ERIC Identifier: ED459370
Publication Date: 2001-00-00
Author: Tisdell, Elizabeth J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Spirituality in Adult and Higher Education. ERIC Digest.
"The spiritual awakening that is slowly taking place counterculturally will
become more of a daily norm as we all willingly break mainstream cultural taboos
that silence or erase our passion for spiritual practice" (hooks 2000, p. 82).
Spirituality is a hot topic. Bookstores are filled with many popular titles
related to it, from Western religions to traditions of the East to new-age
philosophies. What are adult and higher education practitioners to make of this
new emphasis on spirituality? On the one hand, many of us might resonate with
hooks' observation that spirituality has a role in breaking the silence that
erases our passion as well as a place in higher and adult education. On the
other, we may also wonder, as Wuthnow (1998) observes, "whether 'spiritual' has
become synonymous with 'flaky'" (p. 1). This Digest provides a summary of the
recent literature related to spirituality as it relates to adult learning. It
begins with an overview of the more general literature on spirituality in adult
and higher education. Next is a consideration of some of the literature related
to spiritual development. In the last section is a consideration of spirituality
and emancipatory education.
GENERAL DISCUSSIONS OF SPIRITUALITY
Until very recently,
with the exception of adult religious education, spirituality has been given
little attention in mainstream academic adult education. This may be because
spirituality is difficult to define and can sometimes be confused with religion.
For many of us, our adult spirituality is clearly informed by how we were
socialized both religiously and culturally. Yet, spirituality is not the same as
religion; religion is an organized community of faith that has written codes of
regulatory behavior, whereas spirituality is more about one's personal belief
and experience of a higher power or higher purpose. In seeking to define "spirituality" (as opposed to "religion"), Hamilton and Jackson (1998) conducted
a qualitative study of the conceptions of spirituality among women in the
helping professions. Participants' definitions centered on three main themes:
the further development of self-awareness, a sense of interconnectedness, and a
relationship to a higher power. Although this definition does give a sense of
the psychological aspects of spirituality as broadly related to meaning-making,
it does not get at the relationship of cultural experience and spirituality or
the connection between spirituality and a commitment to social justice education
and community work, an important area of educational activity for many adult
educators. Nevertheless, these three themes of spirituality appear to be common
aspects of what spirituality is for most who consider it an important
meaning-making aspect of their life.
Most recent discussions in adult and higher education specifically focus on
the role of spirituality in teaching and learning. A number of new edited books
focus on its role specifically in adult education (English and Gillen 2000), and
in education more generally as the construction of knowledge (Glazer 1999) or in
dealing with religious pluralism in higher education settings (Kazanjian and
Laurence 2000). A common theme is the focus on meaning-making in adult learning
as intricately related to the spiritual quest of adults (Hunt et al. 2001).
Vella (2000) suggests that attending to the spiritual dimension of adult
learning is part of honoring the learner as "subject," and thus the author of
her/his own life in the quest for meaning-making.
Attending to spirituality in learning doesn't necessarily mean that one needs
to discuss it directly in classes or learning activities, although there may be
occasions for drawing it into course content. Dirkx (1997) has suggested that
our interest is not so much to teach soulwork, or spirituality, but rather to
nurture soul, i.e., "to recognize what is already inherent within our
relationships and experiences, to acknowledge its presence with the teaching and
learning environment, to respect its sacred message" (p. 83). In a similar vein,
Palmer (1998) discusses the importance of attending to paradox, sacredness, and
graced moments in teaching and learning, in developing a spirituality of
education. Lerner (2000) presents an approach to spirituality that he calls an
"emancipatory spirituality." An emancipatory spirituality, in contrast to a
"reactionary spirituality" (p. 174), recognizes the value of pluralism and the
many manifestations of spirit within different cultures, religions, and
traditions. He discusses how spirituality might inform work in education, law,
medicine, and environmental issues without pushing a religious agenda. Eck
(2001) also addresses how to deal with issues of religious pluralism in a way
that opens up dialogue between and among groups and honors their spirituality
and religious traditions without pushing a religious agenda.
The subject of spirituality is currently a theme in workplace and human
resource development literature. Bolman and Deal (1995), among others, have
discussed its role in leadership development. Fenwick and Lange (1998) reviewed
the literature on spirituality and the workplace in human resource development
circles, suggesting that it has an emphasis on individual needs and
organizational development rather than a focus on social justice or the common
good. However, some writers do discuss the role of spirituality in work related
to a more just global economy. Fox (1995), for example, examines the connection
between spirituality as "inner work" and the revisioning of our "outer work" and
the importance of ritual and celebration in the creation of a new cosmology as
the great paradigm shift of our time. Haroutiounian et al. (2000) discuss the
learning that took place in a class on spirituality and work, largely because of
the diversity of the participants. Barnett, Krell, and Sendry (2000) also
address how to approach the subject of spirituality in management education
Given the connection between adult
learning and adult development, discussions of spiritual development are
relevant to concerns in adult education. Most developmental theorists who write
about spiritual development connect it with other aspects of development. Most
often cited is James Fowler (1981) who developed a stage theory of faith
development based on a study of 359 adults. Fowler ties faith development
strongly to cognitive and moral development and draws heavily on the work of
Piaget and Kohlberg. Yet he takes issue with them for "their restrictive
understanding of the role of imagination in knowing, their neglect of symbolic
processes generally and the related lack of attention to unconscious structuring
processes other than those constituting reasoning" (p. 103). Despite some
limitations of Fowler's study (e.g., a sample that is almost entirely White and
Judeo-Christian), it contributes to our understanding of how people construct
knowledge through image and symbol, an area that has been ignored by most
development and learning theorists.
Many writers draw on Fowler's work, but focus on spiritual development at
particular points in the life cycle. For example, Parks' (2000) focus is on
young adults, whereas Loder (1998) discusses it from a theological perspective
in adolescence, young adulthood, the middle years, and after age 65. Wuthnow
(1998) presents a study of how those who have grown up religious have negotiated
an adult spirituality. Terkel's (2001) new book is a discussion of how people's
spirituality influences their view of death. Borysenko (1999) considers women's
spiritual development more from the perspective of salient themes, such as
naming a sense of mystery, spiritual identity and healing, and the role of
ritual and prayer in development; she offers suggestions for how women might
develop their spirituality.
Whether or not spiritual development unfolds in a series of linear stages is
a matter of some debate and, as Wilber (2000) observes, depends on how one
defines spirituality. Writing from a cultural evolutionary perspective, Wilber
discusses how, over time, cultures as well as individuals develop spiritually.
He suggests that spiritual development unfolds in overlapping and interweaving
levels "resulting in a meshwork or dynamic spiral of consciousness unfolding"
(p. 7). Each level includes and expands on the development of earlier stages and
moves to greater integration. This move to greater integration reflects an
important theme of spiritual development: the ongoing development of identity.
In my study of women emancipatory educators (Tisdell 2000), several referred to
it as related to the development of their more "authentic identity." But this
authentic identity always develops in a cultural and gendered context. This is
why it is important to consider the cultural dimensions of spiritual
development, an area that most developmental theorists have given little
SPIRITUALITY, CULTURE, AND EMANCIPATORY EDUCATION
of spirituality in culturally relevant education and emancipatory education
efforts is being addressed. Clearly, spirituality played a large role in the
engagement of people's passion in the civil rights movement. Further, both
Horton and Freire (1990) were clear about the influence of spirituality on their
own work. Walters and Manicom (1996) discuss the importance of spirituality
among grassroots emancipatory adult educators working with women in an
international context. They note that spirituality "is a theme that is
increasingly significant in popular education practice as culturally distinct
groups, women recovering 'womanist' traditions and ethnic collectives, draw on
cultural and spiritual symbols in healing and transformative education" (p. 13).
Educators and cultural workers are beginning to break the silence about the
connection between spirituality and education and about its role in emancipatory
education efforts. As the cultural fabric of North America is changing, there is
a greater emphasis on creating culturally relevant programs for specific
population groups. When spirituality is integral to the fabric of a community,
it makes sense that educators might attend to it. But there are also greater
numbers of people of color represented both in higher education classrooms and
among adult educators working in community settings or higher education. This is
beginning to displace the strict focus on rationality, particularly from a
Eurocentric perspective, as the only valid form of knowledge. Many scholars
doing cultural work in communities or in the reformation of the academy have
worldviews deeply embedded in the spiritual. "The heretofore silencing of the
spiritual voice through privileging the academic voice is increasingly being
drowned out by the emphatic chorus of those whose underlying versions of truth
cry out 'We are a spiritual people!'" (Dillard et al. 2000, p. 448).
This is why some writers have discussed the spiritual development of members
of different cultural groups; e.g., African American women--Wade-Gayles (1995),
Cannon (1996), Williams (1993); American Indian communities--Allen (1992),
Deloria (1993); and Latinos--Abalos (1998). Berry (1999) speaks of spiritual
development as being foundational to our ecological survival, and Welch (1998)
notes its role in developing approaches to multicultural education. Tisdell et
al. (2001) recently discussed its role in developing culturally relevant and
transformative approaches in adult and higher education settings.
Spirituality is one of the ways people construct knowledge and meaning. It
works in consort with the affective, the rational or cognitive, and the
unconscious and symbolic domains. To ignore it, particularly in how it relates
to teaching for personal and social transformation, is to ignore an important
aspect of human experience and avenue of learning and meaning-making. This is
why spirituality is important to the work of adult learning.
Abalos, D. LA COMMUNIDAD LATINA IN THE UNITED
STATES. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998. Allen, P. G. The Sacred Hoop. Boston:
Beacon Press, 1992.
Barnett, C. K.; Krell, T. C.; and Sendry, J. "Learning to Learn about
Spirituality." JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION 24 , no. 5 (October 2000):
Berry, T. THE GREAT WORK: OUR WAY INTO THE FUTURE. New York: Bell Tower,
Bolman, L. G., and Deal, T. E. LEADING WITH SOUL. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
Borysenko, J. A WOMAN'S JOURNEY TO GOD. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Cannon, K. G. KATIE'S CANON: WOMANISM AND THE SOUL OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY.
New York: Continuum, 1996.
Deloria, V., Jr. GOD IS RED. 2D ED. Golden, CO: North American Press, 1992.
Dillard, C. B.; Abdur-Rashid, D.; and Tyson, C. A. "My Soul Is a Witness."
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF QUALITATIVE STUDIES IN EDUCATION 13, no. 5 (September
Dirkx, J. M. "Nurturing Soul in Adult Learning." In TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING
IN ACTION. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION NO. 74, edited by
P. Cranton, pp. 79-88. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
Eck, D. A NEW RELIGIOUS AMERICA. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.
English, L., and Gillen, M., eds. ADDRESSING THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSIONS OF
ADULT LEARNING. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION, NO. 85. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Fenwick, T. J., and Lange, E. "Spirituality in the Workplace: The New
Frontier of HRD." CANADIAN JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF ADULT EDUCATION 12, no. 1
(May 1998): 63-87.
Fowler, J. STAGES OF FAITH. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981.
Fox, M. THE REINVENTION OF WORK. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995.
Glazer, S., ed. THE HEART OF LEARNING: SPIRITUALITY IN EDUCATION. New York:
Hamilton, D. M., and Jackson, M. H. "Spiritual Development: Paths and
Processes." JOURNAL OF INSTRUCTIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 25, no. 4 (December 1998):
Haroutiounian, A. et al. "Learning and Being: Outcomes of a Class on
Spirituality in Work." JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT EDUCATION 24, no. 5 (October 2000):
hooks, b. ALL ABOUT LOVE. New York: William Morrow, 2000.
Horton, M., and Freire, P. WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING. Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1990.
Hunt, C. et al. "Is Your Journey Really Necessary?" PROCEEDINGS OF THE 31ST
ANNUAL STANDING CONFERENCE ON UNIVERSITY TEACHING AND RESEARCH IN THE EDUCATION
OF ADULTS (SCUTREA), pp. 451-457. London, England: University of East London,
Kazanjian, V. H., Jr., and Laurence, P. L., eds. EDUCATION AS TRANSFORMATION.
New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
Lerner, M. SPIRIT MATTERS. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing
Loder, J. E. THE LOGIC OF THE SPIRIT. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Palmer, P. J. THE COURAGE TO TEACH. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Parks, S. D. BIG QUESTIONS, WORTHY DREAMS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Terkel, S. WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN? New York: New Press, 2001.
Tisdell, E. J. "Spirituality and Emancipatory Adult Education in Women Adult
Educators for Social Change." ADULT EDUCATION QUARTERLY 50, no. 4 (August 2000):
Tisdell, E. J.; Tolliver, D.; and Villa, S. "Toward a Culturally Relevant and
Spiritually Grounded Theory of Teaching for Social Transformation and
Transformational Learning." PROCEEDINGS OF THE 42 ANNUAL ADULT EDUCATION
RESEARCH CONFERENCE. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2001.
Vella, J. "A Spirited Epistemology." In ADDRESSING THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSIONS
OF ADULT LEARNING. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION, NO. 85,
edited by L. English and M. Gillen, pp. 7-16. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Wade-Gayles, G., ed. MY SOUL IS A WITNESS: AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN'S
SPIRITUALITY. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.
Walters, S., and Manicom, L., eds. GENDER IN POPULAR EDUCATION. London: Zed
Welch, S. D. SWEET DREAMS IN AMERICA: MAKING ETHICS AND SPIRITUALITY WORK.
New York: Routledge, 1999.
Wilber, K. A THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.
Williams, D. S. SISTERS IN THE WILDERNESS; THE CHALLENGE OF WOMANIST
GOD-TALK. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1993.
Wuthnow, R. AFTER HEAVEN: SPIRITUALITY IN AMERICA SINCE THE 1950S. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1998.