Journal Article

Speaking from the Margins: A Critical Reflection on the ‘Spiritual-but-not-Religious’ Discourse in Social Work

Yuk-Lin Renita Wong and Jana Vinsky

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 39, issue 7, pages 1343-1359
Published in print October 2009 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online March 2008 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Speaking from the Margins: A Critical Reflection on the ‘Spiritual-but-not-Religious’ Discourse in Social Work

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This paper attempts to make visible the invisible Euro-Christian ethnocentrism and individualism in the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ discourse in social work. A critical analysis of the current literature on spirituality and social work, intertwined with the authors' personal narratives of spirituality and religion, calls into question the subject positions of social work authors who argue for differentiating spirituality from religion. We ask: From whose vantage point is the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ discourse produced? What gets legitimized and who gets excluded from this particular construction of spirituality? This paper deconstructs the power relations of race, ethnicity, and sexuality in the discourse of spirituality in social work. It destabilizes the assumption of spirituality as non-sectarian and inclusive. Contrary to many social work authors and educators' best intention of inclusivity, we contend that the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ discourse in social work may have inadvertently reproduced the process of colonial othering and further marginalization of racialized ethnic groups who are more often represented as ‘religious’.

Keywords: Spirituality; religion; subjectivity; narrative; colonialism; race; ethnicity; sexual diversity; reflexive practice; critical social work

Journal Article.  6958 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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