Saskia Van Donk

The Role of Spirituality Versus Religion in Successful Aging

The percentage of the American population that is above age 65 is increasing rapidly. Given this impending increase in older individuals, the topic of "successful aging" is becoming more important. "Successful aging" could entail a wide variety of concepts; this paper, however, will focus on the maintenance or achievement of a sense of identity and integrity. Psychologists are exploring the roles that religiosity and spirituality play in successful aging, especially because of their pertinence to these topics of identity and integrity. The study of religion within the field of psychology is contentious and problematic due to disparate perceptions and understandings of religion within the field of psychology. This paper will explore how psychologists grapple with this problem of integrating religion and psychology, focusing on how modern psychologists have found one solution in using the term "spirituality" as opposed to "religion." This construct incorporates the notions of self, soul, identity and integrity that are emphasized in psychology, but de-emphasizes the unhealthy adherence to fundamental values imposed from an outside source that some psychologists associate with "religion." Yet, this solution is also problematic because the notion of "spirituality" excludes the sentiment of adherence to a tradition and truth, and commodifies and individualizes religion.