First, let's have a definition. According to the dictionary, the philosophical and theological meanings of the term are that it covers the concepts of mind vs body, or spiritual vs material, or good vs bad. Let's set aside the good vs bad definition for the moment and focus on the other two.
From a mind vs body perspective, I think there has been a great deal of twisting of faces and wringing of hands over the years about whether the mind can conquer the body. The general underlying and commonly understood concept is that there is a constant struggle between the body and the mind, in that the body wants to do evil and that the mind is the higher level being that must override the base impulses of the body.
There is a powerful scene in Frank Herbert's book, "Dune", where the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit is testing young Paul Atriedes' humanity by holding a poisoned dart at his throat while he holds his hand in a box under great pain. He can feel that the flesh is being burned off his hand, and he is in great agony, but yet he knows that if he withdraws his hand, then he will feel the sting of the Gom Jabbar at his thoat and he will die instantly from the poison. So this is a test of his mental willpower to control his body's natural urge to pluck the hand from pain and damage in order to avoid certain death. To withstand damage and pain for a higher purpose.
Her assumption is that to withdraw his hand despite the immediate consequences would mean he is given over to animal impulses, but to keep it in the box despite the pain indicates a higher mind function, and that the mind truly controls the body even in situations of great stress, and that therefore indicates that he is truly human. It is a painful and horrible test, but there is no actual damage to the hand, it is pain by nerve induction, but the illusion is what is important. After it is over, Paul says "I see the truth of it". Indeed.
But is this truth? Is the body evil, and the mind good? Is the mind's conquest over the body the ultimate expression of virtue?
Religions teach us that yes, this is true. The body has base appetites, to over-indulge in food, sex, pleasure, comfort, etc., and the mind is a higher-level form of the person, and it must conquer the body's tendency to sin, by strict adherence to a higher set of standards. It is the mind's job to resist temptations and not eat when hungry. To not pursue sex when it feels the urge. To resist drink when thirsty. To force the body to exercise hard and to work when it feels lazy and tired. A person of character and substance has complete control of their appetities and their urges.
I suggest that it is a little more complex than that. It occurs to me that the mind certainly has base urges itself as well as higher motives. And that the body also may possess some higher yearnings and might not only always seek the most primal pleasures. For the mind, there are lofty urges such as sacrifice, patience, generosity, courage, compassion, kindness, responsibility, and a sense of fairness, and many others. But there are also more base urges such as greed, selfishness, jealousy, envy, pride, arrogance, snobbery, ignorance, cruelty, etc. So the mind has both types of urges as well as some in the middle like curiosity, playfulness, humor, etc. And there are also special abilities such as art, music, mathematics, creativity, leadership, etc. There is, in fact, a full spectrum of good to bad to exceptional within the mind alone before ever going to the body.
And so it is with the body as well. The body may feel tired and hungry and thirsty and lazy, but it also has its higher moments when it wants to run and jump and climb and to be strong and to resist fatigue, overcome pain and disease, and perform despite the physical difficulties it faces. It is far more than the embodiment of base appetites.
Materialism vs Spiritualism
Materialism is not merely about the accumulation of possessions as many people think. It is much broader than that. It is about believing only in the concrete. The here and now. It is about resisting anything that is not irrefutably logical and instrinsically substantive and undeniably proven through empirical evidence. Materialism varyingly allows that there is a mind somewhere within the body although it exists at some higher aggregate meta-level than cellular or molecular. But it shuns the whole idea and concept of a spiritual world.
In other words a materialist may accept that some intangible things exist but that they exist as illusions, concepts, and affectations of the mind and imagination - but they steadfastly resist the notion that anything intangible exists on it's own - outside the mind. Like supernatural beings or powers. God, the devil, angels, demons, ghosts, miracles and magic, etc. These types of things are all unprovable, and utter nonsense to a materialist.
To this mindset, I would have to agree with Shakespeare when he said in Hamlet, "There is far more in heaven and Earth than is dreamed of in your philosophies."
First, let's look at what the "mind" is. A spiritual person might suggest that this surely indicates that there is a soul at work. A separate being, independent of the body that merely inhabits the body for a time and then moves on to its rewards in the afterlife.
However, a materialist view would see it as simply a higher-level functional layer of the body itself. In other words, when the brain has evolved to a point where it is complex enough, and there are enough synapses firing, then there is a phenomenon that manifests itself as consciousness. A certain self awareness. It is the result of a complex network of intersections of knowledge and decision-making abilities that behaves in ways that we interpret as intelligence. Creatures of less intelligence, less complex brain function, may act instinctively, and may act in self preservation, and they may have some tricks or tactics for hunting, etc., but they are limited in their development.
However, once there is sufficient levels of brain activity and complexity, then another level of ability emerges where the animal is now capable of developing speech, and becomes capable of abstract thought and can participate in conversations with others and useful interaction and eventually even creative endeavors such as art and music. But the assumption is that these higher level functions are entirely based upon the sophistication of the brain activity, and have nothing to do with a spirit or soul "inhabiting" or animating a body.
On some levels, the materialist view is seductive because it is solid. It is the limit of that which is logical and reliably provable. The spiritual argument seems fanciful and unsubstantiated. So why is there support for it, at all then? Is it merely wishful thinking? Is it delusion? Is it fantasy? Is it a hope that there is some meaning and purpose to life so that the struggle for good acts in life are rewarded in the afterlife?, or on the negative side, a hope that all this just cannot be for nothing?
I would point out that there are some times where an event happens that suggests the presence of spirit, and the event is witness by multiple people or has some other empirical level of manifestation that convinces people that it is real although not solid, substantial, or reproducible. In my own experience there have been a couple of examples of this in my life. One happened in Delphi, Greece in August 1989. I stepped off the tour bus amidst the ruins of the ancient city of Delphi which I had never visited nor read about, but somehow, I knew every road, and most of the buildings. I knew where the bathrooms were, and the city treasuries, and the temple of Apollo, and the building that used to be the main marketplace - despite the fact that there was no evidence to suggest that today. Well, not without doing a lot of research. I knew everything about the place as if I had once lived there. I did have the feeling that I did live there at some point long long ago - very much like going back to visit a neighborhood you lived in when you were a child. And I certainly had the feeling that I had taught every day in the amphitheater there. The people I was travelling with were amazed at how much I knew about the place without having any maps or other sources of information. I had no idea this was going to happen. It was just as much a surprise to me.
Another event happened a few years later, which really gave me pause. I was taking a meditation class where we were encouraged to relax and open up our minds to any 'messages' or visions, or images that might come. I did have some thoughts about a surgical procedure that did seem to be highly relevant to the woman sitting to my immediate right. But the most surprising thing happened at the end of the session when everyone was leaving and as I was saying my thank you to the instructor, he told me that while we were in our session he had a vision and saw a man come into the room from behind me and walk up to me and stand directly behind me with his hands on my shoulders in a 'sponsoring' or protective way. He spoke to this apparition, and the apparition said that he was my older brother and his name was John. I told him that this could not be true because I have no older brothers. I am the oldest of three brothers. The instructor also told me about a ring he noticed on his finger. It was a gold ring with a square red gem with a small diamond chip and an initial "V" in it. That caught my attention. I have a ring exactly like that at home. It was a gift from my father when I was very young.
When I returned home, I called my mother to tell her about this apparent vision of a spirit claiming to me my older brother and about the weird coincidence with the ring. Instead of laughing it off as I expected, my mother suggested that I should ask my father about it. So I talked to my father and he reluctantly admitted that there WAS in fact another brother born two years before me, and that they had named him Johnny, but that he had died of a heart malfunction after about 6 months.
So, aside from shock of finding out about a brother I had who had died and I had never heard about before, here we have a case where there is externally corroborated evidence of things, or people even, that exist on some other level beyond either our own imagination or the physical corporeal level. Then add to these personal exeriences of mine, the cases cited in books like "The Case for Reincarnation" and "Life Between Life", which describes a case where a man under hypnosis regression therapy goes back to a previous lifetime and begins speaking in a language that a great deal of research discovered only existed between 200AD and 800AD. This is a rare viking dialect that died out completely over a thousand years ago, and is only know to a handful of advanced linguistics scholars in the world today, and the man did not have any access to such information.
Similarly, there was a woman who, while under regression, began speaking and writing in an ancient language that was only ever known to about 50 people in history. It was a special language developed and spoken by just the members of the royal family in Persia about 800 years ago and then disappeared after about 60 years. It was used as a way for the members of the royal family to send letters to each other and discuss affairs of state without being overheard or have their messages sabotaged by their political rivals and the military people whom they distrusted.
A spiritual level of existence seems the only logical explanation that fits all these observables. To deny that, despite the empirical evidence is to be just as blind and intransigent as the religious people who refuse to acknowledge things outside their philosophies.
So I would say that there is more than just the material world of everyday life out there. There are the mental realms of thought, and discovery, and creativity, and art and science, and there is apparently also some spiritual level where our existence persists beyond the physical body.
That does suggest we have a spiritual being or existance, but still does not guarantee that there is an anthropic God. An all-powerful, all-knowing human-like, but super-human super-natural being who watches our every move and judges our worth based on our actions in this life. But it does at least suggest that a spiritual level of reality exists, and so there is at least a 'place' or a level, or a 'realm' for a being such as God to exist in.
In the interest of intellectual honesty we would have to at least acknowledge that much. So, for me, the concept of Dualism, is insufficient. There are more than two levels, for us to exist on. We exist physically, we exist mentally (that aggregate meta-life abstract reality level), and evidently, we exist spiritually as well. I have read that we are not physical beings that occasionally have a spiritual experience, but rather, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. But I remain open to new information and ideas.