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Spirituality and Aging

Robert C. Atchley

Publication Year: 2009

A spiritual life, one focused on personal growth and deep human experience, is a major focus and motivator for people over the age of forty. Yet there is a marked lack of rigorous academic study of spirituality's importance in the lives of aging people. Noted gerontologist Robert C. Atchley remedies this problem by developing complex concepts and language about spirituality. Spirituality and Aging incorporates material from two decades of interviews, observations, study, and reflection to illustrate ways of thinking about and discussing spirituality—what it is, why it is important, and how it influences the experience of aging. This book provides a nuanced view of spirituality and the richness it brings to the lives of older people. The book is divided into three sections, with the first providing basic frames of reference for examining spirituality and aging, such as the nature of spirituality, spiritual development, and the spiritual self. Atchley next focuses on two dimensions of spirituality that are likely to manifest later in life: becoming a sage (developing the capacity to bring spiritual light to everyday issues) and serving from spirit (creating opportunities for service that are rooted in spirituality). The last section illustrates how spirituality informs other aspects of late life, such as psychological coping and the experience of dying and death. Separating spirituality from religion—something few books on this topic do—Spirituality and Aging offers a plan for incorporating spirituality into gerontological scholarship, research, education, and practice.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

People over 40 are primary consumers of literature, workshops, retreats, and personal growth programs concerning spirituality. “Spiritual life” is a major focus and motivator for large numbers of the people gerontologists seek to study, serve, and design programs and policies for. Yet gerontology as a field of knowledge and practice has lagged far behind its target population in...

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pp. xv-xvi

My recent books have begun with a nudge from my wife and colleague, Sheila Atchley. Sheila is more familiar than anyone with what I am thinking about and studying, and at some point in my process Sheila will say, “I think you need to write a book about that.” So it was with spirituality and aging. The positive value of Sheila’s steady appreciation of my work is immeasurable....

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Introduction: Setting the Stage

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pp. 1-9

This book considers fundamental questions about the meaning of being and how it is shaped by the experience of aging. The following general questions — How does confidence and trust in a spiritual process develop?— What does it mean to build a life around spiritual concerns?— How are these questions shaped by and how do they influence the experi-...


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1 The Nature of Spiritual Experience

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pp. 13-28

There is no doubt that many people have experiences they label spiritual. Spirituality can be seen as the capacity to perceive experiences as spiritual. But what qualifies an experience to be called spiritual? What criteria do people use? Is spiritual experience something separate from “ordinary” experience or does spiritual refer to a quality that can accompany many types of...

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2 Spiritual Development

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pp. 29-45

The previous chapter described a spiritual region of human experience characterized by identifiable qualities, occurring through several avenues of experience and accompanying many aspects of life. Awareness of this region and experience with it vary greatly among people and also evolve over time for most. Questions that guide this chapter include: What does it mean to grow ...

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3 Spirituality, Spiritual Self, and Spiritual Identity

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pp. 46-70

What is my spiritual nature? How do I develop spiritually? These were the basic questions addressed in the two previous chapters. The basic question for this chapter is, How does spirituality influence identity and self, and vice versa? How do I experience myself, conceive of myself, and aspire for myself, and how does spiritual experience interact with these elements? Where does ...


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4 Becoming a Sage and a Spiritual Elder: Transpersonal Psychology

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pp. 73-90

This chapter is about experiences people have in the process of becoming sages and spiritual elders. To become a sage is to manifest wisdom and calm judgment. To become a spiritual elder is to be a sage in the role of elder—in the family, community, or society. A spiritual centeredness is involved in being a sage and in being a spiritual elder. To fully open opportunities for individuals ...

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5 Transpersonal Sociology and Serving from Spirit

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pp. 91-105

This chapter deals with two questions: How would social organizations look if they were populated, organized, and managed by people with a transpersonal viewpoint and philosophy of life? and, What is spiritually centered service to the community and how does it differ from other kinds of service? For these questions, the existing literature is of little help. Although...


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6 Continuity, Spiritual Growth, and Coping in Later Adulthood

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pp. 109-120

Despite a social world that has a negative orientation toward aging, most aging and older people have good health, high self-acceptance and self-esteem, a high degree of life satisfaction, a satisfying and meaningful lifestyle, and a long-standing convoy of social support (Atchley and Barusch 2004). This happens because over decades of life experience, a large majority of adults ...

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7 Spiritual Beliefs and Practices and the Experience of Time and Aging

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pp. 121-132

This chapter is about the influence of spiritual beliefs and practices on the experience of time as people age. To deal effectively with this complex topic, we must look briefly at several meanings of time and at why the experience of...

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8 Spirituality and the Experience of Dying and Death

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pp. 133-144

What difference does spirituality make in the experience of dying and death? How do dying and death influence spirituality? Those are the central questions for this chapter. Of course, the answers to these questions are deeply influenced by how we answer two other questions: What is my spiritual nature? Am I a person having spiritual experiences or am I a spiritual being having a ...

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Conclusion: Summary, Reflections, and Implications

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pp. 145-159

I began my study of aging in 1963 in a graduate seminar taught by Clark Tib-bitts, one of the founders of social gerontology. As a text, we used the Handbook of Social Gerontology (Tibbitts 1960), a thorough compendium of research findings and ideas about social aspects of aging from a wide variety of academic disciplines. In that handbook, there was an excellent chapter by Paul ...

Appendix A. Spirituality Inventory

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pp. 161-182

Appendix B. Questions for Reflection and Spiritual Self-Assessment

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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-190


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pp. 191-195


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pp. 197-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896538
E-ISBN-10: 0801896533
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801891199
Print-ISBN-10: 0801891191

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 11 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 647868283
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Spirituality and Aging

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Subject Headings

  • Spirituality.
  • Spiritual biography.
  • Older people -- Religious life.
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