Spiritual Theology Research Guide

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Spiritual Theology

In contrast to the humanistic search for personal transcendence that passes for “spirituality” today, Christian Spirituality is theological: it is founded on and inspired by the triune God revealed in Scripture and in Christ; it cultivates responsiveness to the seeking Father; it responds to the ministry of the Spirit; it engages fully the mind, heart and body; it is, as William Perkins once said, “the science of living blessedly forever.” But it is not only a personal quest; spiritual theology involves active engagement with the world and the needs of others through mission, work, ministry and prayer. Because spiritual theology is concerned with experience, it involves the study of how the church throughout history and today has responded to the living God with devotion, expressed in both prayer and action. This field combines examination of spiritual practices and disciplines with the biblical and theological truths they are derived from; it is lived-doctrine, not merely thought-theology.  

There is much overlap between doctrinal and spiritual theology, particularly in certain periods of history (e.g., the early Church Fathers and the Puritans), as well as between practical theology and spiritual theology, particularly when it comes to discussion and use of spiritual practices and disciplines (e.g., spiritual direction and counseling or spiritual disciplines and Christian living). When working on a spiritual theology project, students should learn about the various types of resources available in this field and remember that how-to guides or handbooks for various practices are not the same as academic handbooks and guides for the study of a particular subject area.  

Further, students new to spiritual theology may want to use a terminology guide or a concise spiritual theology dictionary, such as the volume below: 

Pocket Dictionary of Christian Spirituality: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined
Don Thorsen

Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.  

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Primary Sources

In this field of study, primary sources are typically classic works of Christian spirituality. Depending upon the shape of one’s research project, primary sources may also include modern authors who themselves are examining an aspect of Christian spiritual tradition. Those studying a primary source academically should use the standard version as consulted by other scholars of the field (there may be multiple versions, but they should be based upon a critical text). 

When searching for sources, remember that the terms spirituality and spiritual theology are relatively recent, and past periods of church history may use other terms like religion, true religion, holiness, piety, experimental religion, devotion, mystical theology, mysticism, spiritual ascent, spiritual progress, or rule. 

The Paulist Press’s series The Classics of Western Spirituality is topically indexed and produces good translations that include helpful introductions to the work and writer, as well as suggested sources for further research. However, these volumes are often edited rather than complete versions, so the full works of some of these authors must be found elsewhere. 

For example, see:

Julian of Norwich

Translated from the critical text, with an introd., by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh; pref. by Jean Leclercq

New York: Paulist Press, 1978.  

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John Cassian

Translation and preface by Colm Luibheid; introduction by Owen Chadwick

New York: Paulist Press, 1985.  

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Major publishers such as Penguin and HarperCollins, as well as some university presses (e.g., Princeton or Oxford) and other institutional presses (e.g., Catholic religious orders or specialist presses) also have authoritative versions of some classic works of spirituality or spiritual theology.  

For example, see:

Saint Augustine

Translated by Henry Chadwick

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.  

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Introductions to Spiritual Theology

There are many introductions to spiritual theology that provide an orientation to this field and its key figures, works, concepts, periods, practices, places, and questions. Further, they include suggested sources for further reading and footnotes that may help readers find important or essential resources for study. When using introductions, students should recognize the denominational and theological commitments as well as spiritual traditions of authors and editors; some introductions approach spiritual theology from one perspective, and others include a variety of perspectives.

Here are some general introductions to spirituality, spiritual practices, and spiritual theology from varying perspectives:

Introduction to the Spiritual Life.
Louis Bouyer

Notre Dame: Christian Classics, 2013.

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Christian Spirituality: Themes from the Tradition
Lawrence S. Cunningham and Keith J. Egan

New York: Paulist Press, 1996. 

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Understanding Christian Spirituality
Michael Downey

New York: Paulist Press, 1997.  

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A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction
Urban T. Holmes III

Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2002.

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Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality
Bradley P. Holt

Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2005. 

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The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality
Evan B. Howard

Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008.  

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Two Worlds are Ours: An Introduction to Christian Mysticism
John Macquarrie

Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

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Early Christian Mystics: The Divine Vision of the Spiritual Masters
Bernard McGinn and Patricia Ferris McGinn

New York: Crossroad, 2003.  

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Christian Spirituality: An Introduction
Alister E. McGrath

Malden: Blackwell, 1999. 

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The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West
Gordon Mursell

Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.  

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Spirituality: A Brief History
Philip Sheldrake

Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.  

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Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries
Gerald Sittser

Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2010.

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The Essentials of Mysticism
Evelyn Underhill

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1960.  

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An Introduction to Christian Spirituality
Ralph Waller and Benedicta Ward, eds.

London: SPCK, 1999.

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The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross
Rowan Williams

Cambridge: Cowley, 1991.  

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Alternatively, students looking for introductions that have contributors from a variety of Christian traditions may find these helpful:

Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader
Kenneth J. Collins, ed.  

Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.  

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Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church
Robin Maas and Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, eds.  

Nashville: Abingdon, 1990.  

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Last, there are also introductions to classic works of spirituality:

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals
Jamin Goggin, and Kyle Strobel, eds.

Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013.  

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Christian Spirituality: An Introduction to the Heritage
Charles J. Healey, SJ. 

New York: Alba House, 1999.

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Christian Spirituality: The Essential Guide to the Most Influential Spiritual Writings of the Christian Tradition
Frank N. Magill and Ian P. McGreal, eds.

San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. 

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General Dictionaries, Handbooks, Guides, Companions, and Histories

Dictionaries, handbooks, guides, companions, and histories are very valuable for spiritual theology research. In addition to the contribution of each individual article or volume, these resources also include bibliographic references, key resources, and recommended reading, which help readers follow the conversation about a certain topic. Some address the subject matter itself, some methodology and practice, and some both.

Some helpful dictionaries are:

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds. 

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.  

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The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality
Downey, Michael, ed.

Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993.  

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This volume examines “the reform and renewal of Catholic spirituality” set in motion by Vatican II.

Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
Glen G. Scorgie, Simon Chan, Gordon T. Smith, and James D. Smith III, eds.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.  

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This volume comes from an evangelical perspective.

The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
Philip Sheldrake, ed.  

Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005.  

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The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.
Gordon S. Wakefield, ed. 

Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.  

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This older version shows how perspectives and entries changed in the later edition, seen above.

Here are some helpful handbooks, guides, companions, and histories:

Christian Spirituality I: Origins to the Twelfth Century
Bernard McGinn, John Meyendorff, and Jean Leclercq, eds. 

New York: Crossroad, 1985.  

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Volume two of this series addresses the Middle Ages and Reformation, and volume three the Post-Reformation and Modern eras.

The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers: Vol. I, History of Christian Spirituality
Louis Bouyer

New York: Seabury Press, 1963. 

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The second volume of this series addresses the Middle Ages, and the third volume addresses Protestant and Anglican spirituality.

Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition 
Jordan Aumann 

San Francisco: Ignatius Press; London: Sheed & Ward, 1985. 

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Compendium of Spirituality
Compiled by Emeterio de Cea, translated and adapted by Jordan Aumann

New York: Alba House, 1995-1996.  

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The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality
Arthur Holder, ed.  

Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.  

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The Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism
Amy Hollywood, and Patricia Z. Beckman, eds. 

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.  

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The Study of Spirituality
Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, SJ., eds. 

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.  

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The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism
Julia A. Lamm, ed.  

Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.  

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The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism
Bernard McGinn

New York: Crossroad Pub., 1991-  . 

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Specific Figures, Eras, Regions, Traditions, and Practices

In addition to the general works previously listed, there are also works about specific figures, eras, regions, theological or spiritual traditions, and practices. These may be either single-author works or edited multi-author volumes.  

Some examples are:

Orthodox Spirituality: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition
A Monk of the Eastern Church

Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1996. 

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Puritan Reformed Spirituality
Joel R. Beeke

Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2006.  

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Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer
David G. Benner

Downers Grove: IVP, 2010.

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The Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order
Mette Birkedal Bruun, ed.  

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.  

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The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism
Samuel Fanous and Vincent Gillespie, eds.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.  

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The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
Vladimir Lossky

Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976.  

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A Companion to Bernard of Clairvaux
Brian Patrick McGuire, ed.

Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011.  

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Christian Spirituality in Africa: Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Perspectives from Kenya
Sung Kyu Park

Eugene: Pickwick, 2013.  

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Medieval Women's Visionary Literature
Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, ed.  

New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.  

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Soul Recreation: The Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Puritanism
Tom Schwanda

Eugene: Pickwick, 2012.  

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An Ignatian Spirituality Reader
George W. Traub, ed.

Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008.  

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Comparative Works

There are also works that compare spiritualities or place them in dialogue with each other or with another discipline. For example, see:

Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality
S. T. Kimbrough Jr., ed.

Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2002.  

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Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God
Philip Sheldrake

Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998.

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Psychology and Spiritual Formation in Dialogue: Moral and Spiritual Change in Christian Perspective
Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter, and Gregg Ten Elshof, eds. 

Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

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Some works are fully devoted to providing a critical self-examination of the purposes and methodologies of spiritual theology. For example, see: 

Minding the Spirit: The Study of Spirituality
Elizabeth A. Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows, eds.

London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.  

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Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method
Philip Sheldrake 

New York: Crossroad, 1995.  

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Anthologies provide samples of spiritual writings from the history of the church or from a particular period or tradition. They are especially helpful for projects comparing or contrasting periods or works. Some examples of general anthologies on Christian spirituality are:

Spiritual Classics from the Early Church: An Anthology
Robert Atwell, ed.   

London: Church House, 1995.  

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The Inward Pilgrimage: An Introduction to Christian Spiritual Classics
Bernhard M. Christensen

Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1996.  

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Light from Light: An Anthology of Christian Mysticism
Louis Dupré and James A. Wiseman, eds. 

New York : Paulist Press, 2001.  

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Soundings in the Christian Mystical Tradition
Harvey D. Egan 

Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010.  

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The Protestant Mystics
Anne​​​​​​​ Freemantle

Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.  

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Christian Spirituality: The Classics
Arthur​​​​​​​ Holder, ed.  

Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2010. 

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Christian Mystics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Writings
Paul de​​​​​​​ Jaegher, ed; trans. Donald Attwater

Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004   

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Religion in Enlightenment England: An Anthology of Primary Sources
Jayne Elizabeth​​​​​​​ Lewis, ed.  

Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017.  

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Mystics, Visionaries and Prophets: A Historical Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Writings
Shawn ​​​​​​​Madigan, ed. 

Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.  

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The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism
Bernard​​​​​​​ McGinn, ed.  

New York: Random House, 2006.  

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Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology
John R. ​​​​​Tyson, ed.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 

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Woman to Woman: An Anthology of Women's Spiritualities
Phyllis Zagano

Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press, 1993.  

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Some examples of anthologies that focus on a particular tradition, school, or topic are:

A Golden Treasury of Puritan Devotion: Selections from the Writings of Thirteen Puritan Divines
Mariano Di Gangi, compiled and ed. 

Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1999.  

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Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness
Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams, eds. 

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.  

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The Allison Library offers access to many journals, both print and online, that are related to spiritual theology. Journals are an important type of source to use because it is often in journals that the latest research in a field is first presented. Some important journals in this field are:  

-Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies
This journal deals with monastic history, theology, literature, and art, c.400-1500 AD.

-Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care

-Liturgy: A Journal of the Liturgical Conference.
This journal addresses liturgical matters and frequently includes articles on aspects of worship that overlap with spirituality and spiritual practice.

-Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
This journal includes research on Catholic spirituality

-Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality
This journal was titled Christian Spirituality Bulletin from 1993-2000.

-Studies in Spirituality

-The Way

Further, journals that focus on church history and theology will also often address issues related to spiritual theology.