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In the 18th and 19th centuries, religion and spirituality were supposed to be replaced by science and reason- or so many thought. But that did not happen, and today, religion and spirituality play a major role in people's lives and in determining world affairs. So to be informed about today's world requires being informed about matters pertaining to religion and spirituality. This is especially the case in a pluralistic global society that is growing increasingly "connected." No longer are different religious groups found only in far-away places, to be experienced only in books or through word of mouth. Instead, we now live in communities and nations where multiple religions and multiple spiritualities are practiced. Furthermore, many of us have access to radio, television, newsprint, and the worldwide Web, allowing us, with the turn of a knob or the click of a switch, to immerse ourselves in other cultures. We now are brought face-to-face with religious and spiritual diversity.
Despite the world becoming a global village, religion and spirituality still elicit negative stereotypes and foster fear, hatred, and even war. And yet, religion and spirituality also foster peace and unity. Today, then, perhaps more than ever, it is especially important that we understand one another by understanding one another's faith traditions and equally critical that we understand positive, healthy, religious and spiritual development. We must seek to bridge divides, counteract negative stereotypes, and explode destructive myths so as to set the conditions that connect us to all our fellow humans.
This encyclopedia joins a recent trend in research and scholarship aimed at better understanding the similarities and differences between world religions and spiritualities, between expressions of the divine and between experiences of the transcendent. It does so, however, with a focus on the development of religiosity and spirituality.
Spiritual development and religious development are about identity development and how, across the human life span, one sees oneself in relation to that which is considered divine or transcendent. While religious development is usually about identifying oneself with a particular religious tradition, its practices and beliefs, spiritual development is about becoming a whole person, someone who stands for something that defines and gives meaning to being human. The two may overlap-so that what is spiritual is also religious- but they need not. There is religion without spirituality and spirituality without religion.
Due to the work and contributions of scholars and academics, much has been learned about what it means to be human and about the process of human development. We have learned that individual development involves the interplay of multiple contexts, contexts that interact in dynamic ways across the life span. No two people share the same biology or the same combination of contexts and experiences, so every person has a unique developmental history. The same is true for religious and spiritual development. Owing to the innumerable contexts that influence individual development throughout the life span, religious and spiritual development must be understood as different for each person.
Furthermore, given that the contexts that affect religious and spiritual development are innumerable, it is impossible to capture the entirety of their expressions or influence within one encyclopedia. In deciding, then, on what entries to collect, we narrowed down a seemingly endless list of possible entries to present a sample of contexts and experiences that are central for at least some people, in some parts of the world, some of the time. We do not assume that all people are equally affected by or touched by the same contexts. We do assume that people of different ages, genders, faiths, and ethnicities are more or less affected by the contexts discussed in this encyclopedia at different times in their lives. Therefore, we cannot reiterate enough that the entries collected in this encyclopedia are offered as a collection of contexts that potentially impact individual and group religious and spiritual development. We were intentional in making the selections we did. Their diversity represents the diversity in religious and spiritual development.
This encyclopedia covers a wide range of topics- from ideas, to places, to people. Furthermore, the topics come in all sizes-from small topics, such as particular cultic practices, to large topics, such as major religions. Some will say that we have included that which should be excluded and excluded that which should be included-and to a certain extent, they may be right. However, once again, our intent was not to achieve a perfectly balanced and representative sample of entries, because it is difficult to say what such a sample would look like and, most certainly, each reader will have his or her own interests and definition of a balanced and representative sample. Rather, our intent was to provide a sample of entries to help the reader become better informed about the complexity of factors involved in religious and spiritual development, so as to become better able to function in a pluralistic society and better able to support personal spiritual growth.
With a recent heightened level of interest in the study of religious and spiritual development, we imagine that in the future we will come to learn more about the individual and shared characteristics and contexts that influence the development of spirituality and religiosity. As such, a future reference work on this topic may have a very different list of entries than the collection we present. We welcome this change and look forward to what further research will contribute to the study and practice of healthy religious and spiritual development.
This encyclopedia does not, then, teach all there is to know about religious and spiritual development, but it can help point the reader in the right directions, so that the reader can become better informed. We hope the reader will use this encyclopedia that way- as a pointer, or, to change the metaphor, as a window into the many fascinating and complex phenomena and people that figure centrally in discussions of the development of religiousness and spirituality. We also hope the reader will use this encyclopedia for personal growth, to help answer those personal questions that, if left unanswered, can stunt or arrest spiritual growth.