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Challenges 

Challenges
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date: 17 October 2017

The trends of contemporary spirituality are difficult to discern because what we find depends on what we are looking for. However, a definite trend in the English-speaking world and Western-style democracies is to see spirituality pulling further away from religion and becoming an autonomous field in its own right. This is reflected, at the popular level, in individuals claiming to be ‘spiritual, but not religious,’ and, at the academic level, in an increasing literature on spirituality which has no connection with religion as such. In one sense this direction could be called ‘progressive’ and might be said to point to an imminent spiritual revival. In another sense it might be said to point to a loss of historical sensibility, continuity, and cultural memory. Spirituality could be said to be suffering from a kind of amnesia, insofar as many individuals think they are the first ones to have had spiritual feelings for nature, community, and soulful interiority. What we can say about the current epoch is that spirituality is coming back to public awareness, but because it is emerging in a primarily secular context it is often unaware of its religious background. It seems to me that contemporary spirituality is defined by the contrary voices and movements expressed within it. The fact that there are so many conflicting views, and a number of contested positions, is a sign that the field is dynamic and alive. There is every reason to believe that spirituality is destined to rise to the status of an academic discipline in its own right, and there is some discussion about this at the moment. The irony is that conferences are appearing in numerous cities and countries simultaneously, each claiming to be the first major interdisciplinary conference in the field. Until the field is ordered and regulated, we can expect this to continue for some time. The emerging discipline will have to be strongly interdisciplinary, and will need to be informed by medicine and psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, sociology, philosophy, literary and cultural studies, religious studies, and theology. It may look like a baggy monster, but I see no alternative other than to invite the concert of many voices. In future years, spirituality studies will rise like a new star on the horizon of academic life, representing the newest discipline to emerge since sociology.

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