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The problem of the definition

On the presentation page of this site I described the problems related to the meaning of the word “spirituality” and, to start the way, I proposed a starting definition of mine: spirituality is any inner experience. This definition was rather intuitive, dictated by what came to me from experience and above all from the need for a vision that embraced the entire universe and not just the human experience. An in-depth analysis of the meaning from a historical point of view is in the post 040 History of the word spirituality.

Now, by consulting some vocabulary, it is possible to notice that the initial definition I gave is more exact, correct and objective (objective in the sense of socially shared) than it may seem at first sight. To enter into this deepening we must take into account what I had added in the home page of the site: it is possible to narrow the field of research, compared to the very vast one opened by the proposed definition, asking about which inner experiences it is more convenient to deepen the research. During the course it has clearly emerged that it is my intention to explore not so much the spirituality that in various ways can be identified in the whole universe, but specifically spirituality as a human experience. This operation of narrowing the field allows us to move on to a more specific definition: if we started with “any inner experience”, we are now led to a new definition that emerges as something like “any human inner experience”. This definition leads us to a shorter but also more current and already shared form: spirituality is equivalent to “inner life”. Considering the narrowing of the field of which we have said, we understand that we refer to the inner human life. The following observations show that a careful analysis of the definitions of some vocabularies allows us to consider the definition of spirituality as an “inner life” an exact, correct, shareable and even already shared definition.

From interior to spiritual

The Italian vocabulary Zingarelli, at the end “interiore” (= inner), has the definition “That belongs to the sphere of spirit, of conscience, of feelings”. We can draw the consequence that “inner life” is defined as “life that belongs to the sphere of spirit, of consciousness, of feelings”. The Devoto-Oli says “Pertaining to the sphere of spiritual life and individual consciousness”. This same dictionary, under the heading “interiorità” (= interiority), gives the definition “The consistency or prevalence, in the individual sphere, of spiritual facts”. Under the heading “interiore” (= interior) the De Mauro dictionary gives the definition “that is proper or refers to the soul, to the spirit, to the conscience of man”. The same dictionary, under “interiorità” (= interiority), says “a complex of thoughts, feelings and interests that constitute the spiritual life of an individual”. It is also interesting that, if we look for “interiorità” (= interiority) in the English vocabulary Ragazzini, we find as a translation “inner life”, that is “interior life”, preceded in brackets by the specification, in Italian, “spiritual life”.

From spiritual to interior

If we try the inverse way, that is starting from “spirit”, “spiritual”, “spirituality”, to see if there are references to “interior”, “interiority”, we note that in the Zingarelli, under “spiritual”, it is cited as an example of use the expression “Father, spiritual director”, whose definition is “the priest who takes on the personal care of the religious life of a faithful; in monastic and regular life, whoever is in charge of directing the inner life of novices, of postulants and students”. The De Mauro, under “spirituale” (= spiritual) reports, among other things, “which concerns the interiority of man”, “which has a profound inner life” and “which has authority in matters of religion and, generally, has competence on the inner life of man”.

It is the best definition

All these elements allow us to consider the definition of “spirituality” as an “inner life” an objective definition, that is already socially shared and above all respectful of both its origins and its current uses. This definition is particularly valuable: in fact the traditional definitions contain the effort to take into consideration the etymology of the term, thus referring to the word “spiritual” and from this to “spirit”; however, tracing back to “spirit” does not favor an investigation into spirituality that takes into account all the wealth that the term has acquired over the course of its history. Instead, the definition “inner life” opens up many horizons that promise fruitful further investigations, especially for everything concerning our experience as human beings.