‘God As We Understood Him’

Being ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ in Alcoholics Anonymous


  • Jennifer Lois Hahn University of California, Santa Barbara




spirituality, Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘spiritual but not religious’, unchurched, perennialism


Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) draw upon beliefs, practices, and experiences they deem spiritual in order to help them get and stay sober. This article traces how AA emerged from its evangelical parent to become a “spiritual rather than religious organization” by encouraging members to engage with “God as we understood Him.” Interviews with thirty-four current and former AA members in the greater Los Angeles area, as well as ethnographic observation at AA meetings and related events, reveal how a significant number of modern AAs have adopted a personal “spiritual but not religious” orientation, seeking a healing truth outside of traditional religious organizations. Emerging from the Twelve Steps and sometimes in imitation of one of AA’s founders, this perennialist orientation touts a loving and forgiving Higher Power and a notion of spirituality as a profound interconnection with other alcoholics, challenging scholarly assumptions about narcissism and social disengagement in contemporary spirituality.

Author Biography

Jennifer Lois Hahn, University of California, Santa Barbara

doctoral candidate in Religious Studies


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How to Cite

Hahn, J. L. (2020). ‘God As We Understood Him’: Being ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ in Alcoholics Anonymous. Implicit Religion, 22(2), 101–121. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.37778