Background. This paper explores the concept of ‘spirituality’ with reference to the Patients’ Charter that stipulates that a person's religious, spiritual and cultural needs should be respected at all times.
Aims and objectives. The aim is to offer a critical analysis of what the word ‘spirituality’ may mean when used in the Patients’ Charter and to explore the implications of this for clinical practice.
Design. A critical discussion based on a literature review, examining in particular methodological presuppositions.
Methods. The meaning of ‘spirituality’ in the Judaeo–Christian biblical traditions is explored. Some of the heuristic assumptions in contemporary research on ‘spirituality’ are examined. Philosophical (i.e. non-scientific) and scientific questions to do with ‘spirituality’ are disentangled.
Results and conclusions. The paper concludes that: (i) ‘Spirituality’ is an elastic term not capable of universal definition as each person's spirituality is an individual matter for them and (ii) tools that are being developed for identifying a person's spirituality run the risk of making wrong presuppositions about what comprises spirituality.
Relevance to clinical practice. It is unlikely that tools can be developed that are widely applicable for identifying and assessing spirituality.