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1 introduction The Making of Contemporary Spirituality Spirituality: a marvelous word, ubiquitous today and bursting with possibilities. We are disillusioned with both science and religion, with politics and business, and, in a deep way, with who we have become. Spirituality is what our world—and we ourselves—seem to lack. Spirituality is the depth and truth and all-inclusive wholeness of life, our lost and lamented connection to the universe. But what is spirituality? This is a study of the concept, of what it now means and how it is now used. We look at its origins and what it has displaced in order to occupy the prominent niche it now does in our minds, hearts, and imaginations. As it is used today, however, the word is almost completely disconnected from its historical meanings. This transformation has come very quickly. I can vividly remember how, early in my teaching career, a curriculum committee of the religious studies department reviewed a proposal for a course on Jewish spirituality. The course would use the traditional Jewish prayer book as its primary text and show how this had shaped Jewish practice, beliefs, and worldviews over the centuries. We on the committee loved this class, except for one detail: “You must find a new title,” a colleague said. “No student will want to take a course with such a hopelessly pious word as spirituality in it!” To all of us at the time, spirituality conjured up elderly aunts singing hymns or perhaps nuns in a convent. Spirituality then signified the practice of the most stodgy and old-fashioned type of devotion. This older meaning is now gone, and today students would be drawn to a course that had spirituality in its title. 2 The Ecology of Spirituality The word spirituality now has many definitions, an overwhelming number, in fact, all of which express that sense of yearning for wholeness that lies within so many of us. For samples, here are three definitions , cited with approval by other writers than those who first proposed them: [Spirituality] is simply our basic life orientation and the patterned ways in which we express them. It is the patterning of our thinking, feeling, experiencing and nurturing of whatever we take to be fundamentally important.1 The manner in which humans transcend themselves and reach out to the ultimate possibilities of their existence. As such spirituality entails both an understanding of the deepest meaning of human existence and a commitment to realizing the same.2 The aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experience their connection to the moment, the self, to others, to nature and the significant or sacred.3 The third definition is from 2009, while the first is from around 1989— but there is no progression from obscurity into clarity, and indeed the third was offered with an apology that it was “definition by committee” and therefore lacked internal coherence. Note how all of these omit or avoid some of the common older implications of spiritual and spirit. No elderly aunts or nuns here. First, there is no reference in any to the third person of the Christian Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Such a specific theological reference would be inimical to the universal scope of all of these definitions. Nor, second, is there any mention of “spirits” in the sense of “spirits of the dead.” Spiritualism, a nineteenth-century movement centered on contact with these beings, is entirely separate from today’s spirituality. Only because she was completely unfamiliar with the current discussion, could my atheist sister deny that she and her husband could be considered “spiritual” because “We don’t believe in spirits.” Third, all of the above definitions avoid the traditional opposition between spiritual and material/physical. Today’s spirituality helps connect people to the world of nature not to rise above it into a Platonic realm of pure Forms or Ideas. Spirituality is committed to a holistic vision, not a dualism between spirit and matter. Even those much closer to the traditional usages of spirituality than the authors of the three definitions above want to avoid the dualist message carried by the history of the term. But while all three of these connotations and associations are absent, what is present today are the hopes and aura and glow surrounding the Introduction 3 term spirituality, which is our focus. We note the excitement and enthusiasm packed into current discussions of spirituality in a...


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