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Towards clarification of the meaning of spirituality


  • Ruth A. Tanyi BSJ RN BSN MSN FNPCandidate

    1. Registered Nurse, Orthopedics and Spine, Regions Hospital, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Abbott Northwestern Hospital Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
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Ruth Tanyi, 1547 Marion Street, Apt # 207, Saint Paul, MN 55117, USA. E-mail:


Background.  Rhetoric about spirituality and nursing has greatly increased, as scientific-based approaches are not fully able to address many human problems, such as persistent pain. Despite the renewed interest and growing literature on spirituality, there is no consensus on a definition of this concept. There is also ambiguity on how this concept is incorporated into nursing practice, research, and education.

Aim.  This paper aims to contribute toward clarification of the meaning of spirituality in relevance to health and nursing today through a conceptual analysis process.

Methods.  Information was obtained through dictionary definitions and electronic database searches of literature on spirituality spanning the past 30 years. The criteria for selection included scholarly articles and books with a definition of spirituality, and research studies that investigated the meaning of spirituality to individuals' health. A total of 76 articles and 19 books were retrieved for this analysis.

Findings.  Spirituality is an inherent component of being human, and is subjective, intangible, and multidimensional. Spirituality and religion are often used interchangeably, but the two concepts are different. Spirituality involves humans' search for meaning in life, while religion involves an organized entity with rituals and practices about a higher power or God. Spirituality may be related to religion for certain individuals, but for others, such as an atheist, it may not be.

Conclusion.  In order to provide clarity and enhance understanding of this concept, this analysis delineates antecedents, attributes, constructed case examples, empirical referents, and consequences of spirituality. A proposed definition of spirituality emerged from this process, which may be applied broadly. Implications for nursing practice, education, and research are discussed.

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