The rediscovery of spirituality in the last fifty years, particularly in secular institutions in the UK such as the National Health Service (NHS), has been characterized by an emerging stress on relationships, affective attachment and experiences of connectedness. This has been expressed in ‘spiritual care’ strategies that separate spirituality from any reference to religion. Although the intention may be to widen the remit of spiritual care to include people of all religions and none, this approach may paradoxically exclude those whose spirituality is not expressed primarily in affective terms.
In this article these issues are discussed through reflection on the experience of one of the authors, a nurse with a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. The argument is made that an individualistic and ritually impoverished generic spirituality is not adequate to the demands of social inclusion on the one hand or religious validity on the other. Public institutions such as the National Health Service (NHS) need to engage with both the social and historical practices of religious communities if they are not to exclude vulnerable individuals from the provision of ‘spiritual care’.
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