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Faith and Spirituality

Why This Is Important

Faith and spirituality are fundamental dimensions of human life, for both individuals and communities. While the two concepts are closely related, the distinction between the two is that all people have spiritual dimensions to their lives. Many choose to live out that dimension in a specific faith tradition or religious community. The spiritual dimension of human life is one that permeates and impacts psychological, physical, and social dimensions. There is growing research evidence of the impact of spiritual life on both mental and physical health. By spirituality, we mean the ways that people experience what they consider to be the sacred dimension of life, and the ways in which they find and make meaning to fundamental spiritual questions of identity, purpose, and community. Those questions include: Who am I? Why am I? Whose am I? How do I answer fundamental human questions, such as the meaning of suffering, and meet fundamental needs for love, trust, belonging, and hope. For many people with developmental disabilities and their families, the questions and experiences of spirituality and faith are heightened by the experience of disability and the response of their communities. Questions of meaning, purpose, belonging, and community inclusion can all be experienced in profound and dramatic ways within their spiritual journeys and faith communities. "Tell me your church (synagogue, temple, faith) story?" is not a neutral question for many people with disabilities and their families. They will often report significant sources of support and inclusion, or deeply wounding stories of exclusion and isolation. While the systems of services and supports for people with developmental disabilities often profess the honoring of the right to religious freedom and practice, spiritual and religious supports are often neglected in practice. Through creative forms of spiritual assessment, collaborations between support agencies and congregations, and significant efforts by congregations of many faith traditions, there is a growing wealth of stories, resources, and experience which demonstrate the ways that spiritual supports and congregational involvement can enhance the quality of the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families Thus, spirituality and faith is important from many perspectives. They are dimensions in which people experience mystery and the sacred. They provide frameworks, traditions, and communities of meaning and purpose. If we are to build and enhance "generic" and "natural" support systems, service providers cannot ignore the importance of congregations as communities of faith, learning, service, and fellowship. Spirituality and faith are fundamental parts of cultural communities, so to respect cultural diversity, we must address spiritual perspectives and traditions. And, finally, spiritual supports are fundamental ways of honoring individual choice and self-determination. Whatever a support or service provider believes, the ultimate question is how they can support opportunities and choices by people with developmental disabilities and their families to express their own spirituality, practice their own faith tradition, and participate in religious communities of their choice.

This web site is maintained by the Research and Training Center on Community Living with support from the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Human Services Research Institute and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. E-mail weste050@umn.edu.
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