For years I felt like my spiritual life and academic life had to be parallel. They could not intersect, for reasons I will detail in future posts. My colleagues in my academic fields and sub-fields have echoed this feeling.
If you’re an academic, you might be spiritual or religious or have a rich faith life—but we don’t talk about it. And if we do talk about it, we whisper about it, some people afraid of being “found out” as having a connection with something/someone/someones that we cannot see and that our academic training says we probably shouldn’t believe in. Academics have faith in what we can see, read, test, and write. We don’t necessarily have faith in what we feel and our own embodied knowledge.
But I do. And I know other academics out there do, too.
One definition of a spiritual academic life
For me, a spiritual academic life is a life that is informed and transformed by a connection with the divine, a meditative/prayer practice, and a commitment to diving deep into questioning and slowing down. It involves fellowship, community, and–perhaps most importantly–listening with intent to people and to the inner self. For the first time in my career, I am starting to identify where and how my spirituality informs my teaching and research and vice versa.
Because how can it not?
In this career, like many others, we take work home with us. Our students, research participants, and the communities in which we engage dwell with us and us with them. And when we tune into our spiritual lives, these components come together. As much as might compartmentalize, which can be a good thing in some cases, I’m wondering how compartmentalization has shortchanged scholarship, teaching, and spiritual development.
Lots of events have led me to this question, and I’ll start with some of them here: how I identify.
How I identify
As scholarship has taught us, our identifications inform who we are, how we’re seen and treated, and how we interact with the world. So here are some of the ways I identify, some of which I will most likely write more about in future posts:
- I am a straight, white, cis female who lives in my hometown of Milwaukee.
- I teach at a Jesuit university.
- I was raised Catholic and still identify as culturally Catholic, but I am not a practicing Catholic. Like many Catholics, I disagree with Church teaching and canon law. I struggle with identifying with a group whose members have abused (including but not limited to sexual abuse) and inflicted much suffering on people.
- I am a spiritual seeker who has developed a relationship with the divine by tuning into energy and cultivating a connection with people, animals, and the world around us.
- I am a rhetorician of health and medicine who studies how healthcare providers use and learn rhetorical strategies in their workplace.
- I do not—by choice—have children. It’s an important part of my identity because I feel like if I had children that I would include that in my identity.
- I am following and cultivating a commitment to slowing down. In a time when events infuriate us and decisions need to be made yesterday, I am trying to stay rooted in reflection and pause before I act. I don’t always succeed, but I’m trying.
And on the topic of identification, here’s a distinction that has laid the foundation of my spiritual life most recently:
Spirituality does not (have to) equal religion and vice versa
At least not for me.
Through my years in spiritual direction, I have come to understand religion and spirituality as different things, although they might be the same thing for lots of people. Religion is an institutionalized practice guided by dogma and organized leadership. Spirituality is an individualized connection with the divine, which can mean God, Yahweh, Allah, Oneness, that is nourished in various ways: through prayer, meditation, artistic endeavors, fellowship.
If religion is what we do, spirituality is who we are.
Right now, my spiritual academic life is grounded in Franciscan and Ignatian spiritualities and my new endeavor into cosmology and spirituality. I have also worked quite a bit with the Enneagram, a transformative tool that has informed much of my thinking since I learned about it in 2002. These spiritualities and tool guide much of what I’ll be writing about in this space.
Why this blog exists
After a series of events that I’ll detail at a later point (because I can’t write all-of-the-things in one post, right?), I felt led to create a space where I could write about what a spiritual academic life can look like. I knew all too well that the writing I’ll do in this blog would ever be published—because we just don’t talk about how spiritual life informs teaching and research.
And maybe there’s good reason for not publishing it, but I’m not convinced that academia and spirituality are mutually exclusive. I’m curious to know who else out there might feel the same way.
I envision that the following blog entries will follow the format started here. I’ll begin with some personal reflection around a question I’ve been thinking about. Then, I’ll share some questions that you can consider if you want to move deeper into a spiritual academic life. I’m unsure of what will unfold, but I felt called to start this blog for quite some time now. I’m learning to honor and trust these calls, even though the end goal is often unknown.
If you’re an academic who is spiritual, or even if you’re not, welcome. Spirituality and religion are personal. If you, like me, are wrestling with questions and these areas of your life, I invite you to follow along and to spend a few moments pondering the questions I’ll end each post with.
Questions to ponder
- Where are you on your spiritual journey? Are you religious, spiritual, both, neither?
- What do those terms mean to you?
- Have you separated your spiritual life from your academic life? Why? What would it look like if these lives interacted?
- Has your faith/religion/spirituality informed your work and vice versa? How?
- What’s calling you at a deeper level to answer these questions?
- What questions or answers are you left with right now?