The Way: Home
The Way logo



The Way title

October 2014 Vol 53 No 4

Developing Expertise in Spirituality

Personal Experience and Critical Distance in the Interpretation of Spiritual Texts: Do They Conflict?

Dr Edward Howells is Lecturer in Spirituality at Heythrop College, currently celebrating its fourth centenary. Here he asks how the historical material considered in university spirituality courses can be studied in a way that remains open to the contemporary experience of students and others, without distorting or losing touch with its original inspiration.

Download this article in PDF format by clicking here

Teaching Spirituality: Context, Practice, Scholarship and Formation

The context in which spirituality is taught in the academy is usually very different from that in which the spiritual practices studied originated and are still employed. Yet it seems important that these two spheres should retain close links to one another. Claire Wolfteich reflects on some of the ways in which these links can be maintained.

Teaching Spiritual Accompaniment in the Context of Trauma

Even two decades after the fall of the apartheid system in South Africa, many of that country’s citizens still bear the psychological scars that it inflicted. Anne Marie Paulin-Campbell draws on her work with the Jesuit Institute of South Africa to ask how spiritual directors can best be trained to deal with the kinds of trauma they encounter in this context.

Forming Spiritual Directors in an Academic Course

In Australia a Master of Arts in Spiritual Direction (MASD) course has been run for the last fourteen years. It is unusual in that it aims to form spiritual directors through an academic course. Here Michael Smith, Dean of the college running the course, reflects upon the challenges it has faced and the successes that it has achieved.

Teaching Spiritual Direction as if God were Real

Rob Marsh has described in earlier issues of The Way a model of spiritual direction that starts from a sharp focus on the reality of God’s work in the life experience of the one being directed. In this article he considers the practical implications of such an approach for the training of spiritual directors, and thus the content of training courses.

Training Spiritual Directors

Is spiritual direction based on a set of skills that can be taught? Or are the best directors those who are recognised as possessors of an innate charism? Over the last decade Ruth Holgate has developed training programmes that acknowledge the charismatic element while rigorously promoting and evaluating the skills that support it.

Forming Directors: Training Programme or Apprenticeship?

Traditionally, spiritual directors were formed through a process of apprenticeship, working alongside those who were acknowledged to show some mastery of the process. Paul Nicholson suggests that this process is still a valid one today, although it may result in fewer new directors than are turned out by some contemporary training courses.

“A Godmother of the True Believers:” Teaching Spirituality in a Non-Denominational Seminary

Janet Ruffing is professor in the practice of spirituality and ministerial leadership at Yale Divinity School. In her experience almost all the students who enrol for her classes have a desire to explore their own spiritual experience. Ruffing describes how she has developed courses that allow for this kind of exploration.

Do the Staff Need to Know What We Believe?

In Australia many social welfare agencies are run by, or at least have close associations with, faith communities. Yet the state funding that they receive demands that they make their services available to all, irrespective of belief. Beth Crisp asks how these organizations can help staff understand their faith roots without proselytizing.

'Come Play with Me': Exploring New Frontiers of Body Wisdom

The author is an exponent of the InterPlay movement, which teaches a form of spirituality that takes the wisdom of the body and its awareness of its own needs very seriously. Here Prashant Olalekar describes how this has been developed in an Indian context, and links it with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.

Quaestio Divina: Research as Spiritual Practice

For those undertaking initial postgraduate studies, the final thesis or dissertation looms large. This is as true for those studying spirituality as it is for any other discipline. Yet Bernadette Flanagan argues that these research projects have the potential to become privileged occasions of spiritual transformation for those undertaking them.

From the Foreword

AS YOU BEGIN TO READ this foreword, I invite you first to pause and reflect for a moment. What would you expect an expert in spirituality to be like? There are (at least) two different kinds of answer to this question. One spontaneously considers spirituality as an academic discipline, a branch of theology and so, perhaps, having much in common with other disciplines such as history, literature, or even one of the sciences. From this perspective, an expert would be learned, well-read, an intellectual type. The other kind of answer regards spirituality as a practical skill or outlook, something developed and refined by religious practice. Here an expert would be one who is prayerful, empathetic, perhaps known as a good listener. Neither of these kinds of answer is any more correct than the other. Both find support and elucidation in the pages of this Special Issue of The Way.

Four hundred years ago, Roman Catholicism was under attack in Britain. Any man wanting to train as a Catholic priest, or any child wanting a Catholic education, had little choice but to move to the European mainland, and to face great danger upon returning. Heythrop College, the Jesuit-run philosophy and theology college of London University, whose four-hundredth anniversary this issue of The Way celebrates, traces its origin to the Jesuit college founded in Louvain in 1614. Among the courses it teaches today are a number in spirituality and, in our opening essay, Edward Howells, who lectures at Heythrop, asks how such an academic course can best take account of students’ own spiritual experience.

Heythrop is far from alone in posing this question, which receives a variety of answers here. Claire Wolfteich’s starting point is the contrast between a visit to a Greek monastery and her teaching environment at the Boston University Theology School. She discovers surprising parallels between the two situations, and argues that it is important to preserve and build on them. Janet Ruffing, also from a US perspective, uses the metaphor of switching between different languages to explore the experience of teaching students from different spiritual traditions. Bernadette Flanagan suggests that doctoral-level academic research has the potential itself to be spiritually transformative.

These writers are academics, wanting to take religious experience, including the experience of those whom they teach, seriously. The second main strand of thought presented in this issue comes from practitioners, those who are involved day by day in leading and guiding people in prayer. Members of this group represented here are equally anxious to take seriously the findings of academic research into spirituality, and to integrate it into their practice. They approach the same kinds of question from the other side of the perceived divide between theory and practice.

Rob Marsh and Ruth Holgate have both been central to developing spirituality courses in the Jesuit spirituality centres of Britain. Marsh builds on ideas that he has presented in earlier issues of The Way to consider the implications for training spiritual directors of a strong emphasis on the experience of God currently at work in the life of a directee. Against the same background, Holgate looks at the relationship between the view that the ability to direct others is principally an innate, God-given gift, and the view that it is more of a set of learnt and improvable skills. My own article investigates the contrast between the traditional way of forming spiritual directors through apprenticeship, and the more frequent pattern today of shorter-term training programmes.

From an Australian perspective, Michael Smith describes a programme that specifically attempts to form good spiritual directors in an academic setting, including rigorous assessment and accreditation. And Beth Crisp looks at the religious origins of social care provision in Australia, and suggests ways in which this legacy should be part of the formation of care-providers today, without making them feel coerced into a faith outlook. The importance of the context in which people are formed spiritually is also prominent in Annemarie Paulin-Campbell’s article, which asks how such formation in South Africa can respond to the traumas of those who suffered for decades under the apartheid system. Finally, completing a world-wide survey, Prashant Olalekar introduces a form of training based on body awareness that he sees as particularly useful in an Indian setting.

From Heythrop College in a Kensington square to practical courses offered in a South African township, spirituality training exists in a wide variety of contexts and forms. Each of the examples described in this issue of The Way seeks to balance the experience trainees bring to their training with the research proper to the academy. Ignatius of Loyola, both in the Spiritual Exercises and in the Jesuit Constitutions that he composed, insisted on the need to adapt and adapt again to varieties of person, place and experience. I hope that you find that in this collection the spirit of adaptation is alive and well.

Paul Nicholson SJ

Please click here to subscribe to The Way,
here to order a single copy,
and here to order a free Sample.