Susan Galvan
Susan Galvan is a published author, speaker and facilitator with expertise in transpersonal psychotherapy, ministry, spiritual mentorship, and financial life planning. Seeking answers? Ask Susan a question via email

What Does SBNR Mean?


“Susan, what does the phrase “spiritual but not religious” mean to you personally?”

What Does SBNR Mean?

Human beings are spiritual beings. As far back as we can trace the roots of human consciousness, we find that a spiritual awareness has been an essential element in the human experience. In every time and place, we find traces of an awareness of something greater than ourselves.

This “something greater” evokes feelings of awe, of wonder, of humility, of ecstasy, of devotion, of surrender or submission – not as a captive but in recognition that our personal consciousness is but a fragmentary projection of a much greater wholeness. To facilitate a more constant appreciation and connection with that “something greater,” humans developed collective activities – ceremonies, rituals, invocations, offerings – that organized and empowered the inclusion of that greater power and presence into every aspect of daily living. As one Sufi shaykh put it, “Finally, the only sin is forgetfulness.” Spiritual activities were designed to keep people mindful that they are immersed within and intimately involved with a power much greater than themselves. And thus religion was born to sustain and strengthen that spiritual intuition. Religious scholar Anis Obeid, in his book The Druze & Their Faith in Tawhid, makes two comments that ring true for me.

“There is no era of human history that is devoid of religion and no society that has not included religion in its fabric.”

“Broad concepts and values may be shared by most religions and are frequently expressed in the collective conscience of group affiliation and identity, but the human relationship with God in its essence remains private, intimate, and highly personal.”

The origins of spiritual awareness are found in these “private, intimate, and highly personal ”experiences of individuals. Inspired, awakened, aflame with ecstasy, they vibrate with such a purely spiritual resonance that those about them cannot help but resonate in response. Anyone can have a direct and personal experience of spiritual truth or beauty or divine love spontaneously. Lifted beyond themselves, for a moment or an hour, they find themselves elevated in mind, body and soul into a realm previously hidden from their knowledge or understanding. Thus transported, everything changes. Human life is now understood as a subset of that “something greater.” The challenge then is how to sustain that realization, those exalted feelings and intuitions, that they might illuminate each day of life.

Obeid further comments on the creation of religion:

“…organized religion…is built upon a relational connection among individuals with similar visions, beliefs, values and rituals who hold a sense of shared destiny.”

“…a synergistic relationship between the transcendental connection of an individual with a higher power – a connection on a purely spiritual plane – and the group connection among individuals who congregate around a shared vision.”

Rituals or practices are created to support, strengthen and deepen that spiritual knowing – and when the power of joining with others in collective acts of worship and remembrance is discovered, religion is born.

However, religions also have a life cycle – and progress from the inspiration and spiritually authentic realizations and experiences of one person (the “man”), to a message, to a movement, to a monument. Once the “monument” stage is reached, the organization focuses most of its energies on its own perpetuation. The aspect of a private, intimate and highly personal relationship with a Divine Presence is buried in hierarchy, authority, politics, policies and procedures – and the connection is lost. Quite naturally, people begin to turn away from such an ossified institution, and to seek ways to re-establish what they intuitively sense to be true – that it is possible to invite, to become available to, that direct and personal connection to the spiritual dimension within each of us and within life itself. This rejection of outmoded religious forms invariably leads to a renewal of the spiritual impulse, a seeking for meaning and purpose in life, for deep values, for all that connects, elevates, inspires and brings wholeness. We are participating in one of those periodic renewals right now, with the emergence of the SBNR awareness.

So “spiritual but not religious” means to me that a new spiritual awakening is beginning. We are seeking direct experiences that connect us to that “something greater” than ourselves. We are rejecting religions that seem to have evolved into lifelessness. We want to come alive in the Spirit, to live consciously within the embrace of that Divine Presence, to have that private and deeply intimate relationship that will transform us as human beings and invite us into a life truly worth living.

Share your thoughts. Leave a comment:

7 Responses to “What Does SBNR Mean?”

  1. Heidi Joy Hameed
    November 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    I like this- it’s simple, elegant, well said. I’m a spiritual being- very much so. To me religion is very simple- the definition being in the Bible but for the sake of argument as everyone has his own “idea” of what relgion is, I’ll go with spiritual because,to me, they are intertwined. One can not protect the innocent & care for widows & orphans if they’re not spiritual (they CAN but the motive would be wrong becuase anything good in a person, is automatically a sign of the Spiritual man inside the Physical man (obviously or woman). Good job!!!

  2. Nancy
    November 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    I really like the insight of religion fossilizing into a monument state. I never thought of it like that before and it makes perfect sense to me. As far as the seeking, I believe some sort of awakening experience must precede it, somehow. I wonder how others think about this. Does one intellectualize about the spiritual experience and then proceed to seek it or does one have a spiritual experience and seek to explain it? I was in the latter to be sure.

  3. Sean P.
    November 24, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    “We are rejecting religions that seem to have evolved into lifelessness.”

    I would like to learn more about how SBNR reaches this conclusion. Articles that expand on this thought would be appreciated.

  4. mizztcasa
    December 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm #


  5. Sylvan Crofte
    March 8, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Susan: Really this website should be called ‘Spirituality Within Religion’. It is difficult at best to comment about spirituality, when it is constantly being referenced to ‘religion’. We seriously get to take a look at spirituality (it WILL stand alone) all by itself. Your last paragraph is the one of greatest value to one (me for example) who is seeking his/her spiritual experience. All the rest of it is more about religion or the mind (which does not even require spirituality). I would prefer to spend my time and effort doing only what you describe in the final paragraph of your article above. I would add only a few words to the last sentence with the following: …’and bring about our own individual/unique highest PURPOSE in harmony with the Universe’.

  6. Name
    March 10, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Sylvan Crofte my last response to you on another post applys here as well.

    There is a slow new awakening in our world, ppl wanting to redefine themselves with new insights to things that don’t really have words to identify yet, but it is growing so much so that they are walking away from traditions and feeling empowered to stand up for some thing new, just not completely defined with-in-themselves as of yet, so till that time, many will need to reference there journey from where they came.

    Stay true to the Journey


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