A few days ago, amid a moment of sugar-laden remorse (and a stomachache), I vowed not to buy candy or chocolate for a while. Easy to say – by the looks of all the sweets that somehow accumulated in my kitchen over the holiday period, the supply shouldn’t run out till about March.

Little wonder then that so many people’s New Year’s resolutions revolve around health and fitness. But increasingly, Americans’ exercise routines aren’t just about staying in shape. They’re looking for ritual community, fulfillment, personal growth: things we often associate with spirituality or religion. And fitness entrepreneurs are only too happy to provide them.

Cody Musselman, a religion scholar at Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, gives the “fitness is the new religion” cliché a thorough workout. She explains that while companies like SoulCycle may be new, the idea that sweat can save your soul isn’t – religion and exercise have shared common ground for centuries.

And lastly, a heartfelt thank you to all who supported our end-of-year fundraising campaign. We raised more than $200,000 from over 3,500 readers like you – funds that will both sustain our work this year and help us launch some exciting new initiatives. We couldn’t bring you fascinating articles like these without your partnership:

Molly Jackson

Religion and Ethics Editor

A SoulCycle event held in New York City. Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Making sweat feel spiritual didn’t start with SoulCycle – a religion scholar explains

Cody Musselman, Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis

Fitness and religion make a potent combination, one people have explored for centuries.


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