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Recent Interest in Spiritual Education

Few concerned with educational theory and policy could have failed to notice the recent upsurge of interest—not least in such economically developed democracies as the United Kingdom and the United States—in the notion of spiritual development as a possible aim or goal of public or common schooling. Indeed, in addition to the enormous growth of academic literature on this topic—including the recent emergence of specialist journals and handbooks1 — official educational policy makers have devoted much explicit attention to this issue in the form of positive educational proposals and prescriptions.2 Elsewhere,3 I have speculated on the possible reasons for such increased interest, which seems to include interrelated concerns about (1) the instrumental trends and tendencies of much state schooling in developed economies; (2) the rise of materialistic and selfish individualism in such contexts; (3) the apparent decline of public morality and the rise of anomic and nihilistic behavior—particularly among youth; and (4) the need to find some politically and publicly acceptable substitute for the educational role that religion has often formerly played (at any rate in older Western European cultures) in the cultivation of moral and spiritual attitudes and values.

One may, of course, respond to such concerns—and/or to the attempts to address them in terms of some notion of spirituality or spiritual education—in a variety of less than enthusiastic ways. For one thing, one may hold that the picture of Western selfishness, instrumentalism, materialism, immorality, impiety, and so on is somewhat overstated (and in any case, this claim would require the sort of empirical support that is seldom provided for such sweeping claims). For another, it seems rather paradoxical to cast spiritual education in the instrumental role of halting the instrumental [End Page 16] trends to which spirituality is proposed as a noninstrumental solution. On the other hand, one might accept that while there may be something to such points, there is nevertheless some educational warrant for trying to cultivate (perhaps at least partly in schools) noninstrumental attitudes or qualities of human engagement with experience of roughly the sort that the theoretical and other literature has associated with spirituality. That said, we also need to bear in mind—especially in what follows—that different approaches to spiritual education have identified somewhat diverse (and perhaps not always obviously mutually consistent) human qualities and benefits with spirituality.

A more presently pressing question, however, is that of the pedagogical means by which theorists of spiritual education might cultivate any supposed spiritual qualities or benefits. If we are to take the idea of promoting spirituality seriously, how might we set about it? On what sorts of curricular or other resources might we draw in order to help pupils become more spiritual, to acquire spiritual capacities, or to have spiritual experiences? Here there is evidence of substantial agreement—even on the part of those who would regard spiritual education as a cross-curricular matter—that certain fields of knowledge or areas of the school curriculum are better placed than others to assist the cultivation of spiritual virtues, values, and attitudes. Of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, religious and/or moral education has often been regarded (rightly or wrongly) as synonymous with spirituality and spiritual education. That said, such identification is obviously—especially in culturally pluralist liberal democracies—rather educationally problematic. However, an area of the school curriculum that seems to be a close runner-up to religious education (RE) in the spiritual education stakes—notwithstanding any and all claims that various kinds of scientific study may conduce to environmental or nature-conscious spirituality—is that of the arts. Moreover, if it is widely assumed that exposure to various arts can have real spiritual benefits, it has often also seemed natural to associate music, of all the different arts on offer, with spiritual experience or growth.4 It might therefore be held to follow, if spiritual education is indeed a proper aim of schooling, that music education is a prime vehicle of spiritual education, and that music teachers might include the promotion of spiritual qualities among their educational aims.

Clearly, however, none of these alleged conceptual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7809
Print ISSN
0021-8510
Pages
pp. 16-29
Launched on MUSE
2008-02-14
Open Access
No
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