The Spiritual, the Cultural and the Religious: what can we learn from a study of boy choristers?

M. Ashley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


This article reports on a study of the boys in a major city centre church choir. It is treated as a case study of the potential confusion between the spiritual, the cultural and the religious. The study shows that the performance of religious rituals might, for many of the boys, be more accurately described as a cultural phenomenon. A deep appreciation of music, with evidence of 'peak experiences', describes a reality which has been called 'spiritual' in humanistic phenomenological writings. All the boys in the study were found to be 'spiritual' in that they loved and were moved by the music they sang in church, but few perceived their singing as a form of religious ministry. Religious commitment and faith development was found to range from piety to atheism, with an increasing tendency towards Enlightenment scepticism amongst the older boys. The boys could be identified as a social group by their shared love for music, but not by a shared religious faith. Discussion is developed about the reality of the spiritual with and without a religious commitment, in which credal literalism is seen as cultural rather than spiritual. A call for greater recognition of the significance of the cultural and social is made.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-272
JournalInternational Journal of Children’s Spirituality
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002


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