Article: Spirituality and Belief: Implications for Study and Practice of Christian Spirituality, by Diana L. Villegas

In this open access article, Diana Villegas, author of The Christian Path in a Pluralistic World and the Study of Spirituality, argues for the importance of theological reflection in a time when multiple spiritual paths are available within and outside traditional religions. Here is the article’s abstract:

The aim of this article is to show the inherent connection between spirituality and belief and the significance of this for the study and practice of Christian spirituality. John Hick, a scholar of religion, argues that religions arose in human culture in order to offer beliefs and practices that respond to the human quest for meaning and transcendence. Assuming spirituality refers to consciously living life in terms of such beliefs and rituals, then religion’s function in culture is to provide a spirituality. Based on the latter theory, I argue for the importance of theological or confessional reflection regarding contemporary belief, given that theology reflects on the beliefs of a religion and at its best helps persons understand and integrate their beliefs into the living of life at a particular historical-cultural moment. In our contemporary globalised, pluralistic culture the influence on spiritual practice of multiple sources of wisdom is common, as shown by sociological studies discussed in this study. This cultural context calls for identification, understanding and interpretation of the beliefs of Christians, as well as study regarding how these beliefs fulfil the purpose of religion in human culture, namely offering ways of living with suffering, evil and questions about the meaning of life. I argue such study fulfils both practical and theoretical functions.

The article is freely available. Here is its citation:

Villegas, Diana. “Spirituality and belief: Implications for study and practice of Christian spirituality” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies [Online], Volume 74 Number 3 (27 August 2018).

 

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Article: Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor, by Kimberly F. Baker

In an article which provides two historical examples of how the Christian practice of charity is rooted in the rich theological tradition of the early church, Kimberly Baker emphasizes the importance of understanding the relationship between giver and receiver. Here is the article’s abstract:

In their preaching on care for the poor, Basil and Augustine call for a transformation of one’s relationships. While the Roman patronage system rested on relationships of privilege and dependency, Basil and Augustine cultivate a different type of relationship between the giver and receiver of charity, a relationship based not on status and need but on a shared life and identity. For Basil, that relationship is rooted in the common humanity of all people, regardless of economic or social status. Giving is natural in Basil’s worldview because humanity shares in a common human nature and thus holds all goods in common. Those who fail to share with others risk cutting themselves off from their human nature. Basil’s call to care for the poor is a call to recognize that to be human is to share in what is κοινός, held in common. And for Augustine, the relationship of giver and receiver is grounded in Christ. In loving others, Christians come to discover Christ not only present in them, by virtue of their baptism, but also present in those they serve, wherever there is human need, as promised in Matthew 25. Augustine draws the attention of Christians to those in need, including those outside the usual ties of kinship and citizenship, and even church membership, and teaches them to see in the poor, people of dignity, defined not by dependency but by Christ’s loving solidarity. In laying claim to a common bond between giver and receiver, Basil and Augustine offer a counter-cultural social vision in which giver and receiver are defined not by power or need, but by mutuality and love.

The article’s citation:

 “Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor.”  In Studia Patristica XCV: Papers Presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2015, vol. 21, edited by Markus Vinzent, 251-259.  Leuven: Peeters, 2017.

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Blog: Ecozoic Cafe

For the past several months, I’ve been experimenting with another blog which may be of interest to followers of this one. I’m calling it Ecozoic Cafe, and I’ve copied its About page below. All feedback is welcome!

Jonas Barciauskas,
Christian Spirituality Studies blog moderator

About

Why the title Ecozoic Cafe?

Ecozoic is a term proposed by Thomas Berry (1914-2009), C.P, Ph.D., a Catholic priest of the Passionist Order and a scholar of cultural history and world religions. Berry intended Ecozoic to indicate a new era where humanity can choose to live in greater harmony with the earth than it has in recent centuries. Ecozoic is less a scientific term identifying a past geological age (e.g., Cenozoic) than one offering a hopeful vision for our current and future time. According to Berry and his co-author Brian Swimme in their book The Universe Story, the Ecozoic is “a new mode of human-Earth relations, one where the well-being of the entire Earth community is the primary concern.” (The Universe Story, p. 15)

More information can be found on the web about what might be meant by the Ecozoic Era (see Ecozoic Times for example). Discussions on this blog will explore various threads in contemporary Christian and other spiritualities which can contribute toward realizing the kind of earth community envisioned by Berry and others.  Humanity needs to understand and experience itself to be in deep spiritual relationship with the earth before it can  address the challenge of climate change in any meaningful way, and there are many signs suggesting that such an understanding is beginning to emerge.

As for the Cafe part of the title, there are few better ways to stimulate creative thinking and conversation than a good cup coffee (or the beverage of your choice). Please feel free to leave a comment by clicking on the “Leave a comment” link at the end of each post.

(See also the first blog post.)

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Article: Icons: A Case Study in Spiritual Borrowing between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Emergent Church, by Dann Wigner

Dann Wigner used a qualitative empirical approach to gather the data for this article about the spiritual borrowing of Eastern Orthodox icons by several emergent churches. He selected three communities identifying themselves as emergent churches where he “observed multiple services and meetings, interviewed thirty-eight members or regular attendees, and conducted documentary research on their podcasts and blogposts which composed their archives of sermons and public conversations.” Wigner also familiarized himself with the literature on spiritual borrowing within the larger Emergent Church (EC) movement. Here is some text from his concluding paragraphs:

In conclusion, icons were appropriated on the basis of experimentation through a perspective that EC practitioners are appropriating a practice as a container which can then be “emptied” of old theology and “filled” with new content which reflects their own distinctions. Consequently, the central observation of the study is the confirmation that the EC is appropriating the Orthodox icon by investing this practice with their own theological content.

Thus, this article contributes to the investigation of spiritual borrowing by illustrating an in-depth case study of the process of a mystic practice moving from one tradition to another. In the purview of theology, this detailed analysis of the process of appropriation and reinterpretation of icons has displayed the relationship of the practice to both the source of Eastern Orthodoxy and the new context of the EC. Close scrutiny of the spiritual borrowing process and these theological connections displays effectively how a spiritual practice can be changed when divested of theological content, and then filled with new theological content in a specific instance.

Here is the article’s citation:

Wigner, Dann. “Icons: A Case Study in Spiritual Borrowing between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Emergent Church.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 18 no. 1, 2018, pp. 78-101.

SSCS members can view the article for free. More about SSCS membership is available here.

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Article: Stories, Hermeneutics and Maturation in Christian Life, by David B. Perrin

Storytelling plays a significant role in the spiritualities of many religions. In this recently published article, David Perrin explores how stories help shape a person’s character as well as his or her spiritual life within the Christian tradition. Here is the article’s abstract:

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it is told on the big theater screen, performed as an opera, or read from the tattered pages of a favorite childhood story book, we all enjoy participating in story-telling and story-receiving in differing ways throughout our lives.  Stories have that effect on us: they take us to the action, transform us into one of the participants, and draw us into the intrigue that seeks to be resolved.  In Christian life, many texts that have come down to us in the traditions act upon us in the same ways: they take us to the heart of the action. They transport us into their world so we can take part in what the text is all about.  This is not to suggest that the Christian texts are fiction, as I described story-telling above.  But, fiction or not, texts in general – and the dynamics that play out in the life of the individual and community when reading them – hold many things in common. Texts play a central role in the development of Christian life, conversion, and character formation, since these texts bring us to absorb a world of values and action that reflect the long-standing wisdom of the Christian traditions and our relationship with God.  This article explains, from a textual hermeneutical perspective, why and how “reading” texts and stories of all kinds contribute to personal spiritual-human development and, in turn, character formation in Christian life. 

Here is the article’s citation:

David B. Perrin, “Stories, Hermeneutics and Maturation in Christian Life” Vol. IX, No. 1, January 2018, Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 35-57.

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Book: Pilgrim River: A Spiritual Memoir, by Kenneth Garcia

Nature played a major role in Kenneth Garcia’s spiritual journey, as it has for many others seeking ways to follow a spiritual path. An accomplished essayist, Garcia has written a book one reader described as “at once luminous, tragic, and hopeful.” Here is the book’s blurb:

Pilgrim River candidly narrates one man’s wandering but sincere attempt to come to terms with the overpowering experience of God—a journey from unbelief to nature mysticism in the deserts and mountains of Nevada and Utah, to sojourns through the country of marriage and the republic of letters, and finally to the Catholic Church. The road followed is crooked, plagued by a lack of spiritual guides and mentors, by isolation, depression, by a failed first marriage; but present throughout is a groping toward spiritual fulfillment alternately tortured, hopeful, and bathed in luminescence. Many spiritual seekers—including those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”—will benefit from the telling of this unorthodox journey to Christianity.

The book’s citation:

Garcia, Kenneth. Pilgrim River: A Spiritual Memoir. [S.l.]: Angelico Press, 2018.

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Dissertation: “Not of This World”: Christian Devotional Literature as Minority Discourse, by J. Stephen Pearson

Pearson’s dissertation draws on scriptural, devotional, and theological texts to argue that the Christian community has historically been a minority within its larger social, cultural, and political context. Here is the abstract:

This dissertation re-reads the history of Western Christianity in order to reconsider notions of Christianized culture and politics. Using concepts from contemporary ethnic studies, I examine devotional works from the Western Christian tradition to expose a thematic thread that depicts the Christian community as a cultural minority: Exile in Patrick of Ireland; Minor Literature in Richard Rolle; Borderlands in Catherine of Genoa; Nationalism in George Fox; Contact Zones in Thomas Merton; and Diaspora in Kathleen Norris. I try to demonstrate that works from mainstream Christian writers can be profitably interpreted using minority discourse: though the authors were not ethnic minorities, their faith gave them a minority position in the world. My analyses are built on scriptural teachings about minority identity from the Book of Daniel, in which the community must learn to live in a foreign culture, and from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus teaches the disciples that they are no longer “of” the world.

Alongside these analyses, I examine the multicultural aspects of Christian missionary work, showing how from its origins Christian history demonstrates a plurality of Christianities, as missionaries adapted their teachings for new cultures and as converts around the globe adopted Christianity on their own terms and developed new forms of Christian theology that use their historical and cultural situations to interpret the scriptures and vice versa. After arising in the poly-cultural Middle East, Christianity quickly spread into Europe, Africa, Asia and, eventually, the Americas, recasting its story for each new cultural context and thereby creating multiple Christianities. At the same time, theologians such as Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard argued for radical distinctions between religious and political communities. For these theologians, the community of believers differs in essence from the secular political-cultural community; as a result, there can be no expectation of a Christian government or of a Christian culture. It can therefore be said that Christians are commanded by their scriptures, theologians and spiritual masters to embrace a minority status within their own cultures so as to minister to the world without being compromised by it.

The dissertation is freely available as a PDF in Athenaeum@UGA, the digital repository of the University of Georgia.

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