Spiritual and Religious: Edmonton’s Christian Spirituality in Context

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Course Description: 

What is the “shape” of Christian spirituality according to active spiritual practices today in Edmonton? What do spiritual practitioners understand their spiritual practice to be about, and its relevance in our contemporary historical context? Can an empirical definition of “spiritual practice” be derived from the answers to these questions? In 2012 Dr. Peet initiated some research aimed at these questions, with a first task to create an inventory of what Christian spiritual practices (e.g., contemplative prayer, guided labyrinth meditation, Lac Ste Anne pilgrimage) are currently being actively practiced by individuals or throughout organizations (agencies, churches, retreat centers) in Edmonton and surrounding area on the basis of interviews. The outcome was a 20 page ‘first draft’ inventory of 16 practitioners/agencies in the area, the spiritual practices they offer, brief biographies accompanying each, and a glossary explaining the spiritual practices. Although neither complete nor refined, the inventory has been useful, providing a fascinating glimpse into the mostly unseen diversity of active practice of Christian practices in the greater Edmonton area. In summer of 2014 additional research on the inventory was undertaken, to expand its range and representativeness. Coming into view is how Christian spiritual practices in Edmonton reflect the broader context and dynamics of North American Christian spirituality (see “Visual Chart”, below). Behind local practices and practitioners, are the far-reaching influences of figures like Thomas Merton, Catherine Doherty, Thomas Keating, John Main, and Richard Rohr, and orders and organizations such as the Benedictines, the Sisters of Providence,  the Franciscans, the Paulists, Oblate Missions, Contemplative Outreach, the Veritas labyrinth movement, the World Council of Christian Meditation, and numerous others, who have extended and consolidated the recovery of various Christian contemplative practices (e.g. centering prayer, enneagrams) as well as encouraged innovations in contemporary spiritual practices (e.g. Christian meditation, labyrinths). This Directed Reading will try to better delineate the “shape” of Christian spirituality in Edmonton through readings and research exploring its broader context.

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Course Objectives: 

To understand practices of Christian spirituality in Edmonton in a broader sociological and historical context, and ground those practices when possible in particular traditions or ‘lineages of transmission’ of such practices. The course aims to inform provision of a critical scholarly counterpoint through the theme “spiritual practice” to the consumer mentality evident in contemporary popular culture in regards to spirituality, and to reclaim from secular society and popular culture a contemporary ‘stake’ in spirituality for Christians. An increasingly popular conception of “spirituality” has developed in the past century that contrasts to “religion”, primarily in that the former has an individual locus (subjective, experiential, authentic, etc.) and the latter an institutional one (authoritarian, dogmatic, ‘imposed’, etc.). The distinction has some merit: but ultimately it is a limited merit that rests on problematic modern assumptions. Engaged with any depth, the claim to an unreligious or antireligious spirituality proves increasingly problematic. The contemporary “post-traditional” pluralism of modern society invites a ‘smorgasbord’ approach that trivializes commitment and overlooks context, and thus the significance of the content of spiritual practice is threatened to be cheapened into ‘interesting experience’. This directed study aims to inform a critically-contextualized corrective by emphasis on the context for such practices in long-standing traditions, complex histories, and rigorous disciplines. Eschewing the consumerist trend toward an eclectic superficiality of sampling and decontextualized experimenting with spiritual practices, the emphasis on practice and insistence that such practice is nontrivially situated in contexts foregrounds that throughout all religions “spirituality” is a serious and difficult endeavor and as such requires frameworks of obligation and commitment for the development, maturation, and humbling enrichment of the practitioner’s inner life and the quality of their faith life. 

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Texts : (excerpts will be selected from the following books; more readings will emerge depending on information emerging from the research interviews)

Fuller, Robert. (2001). Spiritual but not religious: understanding unchurched America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGuire, Meredith. (1997). Mapping contemporary American spirituality. Christian Spirituality Bulletin 5 (Spring, 1997): 3-8.

Schmidt, Leigh. (2005). Restless souls: the making of American spirituality. San Francisco: Harper.

Taylor, Eugene. (1999). Shadow culture: psychology and spirituality in America. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.

Wuthnow, Robert. (1998). After Heaven: spirituality in American since the 1950s. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

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