often give themselves permission to be released from responsibility and misuse that permission. A recently study showed that people who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.
Religion: More likely to be high achievers and successful in business.
Spirituality: Less likely to be competitive. Willing to leave their family, friends, and jobs to find the answers to life. The egolessness that spirituality produces, in its extremity, leads mystics to a life in which union with God is the only true happiness and wandering around with a begging bowl is more fulfilling than any worldly achievements.
Religion: Focuses on the society. More interested in changing the world than changing oneself.
Spirituality: Focuses on the individual. More interested in changing oneself than changing the world.
Religion: More likely to be conservative politically and socially.
Spirituality: More likely to be liberal politically and socially.
Religion: Relieves the individual of searching for truth for himself by providing him with a ready-made package and asking him to have faith in it.
Spirituality: Puts the responsibility on the individual in finding his truth and source of ecstasy. Only the individual can find that kind of intimacy for himself. You can't share that kind of experience of the mind with others.
Religion: Non-accepting of the status quo.
Spirituality: Accepting of things as they are.
Religion: Seeks to promote discipline in oneself and others through coercion.
Spirituality: Seeks to promote discipline in oneself and others through gentleness.
Note: Both are necessary at different times for different people.
Religion: Looks outside the self for answers to life's basic questions.
Spirituality: Looks inside the self for answers to life's basic questions.
Note: We need both.