“Spiritual Directions, Religious Ways, and Education,” by Joseph McCann

Robert Wuthnow, Professor of Sociology at Princeton and the Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, has been observing and analyzing American approaches to religion for some decades now.  His distinction of “dwelling” and “seeking” is probably the most helpful way of thinking about attitudes to religion and spirituality today.

Wuthnow explains by saying that there are two mentalities, one interested in stability and security and the other which moves towards exploration and transition.  Many individuals now are looking for the sacred and the meaningful elsewhere than in traditional churches or religious institutions, and finding it in places not usually regarded as sacred.  As Wuthnow comments: “Rather than being in a place that is by definition spiritual, the sacred is found momentarily in experiences as different as mowing the lawn or viewing a full moon.” (1998, 3-5)  The purpose of this article is to build on Wurthnow’s idea and map the movement of spiritual seekers as they travel from their familiar locale in different directions by unknown paths to spiritual “fresh woods and pastures new.”

This article employs an extended metaphor of journey or passage, that is, someone goes from one place to another, chooses a route, makes discoveries on the way and arrives at a destination. The journey is the inner journey of a person seeking, looking and finding a new spiritual home.   The paper provides a framework or map, to enable one to observe where the journey may be headed.  After all, when travellers have a general sense of the countryside, then they are less likely to feel lost.

3 Responses to ““Spiritual Directions, Religious Ways, and Education,” by Joseph McCann”

  1. I appreciate the attempt at explicating these “complex” (ultimately in-explicable?) issues, terms, concepts and beliefs. However, as one who has taught (and practiced) interfaith spirituality for many years (grounded in the texts, the communities and the practice of radical inclusion) I take exception to this over-simplified re-introduction of the archaic dichotomies, especially the Sacred/Profane split. In my current thinking, Nature (“naturally” encompassing the natural cosmos with all its “sacred” wonder and mystery) is fully sufficient and complete, theology or no theology. I do not find it helpful to our pluralistic world to perpetuate the fragmentation of Life through neat categories and somewhat nonsensical terms. Those of us who were once religious/spiritual are now among the “profane” and “secular.” With all due respect, this is one way theological speculation continues its ancient divisive agenda. Thank you.

  2. Surinder Bhardwaj says:

    listening to patients as part of a hospital chaplaincy staff, I hear often patients telling me that although they are not religious (or affiliated with any church), that they are nevertheless spiritual in their lifestyle. They seem to mean that they are not confined to a particular label such as Christian (or any one of the various denominations of Christianity), Muslim, Jew or any other. In a sense, these patients try to convey that such labels are too restrictive, and too narrow to contextualize their thinking about the Divine. To them, as I see it, religion is synonymous with boundaries that separate, while they are looking for meaning transcending these boundaries that might give them a sense of freedom; a space for finding connectivity without restrictive symbols and icons. It is that search for meaning within which they seem to be struggling to situate their spirituality. These patients also experience a healing context in which diversity of cultures and faiths has become the norm. Without inquiring the specific “religion” of the various doctors and nurses (coming from different countries and faiths, especially in the larger hospitals) with whom the patients come in to contact, they see healing as a process transcending the visible diversity of their caregivers. Many Americans, in fact most westerners, are now exposed to diversity in the work place, living space (neighborhoods), and in the healing context. It is not a happenstance then that the lexicon of boundaries (especially “religious”) are seen by many people as no longer helpful as creators of comfort zones. Instead, these boundaries, religious icons, and symbols seem suffocating. Search for freedom from all these confining concepts (such as religion, church, temple) seem increasingly to mean spirituality. Whatever meaning ‘spirituality’ may have for different individuals, there is the common denominator of freedom from the perceived restrictiveness of faiths and religions that create an opaque envelope instead of wide open space beckoning our search for the Divine.

  3. […] the complete article from the 7th Issue of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue here. Share […]

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