'Doctrines Are Benchmarks of Wisdom': Amid Confusion of Spiritual Resources, Tradition Offers Guides

By Coday, Dennis | National Catholic Reporter, July 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

'Doctrines Are Benchmarks of Wisdom': Amid Confusion of Spiritual Resources, Tradition Offers Guides


Coday, Dennis, National Catholic Reporter


Spirituality is a hot topic and big business today.

Publisher's Weekly found last year that 18 percent of the 10,000 consumers it surveyed had purchased a spiritual or religious book in the past year. The largest group of buyers, 28 percent, were between 25 and 34 years old.

"Religious books have emerged as the most impressive growth category in the book publishing industry over the past four years," according to "Book Industry Trends 2005," a study released in May by the the Book Industry Study Group, a publishing trade association. Sales of religion and spirituality books grew 11 percent in 2004, the study found, accounting for nearly 6.6 percent of the book industry's $28.6 in revenues last year.

It's a phenomenon noticed by Catholic theologians. And it can be confusing, said Colleen Griffith, director of the Institute-for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College.

"How does one sort through contemporary best sellers like The Celestine Prophecies, Embraced by the Light and Care of the Soul, which get placed on the same bookshelves as St. Augustine's Confessions, Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle and The Cloud of Unknowing? What an odd phenomenon," Griffith said in her talk at "Spirituality for the 21st Century: Experiencing God in the Catholic Tradition," a seminar held June 4 in Kansas City, Mo.

"What is spirituality anyhow?" Griffith asked. "The question seems like an existentially urgent one in our time. For we are, as Peter Steinfels said, a people adrift, a people searching."

"Simply put, we are getting tired of being harried, hassled and agitated with a utilitarian outlook and having a hard time being centered. We're fragmented enough. We're looking for something else. In that search for something deeper, there is no shortage of resources," she said.

"There are options galore for spiritual pilgrims of every stripe. So where does one look for guidance when deciding about spiritual practices?" Griffith asked.

When the seminar organizers chose the day's topic, said Richard Miller, the principal organizer, they were reacting to "the explosion of spiritual resources" and the often heard phrase: "I'm spiritual but not religious."

Miller quoted sociologist Robert Wuthnow saying that because of changes in U.S. culture, "the foundations of religious traditions seem to be less secure than in the past. Insisting that old phrases are cant, many Americans struggle to invent new language to describe their faith. As they do, their beliefs are becoming more eclectic and their commitments becoming private. …

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