Syllabus: New Testament Spirituality

Describing his recent revision of this syllabus, David Rensberger of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, writes “I did update the structure at a number of points this time around. ‘What to do about Jesus’ is a question in any course that surveys the NT; this time I reformulated that session in light of how Jesus shows up in the spiritual-vs.-religious debate.  I also added a new segment on discipleship and revamped the selection of materials from Paul.” Here is the course description:

The spirituality of the biblical writings has not been the subject of much study in modern times, at least not in critical biblical scholarship. The methodology for such study is thus still in a relatively early stage, and the results that ought to be expected are still an open question. Are we just looking to add one more item, “spirituality,” to the repertoire of critical scholarship, alongside the historical, literary, sociological, and ideological characteristics of the biblical writers? Or are we seeking something more, something that goes beyond the supposed objectivity of critical study to let the subject matter of the text actually impinge on our lives?

This course will work toward the latter of these two possible aims; but we cannot get there without attending to the former. Students will be encouraged to be creative and innovative; to bring all of themselves to the endeavor; to raise questions that are true to the New Testament texts and their writers, but also break through into our lives as readers of the texts today. However, this will not be an inquiry without form or limits, or an exercise in pure subjectivity, simply asking how a text “speaks to my heart.” Critical study of the texts will be presupposed. We will be asking what there is in the texts, as critically analyzed, that raises and addresses issues of spirituality. This course can only provide an introduction to some of the themes of New Testament spirituality in its major writings. Yet we hope to gain a grasp of the spiritual values and transformative potential of the texts, as one possible outcome of studying them critically.

Thus the aims of the course will be (1) to perform adequate exegesis of the texts so as to understand their spirituality; but also (2) to open ourselves to the transformative possibilities of the texts—not just to grasp the spirituality of the New Testament writings, but to be grasped by it.

A copy of the syllabus is available to SSCS members by contacting the blog moderator.

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Syllabus: Contemporary Expressions in Spirituality

Paul Blankenship intends this seminar to be taken by students in a particular masters level program at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, but it’s open to “all graduate students interested in contemporary spirituality.” Here’s the course description:

This seminar is an introduction to the critical study of spirituality. It is a conversation about how and why other people are spiritual, what this means, and whether it makes a difference. Because it is not possible in an academic quarter (or a lifetime) to cover the mélange of contemporary spiritualities in the world, students are encouraged to research alternative spiritualities so that our conversation avoids hegemony. May the wind scatter and confuse us. And help us understand.

A copy of the syllabus is available to SSCS members from the blog moderator.

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Essay: Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) and Contemporary Mystical Theology, by Andrew Prevot

Appearing in A Companion to Jesuit Mysticism, Andrew Prevot‘s essay argues for the presence of a mystical theology throughout much of Henri de Lubac’s writings even though he never devoted a work exclusively to it. Here is Prevot’s concluding paragraph:

This chapter has shown that de Lubac deserves to be read alongside Rahner and von Balthasar as one of the great Jesuit, Catholic theological voices in the conversation surrounding Christian mysticism in the twentieth century. De Lubac’s essay “Mysticism and Mystery” gives us a glimpse at certain arguments that might have appeared in the fuller treatment of Christian mysticism he proposed to write but never completed. By taking this essay as a hermeneutical key for his other writings – on knowledge, the human being, Christ, the Eucharist, the church, interreligious encounter, atheistic humanism, and gender – one can discover just how central mystical participation in “the Mystery” is to his thought as a whole. His theology is mystical through and through. Although there may be good reasons to question it on this or that point (particularly with feminist theological consciousness), the synthetic nature of his theological interpretation of Christian mysticism is an unquestionable achievement.

Here’s the bibliographic data for the essay:

Prevot, Andrew. “Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) and Contemporary Mystical Theology.” In A Companion to Jesuit Mysticism, edited by Robert A. Maryks, 279-309. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017.


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Syllabus: History of Christian Spirituality

This course, taught by Paul Blankenship, uses seven of the Classics of Western Spirituality series from Paulist Press as well as secondary sources by SSCS members Philip Sheldrake and Bradley Holt. Here is the course description:

Through the study of selected texts and visual images, this course introduces students to the rich variety within Christian spirituality. In addition to a general overview of the major movements, concerns, and personalities, students examine experiences of conversion and spiritual growth, mysticism and prayer, community and compassion. This course focuses on the wisdom of the ancient, medieval, and reformation traditions as resources for contemporary spirituality.

A copy of the syllabus is available to SSCS members from the blog moderator.

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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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Syllabus: Spirituality and Comedy

As Anita Houck points out in her introduction, the two main elements of her course are not often considered as complementary or even closely related. SSCS members can check out the resources she uses to get her students to think otherwise. Here is her overview of the course:

Christianity has often been resistant to areas of life we associate with comedy, such as laughter, play, and joy; as Hugo Rahner asks, “May a Christian laugh, when he has heard our Lord’s warning, ‘Woe upon you who laugh now; you shall mourn and weep’ (Luke 6.25)? May a Christian go on merrily playing when a stern and strict choice has to be made for eternity?” This course will investigate the relationship between comic dimensions of human life and Christian spirituality. Since spirituality requires self-implication, a significant part of the class will involve participating in spiritual practices, as well as two experiential events outside of class; and since contemporary Christian spirituality is deeply shaped by engagement with other traditions, the course will also consider ecumenical and inter-religious engagement.

Copies of the syllabus are available to SSCS members by contacting the blog moderator.

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Essay: ‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’ Rainer Maria Rilke and the transformations of poetry, by Mark S. Burrows

In this essay, Mark Burrows, Poetry Editor of the SSCS journal Spiritus, explores Rilke’s focus on the role of the imagination in our inner transformation. Our fragmentary lives can be made whole through the power of the kind of archetypal imagery one can find in poetry. Here’s a portion of Burrow’s introductory paragraph:

Poetic language . . . is dynamic. One might even say that it is determinative of change, of the kind of interior change that alters the way we inhabit our lives and our world. But how does one ‘find’ such images for this journey of growth? Where do they come from? Rilke turns to such questions in a poem written a few years later, in 1902, describing poets as artists who are ‘enclosed in themselves’, and thereby ‘gather images both murmuring and deep’: ‘They go out and ripen through metaphor’, as he suggests, ‘and remain alone their whole life’ (Die Gedichte 243 ). The poet, in Rilke’s mind at least, must accept a life of solitude, the experience of Einsamkeit that sug­- gests both ‘aloneness’ and a sense of loneliness at once. The poet’s capacity to attend to this phenomenon has something of the eremitic about it, and indeed this conviction seems to shape the collection of poems Rilke wrote after returning from Russia in the fall of 1899 – The Prayers, later published as The Book of Monastic Life.

Here is a citation for the essay:

Burrows, Mark S. “‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’: Rainer Maria Rilke and the Transformations of Poetry.” In Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word, edited by Mark S. Burrows, Jean Ward, Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, 107-116. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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