Spirituality is present in every known culture; it plays a significant role in the lives of a great many humans, and despite constituting a gentle part of human nature, has the paradoxical power to transform lives and even world events. The problem with extending our inquiry to children is that modern science has not advanced very far into explaining how spirituality actually originates and develops in individuals. Studies of the early lives of great spiritual figures such as St. Teresa of Avila or a Dalai Lama shed some light on how spirituality emerges and develops in the young child. However, life history accounts of spiritual leaders are relatively few in number and usually not systematic and objective enough to allow for valid generalizations. As for spirituality in other species, we know nothing (should we even ask the question?), although comparative psychologists do have information on consciousness in animals, consciousness being a precondition for spirituality to exist in a living being.
At its minimum, the term "spiritual" implies awareness of an entity that surpasses one's immediate senses. It is more than seeing a landscape or hearing beautiful music. Experiencing this entity can charge us with feelings of peace and excitement as well as motivate us to pursue such an entity further. Obviously, religion also entails some degree of spirituality, but religion usually requires attention to sacred texts, doctrines, public worship, codified rituals, and formal methods of education. A spiritual person can, if desired, go through life without support from any of these more communal offerings. The term "spiritualism" itself usually has a more restricted meaning denoting a belief in a world of spirits that can be contacted through a medium.
Traditional approaches to understanding spirituality are usually cultural in nature-that is, defined as those customs, language forms, rules of conduct, thoughts, and beliefs that constitute the way of life of a group of like-minded people. Noncultural approaches to spirituality such as the biological approach are very rare perhaps because for many biologically oriented scientists they may appear irrelevant. Body and mind are usually conceived of as having totally different properties-as scholars have debated for centuries. But there is no need to ignore examining both within the same context.
Adopting the biological approach is based on the premise that all properties of human nature have a physical or material dimension to them. Hence spirituality, as any other human property, should be viewed in terms of genes and their associated brain mechanisms and their possible evolutionary histories. However, genes and brains are only part of the story. The environments of both invariably have to be considered- all living organisms need to be nurtured by outside sources. Not only is a favorable environment essential for survival and growth but for reproduction as well. The capacities to perform all life functions- organic, behavioral, and psychological-have to be transmitted across generations via genes. But this can only be achieved if genes and their products are exposed to favorable environments. Cultural practices are also transmitted from one generation to another not by genes, of course, but by various forms of learning- providing such learning can take place in a supportive environment offered by family, community, and society in general.