Center for the Academic Study of Christian Spirituality in Zurich

New Publication

R. A. Giselbrecht and R. Kunz (eds.), Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections

Sacralty and Materiality

Christian theology traditionally regards the sacramental as the polar opposite of the profane. The polarity is a memorial of contemporary desacralization, profanization, and sacralization that stands as a portal to the story of modern reality. In our liminal space, we neither de-sacralize our environs nor re-sacralize the world. The lines are blurred and our perception of spirituality is neither immanent nor transcendent. While words fail to articulate the condition, stories are told and tales of experiences come together to form new theoretical nets, systems and categories.

The conference volume, “Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections” seeks to reply to the questions: Where does the sacred intersect with the material? What happens when they meet? First, however, does the sacral even exist? Would it be more productive to ignite sacramental discourse at the intersections of a new matrix?
Historically, materiality is other than spirituality— an intersection of the two is an intangible event of the intellect and spirit. We must engage a bipolar setting in the context of its own history in order to speak about the unspeakable.
Despite that spirituality and materiality refuse to assume the categories assigned to the initial polarities of sacrality and profanity, the volume addresses the constrictions. Sacral materialism and sacral spiritualism both exist in their own right, and Christian theology has more to offer than polarities. The sacral is the meeting point for the fission of thought.
Is the sacramental a topos for telling a postmodern story of spiritual experience? Is Evangelical sacramental theology relevant? Does theological talk about holy materiality belong in denominational and inter-religious dialogue?
“Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections” inaugurates a dialogue about these issues.

SSCS Founders' Circle Award

The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality invites entries for the Founders’ Circle Award. Established in 2012 on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Society, the Founders’ Circle Award is given to an emerging scholar in the field of Christian Spirituality. Doctoral students, recent Ph.D. graduates (within the past five years), post-doctoral fellows, and pre-tenure faculty are eligible to compete for the award. Entrants must be members of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality; emerging scholars from developing countries who are not yet members of the SSCS, and not in a position to become members, are also invited to participate in this competition (please contact Pieter G.R. de Villiers at for more information).

A cash prize of $150 and a two-year membership to the SSCS are included in the award, which will be announced during the SSCS Annual Meeting (November 20-21, preceding the AAR/SBL) in Atlanta. 

Entries (14-16 pages, double-spaced) must be submitted by October 1, 2015, to Ralph Keen (, for consideration by the selection committee. For more information on the Society, its 2012 meeting in Chicago and upcoming meeting in Atlanta, and student memberships, please visit our website at

Spirituality and the Academic Study of Religion in Ireland

By Dr. Bernadette Flanagan

University studies of all religious subjects (including spirituality) is not developed in Ireland in same manner as in other European countries, America or Australia. Up to beginning of the nineteenth century the only university in Ireland was the University of Dublin, with its single college, Trinity. It had a strong Anglican identity. During the nineteenth century the British government set in motion plans to establish the Queen’s university in the north (Belfast), south (Cork) and west (Galway) of Ireland. Theological studies would be excluded from the state-funded curriculum, though endowment of theological chairs could be facilitated. In the early twentieth century a National University of Ireland was established and the arrangement whereby theology could only be taught if it was privately endowed continued. The University College in Cork established a Chair of Theology in 1958, but when the incumbent, Rev Dr James Good publicly opposed the papal encyclical Humanae vitae difficulties arose due to extensive influence of Catholicism in Ireland.

In the 1850’s John Henry Newman attempted to establish a different type of university in Dublin, a Catholic university. However many influential figures in the Catholic hierarchy were sceptical and the experiment ultimately failed. The historical realities of colonialism and a resistant Catholic leadership ultimately led to theology being confined to seminaries. Consequently, the focus lay more on the pastoral training of priests rather than the development of theological disciplines. Also, the Catholic hierarchy who had the means to endow lay theological education seemed to perceive theology as exclusively a seminary subject.

The tensions and debacles which characterise the history of theology in the university in Ireland have resulted in severely blighted provision in this discipline . Some colleges, like Milltown Institute (closing in July 2015), All Hallows College (closing 2016) and Kimmage Mission Institute (closed 2004) sought from the 1990s to offer theological subjects to a wider public by seeking accreditation of their awards from a national agency, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council . However, the lack of government endowment for these educational enterprises, due in some measure to the contentious history of the discipline, has resulted in the gradual closure of even this limited provision . The discussion of spirituality studies in Ireland below is set against this historical background.

Three and Half Decades of Spirituality Studies

The evolution of developments in the study of spirituality at Milltown Institute points to wider trends regarding the study of spirituality in the academy today. .A One Year Programme in what was entitled ‘Spiritual Studies’ was established at Milltown Institute in 1978. Dr Una Agnew, one of the early directors of this programme has offered fascinating insight into this programme’s identity relative to current understandings of spirituality. On reflection she now asserts that ‘This programme consisted, almost exclusively, of theology!’………She continues:

By 1989, it finally dawned on me that spirituality as a discipline had no real place in a theology faculty, although Sandra Schneiders had just published her ground-breaking article 'Spirituality in the Academy' in Theological Studies (1989). The problem was not confined to Ireland; it was widespread.

While the sabbatical programme struggled in attaining its identity as a spirituality programme, there were other opportunities to plough a new furrow. A Graduate Programme in Spirituality first appeared in the Institute’s 1984-1985 Calendar under the title Postgraduate Theology of the Spiritual Life. There were 4 students in the first intake in 1984-1985. This programme was submitted to the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA) for approval in 1989. It was established as a two-year Graduate Diploma/MA in Spirituality programme under NCEA regulations in July 1990. I was a student of this MA programme in 1990 – 1992. Having previously completed a theology degree in the Pontifical University, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, I was in no doubt about the overlapping, but distinct, character of the programme relative to my previous studies. The menu of components was influenced by the Spiritual Theology Licentiate programme in the Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome: Fundamental Theology, Scripture, History of Spirituality (divided into 6 eras), Psychology of Spirituality, Applied Questions in Spirituality and Special Topics in Spirituality. The foundational text was the three volume work, A History of Christian Spirituality, by Louis Bouyer and this was representative of the strong emphasis on the classical texts and history of spirituality that was the core of the programme.

Ten years later, another turning point in the study of spirituality in Milltown Institute occurred. In response to many requests for a ‘practical’ postgraduate programme in spirituality that would be of assistance to professionals in diverse work settings a Graduate Diploma and MA in Applied Christian Spirituality was launched. The programme delivery mode changed from a schedule of lectures spread across term time to intensive summer schools, day-release and Saturday training sessions. The decision to include ‘Christian’ in the title was not insignificant. In some ways it seemed to go against the engagement with a wide audience which the programme intended to achieve. On the other hand, it was chosen because it was an honest reflection of the expertise of the staff who would deliver the programme and of the content of the modules that had been designed. The inclusion of the appellation ‘Christian’ in the title also reflected a confidence that the staff had in the resources of Christian spirituality for daily engagements.

The MA programme in Applied Christian Spirituality launched in Milltown Institute in 2001 has attracted students from the legal profession, ecologists, social care workers, counsellors, psychotherapists, artists, scientists, musicians, business managers and consultants, medical doctors and nurses, teachers, chaplains and others to study how spirituality can be applied in their lives and professions. The number of participants is indicated in the table below.

Year Student Numbers

2001/2002 18

2002/2003 39

2003/2004 38

2004/2005 34

2005/2006 25

2006/2007 30

2007/2008 33

2008/2009 32

2009/2010 26

This programme was structured around a four-fold core: theoretical foundations for spirituality, personal spiritual processes, attentiveness and awareness skills training and a research project in an applied aspect of spirituality. Theoretically the programme centred itself in the works of Bernard Lonergan, Mary Frohlich, Daniel Helminiak which views the human person as constituted by a spiritual dimension that permeates his or her imagining, thinking, feeling, judging, deciding and overall lived practice. This core identity has required of those delivering the programme not only immersion in the theological and historical foundations of spirituality previously required, but a new grounded knowledge of adult education theory, transformative education theory, qualitative research and the nature of inter-disciplinary engagement.


  • P. Corkery and F. Long, Theology in the University: The Irish Context (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1997).
    Teacher training colleges have expanded thee range of awards on offer in recent years, so that theological studies are provided in their own right, alongside religious education.
  • P. Cremin, ‘A Catholic Presence in the Higher Education Sector’, Irish Catholic 22 October 2009, 12-14.
  • L. Bouyer, ed., A History of Christian Spirituality, 3 vol. (New York: Seabury, 1962-1964).