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It is because of such self-critical insights and considerations concerning the limitations of one's concepts or terminology that some researchers have also called into question the concept of religion itself. The connotations of this concept-unity, shared convictions and creeds, institutional membership structures, etc.-may indeed be more in line with Western religions and especially with Christianity than with other kinds of religions in different parts of the world. Hinduism is a telling example. For westerners coming to India, it clearly was and is a religion that can be considered a parallel and competitor to Western religions. For the people living on the Indian subcontinent themselves, Hinduism may have never been a unified religious system at all. Moreover, the concept of religion is closely related to (Western) political history, and the connotations mentioned above must be understood against the background of political interests, among others, in political unity and national adherence. The conclusion from these etymological and definitional considerations must be that there should be no naive and uncritical use of the concepts of spirituality and religion.
The general observations concerning the two concepts must be kept in mind when we now turn to questions of their more specific use in reference to children and youth. When applied to today's children and youth, the understanding of spirituality is often supposed to be very broad and open. It is taken to be a purely formal concept that is not connected to any particular religious tradition or institution. Instead it refers to characteristics like interest in the divine, transcendence, ultimate meaning, etc., which can be filled in very different ways. In this sense, the reference to the spirituality of children and youth is in line with contemporary research that is trying to include a broad range of different spiritualities that, at least originally, were not connected to this term-like Native American spirituality, indigenous spirituality, ecological spirituality, women's spirituality, new age spirituality, etc. In the English language, the relationship between spirituality and religion is commonly defined by the different references to institutionalized religion that are characteristic of the two concepts. Religion then refers to institutionalized religion, to religious communities and hierarchies, most often with a fixed creedal and moral system in the sense of dogma. In contrast to this, spirituality means the individual and personal interest in transcendence, the ultimate, etc., often including the attempt of opening oneself up to spiritual experiences through the use of certain rites, practices, techniques, etc. Spirituality can also be or become communal but rarely in the sense of structured institutions.
It is this understanding of the difference between spirituality and religion that has made the concept of spirituality attractive for contemporary researchers. According to recent interview studies, more and more adolescents (and adults) in the Western world feel that they are not religious but that they are spiritual-that they can indeed have a deep interest in spirituality and in the spiritual dimensions of life without being religious. For obvious reasons, especially younger children are not included in such interview studies, but there also is a new and strong interest in the spirituality of children. What exactly does the difference between spirituality and religion mean in relation to children and adolescents?
Considering the present cultural and religious situation in many countries of the Western world, the difference between religion and spirituality clearly reflects the tensions between institutionalized forms of religion such as the churches, on the one hand, and the individual or personal interest or belief in transcendence, on the other. Many adolescents are especially critical of all institutions, including religious institutions. The traditional churches, for example, that are often referred to as mainline churches, strike them as dated institutions and as the embodiment of authoritarian doctrines that they do not find very convincing. Social and theological analysts have pointed out that such views are not only expressive of personal dissatisfaction with religious institutions but are also indicative of the broader cultural and social tendencies of religious pluralization and individualization that are characteristic of modern and postmodern societies. According to this view, modern individuals are not willing to accept traditional membership roles or the creedal and convictional or ethical obligations that come with such roles. Instead they insist on their own personal needs, experiences, insights, etc. "Everyone is a special case" is the telling title of a study on religion in Switzerland published in the 1990s.