Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value

Article excerpt

The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value. By John Cottingham. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xii + 186 pp. $24.99 (paper).

John Cottingham's The Spiritual Dimension is a genteel manifesto. It argues that the philosophy of religion should turn away from an exclusive focus on the assessment of propositional truth claims and toward a richer understanding of religious adherence as a form of spiritual practice that aims at self-understanding and moral growth. It is at once a brief in favor of this conception of the religious life and a prima facie defense of its reasonableness: religions adherence, so understood, answers a genuine human need and is consonant with the basic facts of human experience, according to Cottingham.

He argues that religious adherence is best understood as structured program of moral and spiritual askesis, an interior journey of transformation in which we are gradually freed from the mental and volitional defects that block the path of moral excellence, Such practices are temporally, heuristically, psychologically, and morally prior to the metaphysical doctrines that comprise a religion's truth-claims, according to Cottingham (pp. 150-151). By this he means, roughly, that one must already be steeped in the practices of a religious tradition in order to appreciate fully what its truth claims mean, and what it means to live them out. In short, religious truths are "such that to try to grasp them purely intellectually is to avoid them" (p. 11). Perhaps surprisingly-for a work of philosophy, at least-the book culminates with the claim that the spiritual practice par excellence is participation in the liturgy: "For a striking characteristic of the great religions is that their life blood, their very continued existence in the lives of their adherents, derives . . . from repeated practices of prayer and worship, which find an articulate voice in traditional language that contains a very large measure of symbolic and figurative discourse" (p. 163).

One of Cottingham's great virtues is his ability to hold together diverse ideas that other scholars keep apart. The synthesis of theoria and praxis is the book's major theme, and Cottingham repeatedly emphasizes that his attention to the latter does not mean that he rejects the former. …

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