restricted access 1. Definitions of Spirituality: Ninety-Two and Still Counting
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9 Chapter one Definitions of Spirituality Ninety-Two and Still Counting Tracing the History Spirituality today has become newsworthy and glamorous, and yet it remains confusing and mysterious. In our introduction, we focused on this and noted how the many definitions of this term go along with an overall sense that spirituality is resistant to clear definition. That has not stopped people from trying, however. So this chapter includes both a brief history and a survey of the available definitions, already in print, that came directly out of a professional organization’s enthusiasm for the whole topic. What is remarkable is the discontinuity between past and present and the manner in which a concept once upon a time clearly and narrowly defined is now so open to any and all meanings originating from such a diverse assortment of people and professions. In tracing the history, it is impossible, therefore, to consider this a straightforward story of progress from less to more sophisticated or from more abstract to more operational definitions. Moreover, there are some key transitions in this history, from one context for use to many and from one style of definition to another. But it is hard to say that the acorn grew into an oak or that the original earlier meanings naturally birthed the more contemporary ones. Here, to start, is a time line for shifts in definitions of spirituality over the last forty years. 10 The Ecology of Spirituality Catholic Religious Orders Principe (1983) 3 levels, two-poled “Secular spiritualities” Van Ness Morgan (1993) one-poled 92 definitions (2002) Versnel Kerr, Unruh This line traces the precontemporary definitions of spirituality on the left to the present on the right. It is not a line of progress or development because, in a real way, the stages toward the left are clearer and more directly useful, albeit for a smaller number of persons, than those toward the right. But, as in many construction projects, the more recent stages are more expansive, cover far more ground. Or, to use the image provided by Kourie in our introduction, the umbrella has stretched and become far more inviting and inclusive by the time we reach Anita Unruh, Joan Versnel, and Natasha Kerr. Principe’s Retrospect and Suggestions Going back several decades, to an earlier phase of this story, we already find this stretching out of the word and an optimistic vision of its potentials . In 1983 Walter Principe wrote an erudite review of the history of the term spirituality, including its premodern, distinctively narrow, religious usage. Principe’s essay was titled “Toward Defining Spirituality,” which is ironic, given what we now know of how spirituality definitions have moved away from rather than toward clarity and unanimity. Principe was a professor in the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, which would have been just about the only professional location from which anyone in 1983 could have studied or written about spirituality. Principe documented how rare this term as a substantive once was in both English and French writings. French is important not just because Principe wrote in Canada but because spirituality was a thoroughly Roman Catholic term, actually restricted to writings by and for members of religious orders. Recall that in the early 1970s, the term was “too pious” for undergraduates at a midwestern state university. Principe’s citations are all hopelessly “pious.” He mentions titles like Saudreau’s 1916 Manuel de spiritualité. By 1932 there was a Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique, and in 1943 the Institut Catholique de Paris established a chair in Histoire de la Spiritualité.1 What did these ultra-Catholic uses of the term signify? According to Principe, spirituality here referred to the systematic practice of the “spiritual life,” explicitly separated from the “worldly life.” Platonic dualism and a very traditional split between the religious and the laity were intrinsic to Definitions of Spirituality 11 this setting and the writings it promoted.2 Monks and nuns possessed a spiritual life and needed manuals for it; ordinary persons living in the world did not. By the time Principe wrote, he and many others had traveled away from this beginning. The term already generated a certain amount of confusion, and so he proposed a three-level definition that would clarify both the substance of spirituality and the stance of those who practice or study it. First-level spirituality is “the real or existential level. This is the quality . . . of a person. It is the way some...


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