Dissertation: Friendship with the Saints: A Practical Theological Reading of Teresa of Avila as a Spiritual Companion, by Tara Soughers

Combining the approaches of practical theology and spirituality studies, Tara Soughers explores the writings of Teresa of Avila on spiritual companionship. When understood within their historical contexts, the writings of the saints can offer a great deal to contemporary practice of spiritual companionship, and Sougher’s analysis of Teresa’s texts provides a case study of how that might be so. Here is the dissertation’s abstract:

This dissertation is a practical theology study of spiritual companionship with the saints, working with Teresa of Avila as a case study. Teresa’s writing reflects a robust understanding and practice of spiritual companionship with saints. While contemporary literature on spiritual companionship exists and the notion of friendship with saints can be found in some theological works on the communion of saints, practical theology studies that attend to the rich potential and theological meaning of friendship with saints have been lacking. This dissertation seeks to fill that gap, arguing that the relationship of saints to contemporary Christians is one of companionship within the communion of saints. This allows saints to serve as spiritual companions to contemporary Christians in ways that are analogous to contemporary personal relationships of spiritual companionship. This is an interdisciplinary study, working across disciplines of practical theology and spirituality studies while deeply engaging historical studies. Due to the importance of historical context in spirituality studies and concerns with issues of appropriation, the practical theology methodology is modified, strengthening the historical theology movement. The dissertation provides a textual and historical-contextual analysis of Teresa of Avila’s understandings and practices of friendship, including friendship with the saints. Current literature on spiritual companionship is explored and brought into a mutually critical dialogue with Teresa’s own descriptions—demonstrating common themes of journey and intimacy, affirmation and challenge, and personal transformation and growth in relationship with God. These themes are placed in dialogue with two contemporary understandings of the communion of saints, Anglican theological reflections based on liturgical practice and Elizabeth Johnson’s systematic treatment, yielding a model for companionship with saints that is grounded in norms of mutuality, deep knowledge, mutually critical dialogue, and living with differences. These norms suggest personal practices of companionship as well as contemplative pedagogical techniques for teaching the saints in an academic setting. The dissertation thus presents a practical theology study of spiritual companionship with the saints, rooted in a deep historical-contextual dialogue with Teresa of Avila. It seeks also to demonstrate the value of increased attention to historical studies in practical theology methodology.

The dissertation is freely available in Boston University Libraries’ institutional repository, OpenBU.

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